CNN Poll: GOP advantage in midterms
May 5th, 2014
04:02 PM ET
8 months ago

CNN Poll: GOP advantage in midterms

Washington (CNN) – A small edge right now in a key indicator of the midterm elections could lead to a big advantage for the Republicans over the Democrats come November.

That's the suggestion from a new CNN/ORC International poll, that also indicates that President Barack Obama's lackluster approval ratings and pessimistic perceptions about the economy could also make 2014 a good year for the GOP at the ballot box.

Read full CNN/ORC International poll results

But according to the survey, which was released Monday, Americans are divided on whether they want Republicans to regain control of the Senate if they also retain their majority in the House of Representatives.

Complete coverage: 2014 midterms

Six months before Election Day, the GOP has a one point edge over the Democrats (46%-45%) among registered voters nationwide in the generic ballot. The question asks respondents to choose between a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district without identifying the candidates. While that margin is well within the survey's sampling error, any advantage is noteworthy, since Republicans normally perform better among the smaller pool of those who vote in midterm elections than the wider group of registered voters.

The GOP's margin grows 48%-45% when looking just at those who say they voted in the last midterm elections, in 2010.

"The results among 2010 voters is not a likely voter model because it is still too early to get a valid estimate on who is likely to vote this year. But looking at the 2010 electorate does help adjust for the fact that midterm voters are quite different from the general public or from voters who only vote in presidential years," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"That three-point margin may not sound like much, but it's pretty much where the GOP was in the spring of 2010 before the party went on to take control of the U.S. House in November thanks to a 63-seat pick up, and made a major dent in the Democrat's majority in the Senate," Holland added.

One caveat: While the generic ballot question is one of the most commonly used indicators when it comes to the battle for Congress, the poll results often are a long way from predicting what will happen in November, since there are 435 separate House races rather than one national race. Analysts often look other polling indicators.

But many of those other indicators also seem to favor the Republicans right now.

President a drag on his party

According to the poll, 43% of Americans say they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, with 55% giving him a thumbs down. The President's approval rating is unchanged from CNN's most recent survey, which was conducted in early March.

The President's approval ratings are hovering in the low to mid 40's in most non partisan national polling this year, slightly above where he stood in November and December, when he hit or matched his all-time low in many surveys.

Obama's approval rating is slightly better at this time in his presidency than his most recent predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, who was in the low to mid 30's in April of 2006, his sixth year in the White House. That November, thanks to a Democratic wave, the GOP lost control of both the House and the Senate in midterm contests.

While a majority of those questioned say the President is not a major factor in their vote this November, a quarter say they will be sending a message that they oppose Obama, with one in five saying their vote will be a message of support for the President.

"On the face of it, a majority saying that their vote is not based on their opinion of an unpopular president may sound like good news for Democrats," Holland said. "But President Obama has usually been the Democratic party's most reliable way to fire up the base, and this question suggests that Democrats won't turn out this year just because Obama asks them to. It's also worth noting that the current numbers are almost identical to 2010, when the President's party got shellacked in the midterms."

And Democrats, more than Republicans, appear to have more work ahead of them when it comes to firing up the base. Conventional wisdom dictates that the GOP has an advantage over the Democrats in midterm contests. White voters and older voters, key to the Republican base, tend to cast ballots in bigger percentages in midterms than younger voters and minorities, who are an important part of the Democrats' base.

Economic perceptions trump reality?

The nation's unemployment rate now stands at 6.3%, the lowest level since September 2008. But according to the CNN poll, which was conducted after Friday's jobs report from the Labor Department, the positive news from Wall Street and Washington may not be resonating on Main Street. Many people just don't feel that good about things, and recent national polling indicates most people don't feel very optimistic about the economy and their personal plight.

Only 38% of those questioned in the CNN survey describe the country's current economic conditions as good, with 62% rating them poor. There has been constant growth in the number of Americans who think the economy is in good shape - the 38% is a nine-percentage point improvement from last autumn, but the number with a positive view of the economy only increased by two points since February. At that rate, a substantial majority will still have a negative view of economic conditions in November.

The economy remains the top issue on the minds of voters. Economic realities, as well as perceptions, will influence voters in the midterms.

Silver lining for Democrats?

Even if this all adds up to a good year for Republicans, it may not mean the public wants the GOP in total control on Capitol Hill.

Key races to watch in 2014

The Democrats currently hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate (including two independents who caucus with the party). But the party's defending 21 of the 36 seats in play, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states.

In the House, Democrats need to pick up 17 GOP-held seats to win back control of the chamber, a feat political handicappers say is unlikely considering the shrinking number of competitive congressional districts.

According to the poll, if Republicans retain the House, 42% say they want the GOP to also win back the Senate. But 45% say they want the Democrats to keep control of the upper chamber.

The poll was conducted May 2-4 for CNN by ORC International, with 1,008 Americans nationwide. including 911 registered voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. RepublicanSenate2014

    Well now that is wonderful news. Maybe there is hope for America after all.

    May 5, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  2. Glenn Doty

    Well. That would be quite frightening if the election were to be held the beginning of next month. The election is going to be held the beginning of November.

    At this point, less than 5% of your poll respondents will correctly identify their own congressman, and virtually zero of them would be able to identify the likely candidates they will vote on in 6 months. The political season hasn't even started yet.

    May 5, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  3. kwvining

    I'm so sick of "the crazy", when is the public going to see that the GOP wants nothing to change in a world where the rich are getting all the marbles?

    May 5, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  4. Dave

    storm chaser 101 maybe you "ain't forgot about them tbaggers" but you did forget how to type. sorry....guess that makes me a racist...

    May 5, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  5. DL

    70% of Americans want to raise minimum wage.
    88% of Americans want background checks for gun purchases.
    80% of Americans support a path to citizenship.
    90% of Americans support equal pay for women.
    This is how far Republicans are out of touch with Americans.

    Republicans are against all of these so how do they continue getting elected? They keep winning because they employ a complex multi-faceted technique that political scientists call CHEATING. Gerrymandering districts, voter ID laws, purging voter polls, shortening the voting period, preventing anyone who has been in prison to vote despite fulfilling their sentence and eliminating same day registration.

    May 5, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. Joe NYer

    A "small" advantage? Get real! The storm is coming. Obama should have his luggage dusted off and heading for the door.

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. peterz

    But if Republican did not get what they wanted in Nov, what did they do? Build the second tea party to move the failure around?

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  8. MaryM

    We all remember Romeny had a slight lead in the polls also. So, we will wait and see

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  9. furianxo

    If America know's what is good for it, they will vote for the lessor of the two evils, and that is Republican.

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  10. hitman

    Obama: "What will i do now" "Nobody will like me"

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  11. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    This is at least the 3rd story re-spun around the same poll.
    You must be so proud cnn...

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  12. Pablo Klunel

    How can anyone favor the Republican agenda?

    Repeal Voting Rights Act, repeal Roe v. Wade, discontinue the ACA, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, get rid of the EPA, the Dept. of Education and all financial regulation. Privatize all utilities, roadways and infrastructure projects

    Increase military spending
    Attack Iran.
    Get rid of the minimum wage.
    Repeal child labor laws.

    Declare Christianity as the national religion.

    In short, repeal the entire 20th century.

    Is that the change you want? Because if it is, you can understand why most of the country wants nothing to do with you.

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    You can run dems but you can't hide.

    May 5, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Duh. After 6 years in office and nothing to show for it, America is ready for a changing of the guard...

    May 5, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  15. furianxo

    If America knows what is good for her, she will vote for the lessor of the two evils, and that is Republican.

    May 5, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  16. behaviorquest

    This is so irrelevant. This slight edge could be gone tomorrow is something that moves the voters takes place. In short, this means nothing.

    May 5, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  17. Jason

    If the republicans gain senate control it would make no difference from the past 7 years of obstruction but if they lose the house America might win

    May 5, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  18. realusa

    meanwhile in the real world, usa today says that the gop has the biggest advantage in 20 years, cnn always trying to be a biased liberal media outlet

    May 5, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  19. bobo

    Stay home..... Stay home..... Stay home.

    May 5, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. Really

    Do they really think we believe in the polls?? after what happened to Romney in the last run. I believe the polls numbers showed he would win.. hmmmmm.

    May 5, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  21. Really

    I agree with you Wake up People!

    May 5, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. Bubba Ray

    The Republicans have ZERO new ideas for the economy. Democrats aren't much better but at least they aren't do nothing Republicants.

    May 5, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. SteveS

    Once the GOP lets a Tea Party candidate within 20 feet of an open mic, whatever advantage they had, will vanish in the wind.

    May 5, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  24. mike in NH

    The advantage is clear their selling something different then Washington progressive democrat agenda; you know that one that brought us the healthcare system we didn't want.

    If you're not a Dem you've got my vote.

    May 5, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. Rob

    "The nation's unemployment rate now stands at 6.3%, the lowest level since September 2008. But according to the CNN poll, which was conducted after Friday's jobs report from the Labor Department, the positive news from Wall Street and Washington may not be resonating on Main Street."

    Wow. A real puzzle! How COULD unemployment numbers be low but Main Street not feelin' it? It COULD be a very large number of unemployed people have given up looking for work, so they come off the unemployment figures. It could be that labor participation rates are as low as they've been in decades. What part of this is hard to understand? Maybe when most unemployed folks stop looking for work and the unemployment rate drops to next to nothing, we can declare victory and that Obama's policies and direction are a huge success.

    Samuel Clemens said it best: "There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies and statistics."

    May 5, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
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