August 31st, 2010
12:29 PM ET
10 years ago

Generic ballot important but other indicators also matter

 The latest generic ballot from Gallup indicates that Republicans are 10 points ahead of the Democrats.

The latest generic ballot from Gallup indicates that Republicans are 10 points ahead of the Democrats.

Washington (CNN) - In the battle for control of Congress, the generic ballot is arguably the most watched polling indicator. And thanks to the latest generic ballot from Gallup that indicates the Republicans 10 points ahead of the Democrats, the indicator is getting a lot of buzz.

So what is it and is it a reliable barometer of what may happen on election day?

The generic ballot question asks respondents if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district, without naming any specific candidates. It's used by many polling organization, including CNN/Opinion Research Corporation surveys.

According to the generic ballot from the Gallup Daily Tracking poll that was released Monday, 51 percent of registered voters said they would support the unnamed GOP candidate with 41 percent saying they would back the Democrat in the race. The numbers mark the fifth straight week the Republicans have held an advantage on the question and is the party's largest lead ever in midterm contests in Gallup's polling history.

So where does the race stand in other generic ballot surveys out this month. A Newsweek poll has both parties deadlocked at 45 percent, the GOP's up by one point in an Ipsos/Reuters survey, the Republicans hold a seven point lead in Time poll, the GOP has a four point advantage in an AP-GfK survey, the Republicans are up seven points in a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll, and they hold a three point advantage in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey.

Average all those polls together and you find the GOP with a single digit lead, virtually the same position they held at the same time in 1994. That November the Republicans grabbed 54 seats back from the Democrats, winning control of the House of Representatives. They also captured the Senate.

The Democrats also held a similar lead in generic ballot polling at this point in 2006, just before they won back control of both chambers of Congress.

But the generic ballot should not be considered one-stop shopping.

"The problem with interpreting the generic ballot is that a national poll cannot produce the same results that 435 separate polls in 435 House districts would produce," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"No one has the budget to do a significant number of telephone interviews in every House district in the country, so the generic ballot has become a proxy for that. But it can produce odd results if, by the luck of the draw, your national sample happened to get a lot of highly-Republican or highly-Democratic districts. That's why analysts tend to look at other measures as well."

Among the indicators to look at once the campaigns heat up after Labor Day are the favorable ratings on the two parties, questions about which party should control Congress, ratings of the parties on major issues, and the president's approval rating.

"Some academic experts have done a good job forecasting the results of midterm elections with statistical models that pay little or no attention to the generic ballot," Holland says. "But if you're looking for just one number that tries to forecast what will happen in 435 different House races, the generic ballot is usually the one most analysts focus on."

Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn


Filed under: 2010 • Congress
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    That would normally go to the Dems.....by sheer numbers.....so that is a very significant indicator.

    August 31, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  2. jim

    More important is the fact the current administration is stuck on stupid.The economy is going down the tubes and their on answer is we need to spend more money to stimulate the economy.

    August 31, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    It still comes down to who is getting polled? Most young Americans have cell phones and not home phones. Do pollers call call phones? These polls are irrelevant because it's not accounting for the big influx of voters from the 2008 election. I hope republicans really think they have a chance in November because they are going to be in for a rude awakening on the evening of Election Day.

    August 31, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. Fair is Fair

    In 1994, the GOP had a 5-point edge on the gereric ballot. In 1994, the GOP massacred the dems. Now the GOP has a 10-point edge. In that respect, I'd say it's a pretty important indicator. But I'm sure the left will disagree.

    August 31, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. Dan

    Generic ballot only important when democrats lead!???

    August 31, 2010 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  6. LacrosseMom(the real one)

    10-point edge?????? So the American people are going to reward the GOP who ran our Nation into the ditch, by putting them in charge?

    Who is getting polled? I am not. Most polls are done by calling landlines, how many millions of Americans no longer have landlines. Polls also showed that a Black president would not be elected!

    Question for my fellow Americans:

    What has the GOP done for our Nation? Anyone?

    August 31, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  7. masgap

    I just can't see how the Democrats can be faulted. They are trying to pass the jobs bill. They had to spend money on the worst economic situation that was inherited. 95% of all economist would concur.

    Come November ask yourself did the GOP represent the interest of the people...Answer: NO! just the big rich corportions and do anything
    to bring the DEMS from power. America will see this I bet and they will not loose as much as you think. I hope we have more of a majority so we can get things done. Remember the party of NO

    August 31, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Alan Dushki

    Oh! and they even included the American Flag!

    August 31, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  9. Drunken GOP Drivers want the keys back

    Just to keep the poor kids from losing hope and keeping it close to sell more tickets.This is more like a circus,send in the chief clown,Rush Limbaugh,hahaha

    August 31, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. one voice

    Anyone voting Republican will soon be eating bread and water 3 meals a day.

    August 31, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  11. Some republican guy

    Gloryoski!!! Those narcisstic elitest obamabots are up to no good again!!!!!! Now they took all the candidates off the balots so you can't vote for anybody!!!!! Watch, by november they won't even have republican on this balot, it will just say democrat!!!!!!!!!!! That way they can turn our grandbabies into socialists just like Canada!!!!! They want to teach my grandbabies that we come from monkeys!!!! MONKEYS!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Oprah watching union thugs and Mexican Muslin terror babies will round us all up and put us in the re-education camps and read us communist indoctrinations from they're teleprompters!!!!!!!!!! They will try to brainwash us into being altruistic like that Ayn Rand lady tried to warn us about!!!!!! Wise up, real Americans!!!!!! Empeach them all and succeed from the union before its to late!!!!!!!!!! Have a nice day!

    August 31, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. William

    The GOP will do well and will most likely take the House but that is not what has surprised me the last few months. I never thought after 2006 I would see economic conservatives like myself uniting again with religious conservatives. But due to Obama's policies it has driven groups together again like what I remember back in the days of Reagan. My blue dog Democrat relatives will no longer be voting straight ticket like days of old.

    August 31, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. Fair is Fair

    "I hope republicans really think they have a chance in November because they are going to be in for a rude awakening on the evening of Election Day."

    Bwahahahahaha.... Dutch, you crack me up. I can't tell if you're the cheerleader that's trying to get the crowd into a game when their team is down by 5 touchdowns, or an ostrich with your head in the sand. Maybe a cheerleading ostrich?

    Keep deeaming, dude.

    August 31, 2010 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  14. republicans = Neanderthals

    Republicans are leading the general ballot because of the south. The south is heavy republican. I know, surprise surprise! In every other region of the U.S. Dems are leading. The media won't tell you these figures because they're out to make it look like a horse race. They made it look close for the 2008 Presidency but let's face it, it wasn't even close. Fellow Dems, we'll lose some seats but not even close to 1994 results. Go Dems!

    August 31, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  15. Bob

    The simple fact: If Obama and Congress were to make E-Verify manatoroy, secure the border as much as possible (no way to secure it all), NO amnesty, tax those that out source and bring product back to U.S., Tax China and bring back manufacturing jobs. This would create millions of jobs and the economy would be fixed. So the simple fact is that the desire for Mexican votes is going to cost the Dems. Republicans are NO better. If a candidate from either party or independent wants these then VOTE for him/her otherwise press 9 for English.

    August 31, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  16. kelly

    With the unemployment rate at 9.5% for nearly 2 years now and an administration that wants to borrow aand spend ,people will vote based on economic issues.

    August 31, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  17. one voice

    The corporate paid GOP bloggers can't fool this level headed American. Others are not so bright, WAKE UP SHEEPIES.

    August 31, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  18. American

    With MY tax dollars? Or did Obama pay for this out of HIS paycheck?

    August 31, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  19. mike

    I don't like to take polls and I use my cell phone so does my family and if only half of americans have land lines and that is a fact then how actuate are polls so who really gets polled and do they tell the truth or are they just saying anything to change the poll numbers I read the blogs and most people who are on them don't like republicans in fact there are very little who support them which tells me that the people that are in favor of the republicans are the older generation that don't have computers and have land lines

    August 31, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  20. Rickster

    -India's economy races 8.8%...
    -Russian economy grows 4.0%...
    -German unemployment rate 7.6%...
    -US Auto Sales May Hit 28-Year Low as Discounts Flop...
    -Congressional Budget Office numbers show that the total cost of the eight-year war was less than the stimulus bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009.

    Looks like everyone else is starting to recover nicely. Why isn't the U.S. doing as well? Oh yeah, we're saddled with President Failure and his "party of failures" at the helm.

    August 31, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  21. jay

    The GOP only cares about the rich, what Idiot would vote for them.

    August 31, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  22. Dave

    It is so funny to watch the democrats blame republicans for everything and take no responsibility for their own misdeeds. The housing mess should be laid at the feet of those who mandated that banks make loans to people that could not afford them. While I'm no fan of the RINO's, the average American citizen is extremely displeased with Obama, Reid and Pelosi. In addition, the media is so lopsided in their favor is is laughable!

    August 31, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  23. Chispter

    It's difficult to understand why the American people would want to return to the policies that created the current recession. Supply side economics has failed every time Republicans deploy it, yet Republican marketing teams are great at demonizing Democrats and scaring people into voting against their own interests! I'm incredible and very sad. Democrats are just lousy marketers. We don't want to believe that people are that easy to manipulate but time and time again they prove that they are. The don't understand policy so they fall for the Tabloid tactics.

    August 31, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  24. Brian

    Boy, I guess all the stupid economic policies the dems have been making are really starting to get to the voters

    August 31, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  25. chris

    So when it's the Dems down a few points, then CNN questions the accuracy and reliability of the poll.

    August 31, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
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