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. John Adkisson

    It would not require polling each and every House district to arrive at a much more reliable measure of where the parties' stand. There are are 30-40 seats truly in play because even the rosiest scenario for the Democrats is the loss of 10-15 seats in the House. There are 10-12 Senate seats arguably up for grabs. Why do we have have a dozen of these generic polls when resources would be better spent on polling where it really matters. The media spends money on polls the same way it reports the news these days– for a cheap "breaking news" announcements that sound important but mean very little.

    August 31, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  2. Soap

    The demorats are running away from obama care because it was just learned the working class will have their insurance costs go up 30 percent because of cost's pushed off on the insurance by obama's health care plan. Demorats have been told to change their tact from "It is good" to return me to DC to fix the problems with obama care. More bad news for the morons on the left just before the mid terms but just about all working people as well. Of course most obama voters (moochers) will not be affected.

    August 31, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  3. BeverlyNC

    Polls don't include enough people to make then entirely valid. The Republican Party is self-destructing with all their hateful infighting and not showing a single solution on any issue. Not one detailed answer.

    Now tonight the forever tan-man liar will take another shot at President Obama. Most people don't know who Boehner is because he is never doing any work but spends his days at an ALL MALE country club playing golf.

    The reason most people don't know about Boehner is he is not a real leader but an arrogant joke who spends more time on the golf course and his tanning bed than he does doing any work in Congress. He spends more money on his clothes and hairspray for his foppish look than an average family would spend for their mortgage.

    Boehner has been a symbol of Republican hate and lies and obstructionism. He has spent the entire Obama Presidency showing up for his media sound bites to oppose whatever President Obama did the day before. If President Obama ended all wars in the world, Boehner would criticize him for taking away jobs from gun makers.

    Boehner will be fighting to keep his seat in Congress from a smart, young, hard-working Democrat in Ohio. While Boehner puffs himself up and assumes he will be re-elected, the People of Ohio describe him as an "embarrassment" and " having done nothing for their state".

    Boehner is an empty suit who has shown NO leadership, offered NO solutions for any issue, opposed EVERYTHING to help American families and workers, gets most of his campaign money from the Insurance industry (no wonder he wants to repeal our healthcare law), Big Oil, (must be why he thinks taxpayers should pay for the BP oil disaster cleanup) and is pushing hard for extending the Bush tax cuts for the billionaires in America which will increase our deficit by 4 TRILLION dollars. It is not funded so Boehner has announced he wants to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment benefits for starters.

    Boehner is nothing but a windbag and everything he says tonight will be a total lie, as usual, and will be to criticize President Obama. He will try to take credit for President Obama getting our combat troops out of Iraq by the date he promised us by falsing claiming it was due to Bush. That's a laugh since we would have never been in the fraudulent Iraq War if Bush had not LIED to everyone about the fake threat of Iraq. Boehner will also use his media time to blame the economy on President Obama when it was the Republicans who threw billions of dollars a month at the no-strategy Iraq War.

    The truth is that President Obama took intelligent steps to unentangle us from Iraq, get our combat troops out, and stop the waste of our money on a failed war. President Obama SAVED our financial system and our country from a total and complete Depression greater than the one in the 1930s. We are no longer losing 750K jobs a month under Bush but gaining more and more jobs with each passing month. All our economic indicators are positive now. President Obama saved our American auto industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs. He LOANED them money which, now profitable again, the auto industry is ready to pay back WITH INTEREST. President Obama created many extremely successful economic booster programs to save people's homes, to jump start the housing market, to get people to buy better gas mileage cars, and businesses are making solid profits again.

    President Obama DESERVES credit for all HE had accomplished for We the People. Had Boehner been in charge we would still be stuck in Iraq with no exit plans and would be in a full Depression with record unemployment numbers like our nation has never seen before.

    We need to stand up for President Obama and the Democrats who have stood strong for us and delivered solid solutions to make our lives better and turn the economy in the right direction. The Democrats want to keep delivering solutions and building America back.

    Republicans have NO solutions and are bent on destroying our progress and taking everything away from the working people and the middle class. They want to return to the Bush policies which we all know were a huge failure. They don't know what else to do because they have wasted the past 18 months on a hate-spewing, fear-mongering, strategy to cause America to fail so President Obama would fail. Instead they have self-destructed. There is no Republican Party but just bands of opposing extremists and racist tea baggers. Don't listen to these shameful liars and haters anymore. Let them disintegrate under the weight of their hatefulness and intolerance while we and the Democrats keep moving American forward and restoring our former prosperity.

    Don't waste your time listening to Boehner. He is just a self-promoting liar who dishonors Congress.

    August 31, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. montag

    I'm no great fan of the Democrats, but how can anybody who has lived through the last ten years even consider voting for a Republican?

    Is it collective amnesia? Or collective cognitive dissonance?

    August 31, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  5. Right Leaning Independent

    I am rewarding the Repubs with a straight Republican ticket vote. The first time in my life and likely to be the beginning of many more!! I am rewarding them for obstructing this liberal agenda that promotes redistribution and class warfare!! The Dems never negotiated in good faith with Repubs since Obama and Dems took super majority control of both chambers! They rammed health care and stimulus down out throats. They support job killing unions and not businesses that create jobs! Not to mention that the CRA, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd had a big hand in running the economy into the so called ditch for those that see our mess as the sole result of Republican policies! So yes, my vote will be straight Republican!!!!!

    August 31, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  6. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Aw Hummn,
    The people wanted to get rid of Bush. So in 2006 they put the Democrats back in charge of the Congress. Then because they didn't want Hillary or the Republicans they elected Obama. Since then unemployment went from 4.5 percent to 9.5 percent. People don't know when they are well off. And by the way, the President doesn't owe you a job. Electing Obama or the democrats was an excrise in futility. Believe it or not, you are supposed to Book your own life, not expect someone else to do it. The Party of No expects you to do it because you are supposed to do it. They can't baby sit you. So get cracking.

    August 31, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  7. Orlando Patriot

    Some say they can't see how the Democrats can't be faulted? Let's play some role reversal for a moment. Let's assume that John McCain had won the election in Nov 2008 and Republicans had majorities in BOTH the House and Senate.

    Then let's assume John McCain pushed through an $850 BILLION (with a "B"!!) Stimulus Package that did not stimulate. Then let's assume at that time the people were told this stimulus was NECESSARY and if we don't push it through unemployment that was about 6.5% would go above 8% but the stimulus will keep it below 7%.

    Now, 18 months later, the country is $3 TRILLION (with a "T"!!) further in debt AND unemployment is at 9.5% with ALL experts say there will be no significant change for at least a year or two. In additiion GDP is less than 2% with no immediate signs of recovery.

    Remember, this assumption is that John McCain is now president. DO YOU THINK FOR A MOMENT THE DEMOCRATS WOULD NOT BE ALL OVER THE PRESS TALKING ABOUT HOW BAD THE ECONOMY IS AND REPUBLICANS WERE TO BLAME!! Of course they would!! That my Democrat citizens is called hypocrisy.........You are a lemming with no ability to think for yourself. Just ONCE in your life open your tiny little minds and tell me again how Obama is doing just a great job?

    August 31, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  8. ruty

    Why weren't the republicans bitching while Bush was president? Now it seems Obama can do nothing right. The repubs have a selective memory. The worse president in the history of this nation gets off scott free. He and Cheney should be in prison for perjury- war crimes-bankrupting this country–just name a few.He and Cheney make me sick to even hear their voices. By the way–I used to be a republican–Bush turned me against the repub party.

    August 31, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  9. Hunter of the lib hunter

    Have you noticed when facts are presented, the right wingnuts get all defensive and say someone is blaming Bush? It must be nice to have Fox republican talking points 24/7, keeping them safe from reality. I'll bet there are no facts about unfunded tax cuts, unfunded wars, unfunded bank bailouts and unnecessary wars in Rupert's reality free zone.

    August 31, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  10. E. Coli-Tainted Palin Word Salad Consumed By Media

    CNN is in no position to be criticizing anyone's poll numbers, ballots or approval ratings. Notice how CNN never mentions their own plummeting viewership numbers compared to other cable news outlets in primetime or their loss of "credibility" with the viewing and online reading public. That's the price they pay when half of their "news" consultants, journalists and "political" reporters are former members of White House press corps, failed previous administration hacks or lobbyists.

    August 31, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. Hunter of the lib hunter

    Anyone who would vote for a republican bagger in November has to be stuck on stupid.

    August 31, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  12. Hunter of the lib hunter

    I am not surprised at this time with this poll. After all, almost 70% of Americans in a recent poll do not believe in freedom of religion.

    August 31, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    The Dems are on the way out. Count on it.

    August 31, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  14. Doc

    I could believe the Republicans have an edge, after all they get to blame everything on the current congress and administration (which is pretty much what i predicted when they lost back in '08). But you really believe a Faux News poll is fair and balanced?
    I'd believe it more if they had actually offered real alternatives and not voted against everything, including a health bill that is a mirror image to one they drafted themselves!

    August 31, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  15. thomas orozoc

    the dems have always been under attack by the gop.they are for the rich and powerful.and the dems are for the poor and hard working family . we need the dems to keep running our country and keep changing all the damages the gop has done during there time in office.people of america open your eyes and vote for the dems!!!!!!!!!! the peoples choice for you and your kids........

    August 31, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  16. water bearer

    I will say it again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record. The Republican party does not want the economy to get better. The Republican party is counting on voters who don't have a clear understanding of our political system or our economic system, to vote for them based on the "fact" that the economy is bad and the Democrats are in "power". These voters don't understand that, just because one party is "in power" it doesn't necissarily follow suit that that party can get all of it's bills passed. The Republican party in the Senate has filibustered more bills and more appointments in the last two years than any other two year period in US history. Therefore, bills that would help the economy don't get passed and the economy stays stagnate. The Republicans are also using voters who have a racial ax to grind by racheting up the fear that these voters have about living in a country which is going through great growth with regard to racial demographics. All of these voters are being targeted by the Republicans for purely cynical reasons . . . . to get votes . . . .to gain power . . . .period.

    The Republican party wants this country to fail. STOP PLAYING INTO THEIR HANDS!

    August 31, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. Molly Weasley

    So - the Gallup Poll, which has fluctuated wildly throughout the year (a month ago, the Democrats were up by six points) is flogged. And the Newsweek poll, which shows both parties tied, gets nary a mention. So let's ask voters these questions:

    You want to phase out Medicare and let Grandma take her chances with a voucher to get a policy with an insurance company, which would let hell freeze over before insuring her? (Talk about a death panel!) Vote Republican. That's part of Rep. Paul Ryan's plan, which is being endorsed by House Minority Leader John Boehner and more and more Republicans every day.

    You want to privatize Social Security and let the one solid piece of retirement income veer wildly depending on the whims of the stock market? And you want to give Wall Street firms even MORE money in the process? Vote Republican. That's part of Ryan's plan, too!

    You want elected Republican representatives to keep trashing the Constitution by ginning up fear against Muslims over the "Ground Zero Mosque" which is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero? You want to keep driving anti-Islamic feelings so that even more people will burn Korans, set fire to mosques and stab cab drivers? You want to give terrorists MORE reasons to attack America? You want to ignore the First Amendment completely? Vote Republican.

    I think America is smarter than that.

    August 31, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  18. Rick in OP

    I remember the 1994 mid-term elections. My sense is the mood is stronger against Obama and the Democrats now than it was against Clinton and the Democrats in 1994. A 10-point lead in the generic ballot suggests that.

    If this holds until November 2nd, the Democrats are in for a massacre. It will be not so much a vote for the Republicans as it will be a vote for undoing the damage that Obama and the Democrats have caused over the last two years.

    August 31, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  19. ??

    I can understand being disappointed in Obama & the Democratic Congress, but to punish them you're going to vote for ... the GOPs????The ones who squandered the Clinton surplus, pushed us into a totally useless war, & presided over a massive economic crash. I hope the indicator reflects frustration at the Democrats more than anyone thinking the party of the rich, by the rich & for the rich has anything useful to offer we the people.

    August 31, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  20. michaelam

    Please give some serious thought before you vote this November and remember which party nearly drove our country over a cliff.

    Republicans=deregulation=collapsed economy
    Republicans=outsourced jobs=high unemployment
    Republicans=wars=numerous body bags=orphaned children
    Republicans=deregulation=salmonella tainted eggs
    Republicans=deregulation=massive oil spill=worst environmental disaster ever
    Republicans=deregulation=mine explosion=more body bags
    Republicans +Tea Potty=Theocracy
    Republicans +Tea Potty +Theocracy=disaster, ruin, and third world status!

    A vote for any and all Republicans/Tea Potty is the quickest trip back to the Dark Ages!

    August 31, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  21. ThoseWhoServe

    Polls are great. Unfortunately a good pollster can get almost any result they want by careful (and misleading) wording.

    It's a shame that no one really looks at what the Republicans did for American workers and jobs, and the American economy from 1994 when they controlled the House and from 2000 – 2006, when they controlled the House, Senate, and the White House, and the White House for 2007 – January 29, 2009.

    1) They supported and voted for ending the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 which separated commercial banks from investment banks which directly led to the near collapse of the American economy in the summer of 2008.
    2) Defined benefit pension plans are now only available to approximately 8% of working Americans. Of course all Members of Congress and defined benefit pensions.
    3) Millions of good-paying technical, professional, and manufacturing jobs for Americans are permanently gone via off-shoring or replacement by H1-b visa jobs restricted to foreign nationals.
    4) House prices doubled between 2002 and late 2007 due to providing millions of new homeowners with sub-prime mortgages with delayed significant increases in monthly payments (utilizing a wide variety of false documents and issuing loans to people who would not be willing or able to pay).
    5) The financial services sector that comprises 7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was scooping up 40% of the profits of the American economy.
    6) The total lack of oversight of the financial services sector, combined with refusal to enforce the regulations in place, led to the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression.
    7) The country now has tens of millions of homeowners who purchased homes in the 2004 – 2007 period who are upside down in their mortgages, owing far more than the house is worth. This means they have no way to sell their current home or buy a new home, restricting their ability to relocate for a new job.
    8) Most personal IRA plans and 401-k plans lost one third of the value or more in the summer of 2008.
    9) Republicans are proposing delaying the start of full Social Security benefits to age 70 because they don't want to redeem any of the $2.5 Trillion Dollars of U.S. Treasury securities belonging to the Social Security Trust Fund.

    The Republicans have always emphasized the need for fiscal responsibility. Republicans wrote and passed the 2001 and 2003 tax cut bills that were unfunded. Republicans wrote and passed a Medicare Rx prescription plan that was unfunded. Republicans wrote and utilized emergency appropriations that were never included in budgets to pay for the entire cost of running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

    Most of the funding for these expenditures was simply borrowed from foreign lenders, including Saudi Arabian princes and (communist) China, via the sale of more than $4 Trillion Dollars of U.S. Treasury securities that the Republicans are perfectly willing to redeem.

    And now, Republicans propose extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts at an estimated cost of $3.1 Trillion Dollars without funding or paying for them. How much more Republican fiscal responsibility cans the American electorate take?

    Based on their running commentary from Republicans over the past two years, does anyone think that they would do anything differently if they get control of the House or Senate?

    August 31, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  22. Former Republican, now an Independent

    I would highly doubt any poll in today's world with the lack of unbiased news media and it being replaced and distorted by "news opinion journalism".

    August 31, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Why is the flag at half-mast?

    August 31, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  24. Jonny-Boy

    Actually, most polling is conducted on well thought out sample models and more often than not seems to do an okay job. They largely got it right in the polling on the MI primary, and in the runup to the 2008 election were pretty right about Obama's win. Rather than worry about whether or not polling firms know what they're doing or even can do reliable polling anymore, why not just take heart in the fact that the numbers can be very fluid and election day is 2 months away.

    August 31, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  25. jazzyhill43

    I hope the republicans don't think that they are going to skate to victory without a plan on how to help fix the economy? The american people better quit acting stupid when it comes to these politicians. They need to explain what they are going to do to help people get back to work if they are in charge.

    August 31, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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