Poll shows tight race for control of Congress as class divide widens

With President Biden’s approval rating mired in the 1930s and with nearly 80% of voters saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, all the ingredients appear to be in place for a Republican sweep in the mid-election. November term.

But Democrats and Republicans are starting the campaign in a surprisingly tight race for control of Congress, according to the New York Times/Siena College’s first survey of the cycle.

Overall, among registered voters, 41% said they preferred Democrats to control Congress, compared to 40% who preferred Republican control.

Among likely voters, Republicans led by one percentage point, 44% to 43%, reflecting the out of power party’s tendency to enjoy a midterm turnout advantage.

The findings suggest that the spate of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade at least temporarily insulated Democrats from an otherwise hostile domestic political environment while energizing the party’s predominantly liberal militant base.

But the confluence of economic issues and resurgence of cultural issues has helped turn the emerging class divide within the Democratic coalition into a chasm, as Republicans appear to be making new inroads among nonwhite and class voters. working class — perhaps especially Hispanic voters — who remain more concerned. on the economy and inflation than on the right to abortion and firearms.

For the first time in a Times/Siena national survey, Democrats had a larger share of support among white college graduates than among nonwhite voters — a stark indication of the shifting balance of political energy in the coalition. democrat. As recently as the 2016 congressional elections, Democrats won more than 70% of nonwhite voters while losing among white college graduates.

With four months to go before the election, it’s far too early to tell whether the campaign will remain focused on issues like abortion and gun control long enough for Democrats to avoid a long-awaited midterm rout. If so, a tight national vote would likely result in a tight race for control of Congress, as neither party enjoys a clear structural advantage in the race. Partisan gerrymandering has tilted the map slightly toward Republicans in the House, but Democrats enjoy the perks of the presidency and superior fundraising in key districts.

Recent news unfavorable to Democrats, in the form of Supreme Court rulings, and some tragic news nationwide might normally spell trouble for the ruling party, but that’s not what the results suggest.

The investigation began 11 days after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as cellphones still buzzed with alerts about the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.

In an open-ended question, those who said gun, abortion or Supreme Court issues were the most important issue facing the country accounted for about one in six registered voters combined. These voters preferred Democratic control of Congress, 68% to 8%.

Some of the burning cultural issues thought to be playing to Republicans’ advantage early in the cycle, like critical race theory, have faded from the spotlight. Only 4% of voters combined said education, crime or immigration were the most important issues facing the country.

The Times/Siena investigation is not the first to suggest that the national political environment has improved for Democrats since the Supreme Court overthrew Roe. On average, Democrats gained about three points on the generic congressional ballot compared to polls taken before.

Following the court ruling, the poll reveals greater public support for legal abortion than previous Times/Siena surveys. Sixty-five percent of registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal, up from 60 percent of registered voters in September 2020.

The proportion of voters who opposed the court’s ruling – 61% – was similar to the share who said they supported Roe v. Wade two years ago.

Democrats are maintaining the loyalty of a crucial group of largely liberal and highly educated voters who disapprove of Mr Biden’s performance but care more about gun debates, democracy and the curtailing of the right to abortion than the state of the economy.

Voters who said issues related to abortion, guns or threats to democracy were the biggest problem facing the country backed Democrats by a wide margin, 66% to 14%.

For some progressive voters, recent conservative political victories make it difficult to sit on the sidelines.

Lucy Ackerman, a 23-year-old graphic designer in Durham, North Carolina, said Mr Biden had repeatedly failed to deliver on his campaign promises. She recently registered with the Democratic Socialists of America. Nonetheless, she has pledged to elect as many Democrats as possible this fall.

She says the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe made the policy personal: She and his wife married after the decision leaked, lest the court then strike down same-sex marriage rights.

“Recent events have pushed me to do more,” she said. “I became more involved in local political efforts. I helped register friends to vote.

The liberal backlash against conservative advances on the court appears to have helped Democrats the most among white college graduates, who are relatively liberal and often isolated by their wealth from economic hardship. Just 17% of white college-educated Biden voters said an economic issue was the most important facing the country, less than any other racial or educational group.

Overall, white college graduates preferred Democratic control of Congress, 57-36. Women propelled Democratic strength in the group, with white college-educated women backing the Democrats, 64-30. The Democrats were barely ahead among college-educated white men, 46-45.

While the survey doesn’t show an unusual gender gap, the poll appears to offer evidence that the court’s decision on abortion could do more to help Democrats among women. Nine percent of women said abortion rights were the most important issue, compared to 1 percent of men.

The fight for control of Congress is starkly different among often less wealthy, nonwhite and moderate voters who say the economy or inflation is the biggest problem facing the country. They preferred Republican control of Congress, 62% to 25%, even though more than half of voters who said the economy was the biggest problem also said abortion should be primarily legal.

Only 74% of voters who backed Mr. Biden in the 2020 election but said the economy or inflation was the most important issue said they preferred Democratic control of Congress. By contrast, the Democrats were the choice of 87% of Biden voters who said abortion or guns were the most important issue.

The economy may be helping Republicans the most among Hispanic voters, who preferred Democrats to control Congress, 41-38. Although the sample size is small, the finding is consistent with the longer-term deterioration in Democratic support within the group. Hispanics voted for Democrats by nearly 50 points midterm in 2018, according to Pew Research data, and then President Donald J. Trump made surprising gains with them in 2020.

No racial or ethnic group was more likely than Hispanic voters to cite the economy or inflation as the most important issue facing the country, with 42% citing an economic issue compared to 35% of non-Hispanic voters.

Republicans also seem poised to extend their already lopsided advantage among white voters without a college degree. They back the Republicans by more than two to one, 54-23. Even so, nearly a quarter remain undecided compared to just 7% of white college graduates.

As less engaged working-class voters tune in, Republicans may have opportunities for additional gains. Historically, the out of power party excels in midterm elections, largely by capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the president’s party.

Only 23% of undecided voters approved of Mr Biden’s professional performance.

Silvana Read, a certified practical nurse who lives outside of Tampa, Fla., is one of the Hispanic voters Republicans will try to sway to capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden.

An immigrant from Ecuador, she despised Mr Trump’s comments about women and foreigners, but voted for him because her husband convinced her it would help them financially. Now she and her husband, 56 and 60, blame Mr. Biden for the downfall of their 401(k)s.

“My husband, he sees the news on TV, he says, ‘I don’t think I can retire for 75,'” she said. “We can’t afford to finish paying the mortgage.”

Yet his allegiance to the Republican Party does not extend far beyond Mr. Trump. She offered no preference in the fight for control of Congress.

She does not plan to vote mid-term.

The Times/Siena survey of 849 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators July 5-7. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points. The cross tables and the methodology are available here.

Francesca Paris contributed report.

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