Midterm Election: Referendum on War

Sixty-eight percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track -- the highest in 10 years, save for last May and November -- a view closely related to views on the Iraq War. Sixty-five percent disapprove of how Congress is doing its job, including 45 percent of Republicans, whose party controls the institution.

And in a sign that the ill will is aimed at the Republican leadership, 47 percent of registered voters say it would be a good thing if control of Congress switched to the Democrats, twice as many as say it'd be a bad thing. At this time in 1994, substantially less, 36 percent, said it'd be a good thing if the Republicans took control, as they did.

The 1994 election was anti-incumbent; at the time, just 49 percent approved of their own representative's job performance. Today more, 59 percent, approve of how their rep is doing, making it less of an anti-incumbent election and more of a partisan protest.

The Democrats have benefited from a substantial negative vote. Among registered voters who prefer Democrats for the House, 55 percent are mainly voting for Democrats, but a substantial 43 percent say they're mainly voting to oppose the Republican candidate. The Republican vote is much more affirmative: Seventy percent pro-Republican, 25 percent anti-Democrat.

Horse Race

The congressional horse race reveals more about voter sentiment nationally than about the status of individual races at the state and district level. Incumbency is powerful, late advertising matters and get-out-the vote drives can be decisive. But another result indicates that the Democrats -- at least so far -- have held their own in voter contacts.

As many registered voters say they've been contacted on behalf of Democratic candidates as often as on behalf of Republican candidates (about two in 10 in both cases). And the Democratic calls seems better targeted: People who've been solicited on behalf of Democratic candidates favor the Democrats in their districts by a 45-point margin; people who've been contacted on behalf of Republicans prefer the Republicans by a narrower 19 points.

Economy

Bush and his party clearly want to change the subject of the election from Iraq to something (almost anything) else. Hence, the president's comments today heralding the economy. It makes sense: Fifty-five percent of Americans in this poll say the economy is in good shape -- the most since Bush took office.

But economic gains are not evenly spread: While 24 percent say they're getting ahead financially, as many, 23 percent, say they're falling behind, and most, 52 percent, say they're simply maintaining their standard of living, not improving it.

The result is that the economy, even while rated as getting better, is not bringing the Republicans much in the way of votes. Registered voters who are getting ahead financially favor the Republicans in their districts by 64-34 percent; those who are falling behind favor the Democrats by 76-18 percent. But, crucially, the big middle group, those treading water economically, go for the Democrats by a 17-point margin, 56-39 percent.

Moreover, those who call the economy the most important issue in their vote favor the Democrat in their district, by 57-39 percent.

Issues

Twenty-seven percent of registered voters call the war in Iraq the top issue in their vote; 19 percent say it's the economy; 14 percent terrorism; 13 percent health care; 10 percent immigration; and 8 percent ethics in government.

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