Survey: Midterm voters from both parties driven by prospect of controlling Congress

Kathleen Williams won the Democratic nomination for Montana’s U.S. House seat and faces incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte in November. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

(Courthouse News Service) American voters in both parties say congressional control is the primary factor for their high enthusiasm to vote in November’s midterm elections, the Pew Research Center reported Wednesday.

In a survey of 2,000 adults, 1,600 of whom are registered voters, Pew researchers found that voters from both parties were generally more enthusiastic about the 2018 midterm elections than in previous years.

Fifty-five percent of Democratic respondents indicated increased enthusiasm, compared to only 37 percent who voiced enthusiasm in 2014.

Republican voter enthusiasm jumped from 45 to 50 percent from 2014 to 2018, though their enthusiasm was highest during the 2010 midterms amid the rise of the Tea Party.

Those surveyed said they view partisan congressional control as the primary factor in their enthusiasm – 73 percent of Democratic respondents and 70 percent of Republicans said majority control is a factor, which has been the general trend since 1998, according to the survey.

In Montana, those marquee races include Democrat Kathleen Williams’ challenge of incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte for the state’s sole seat in the U.S. House and State Auditor Matt Rosendale’s campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

President Donald Trump is driving voters’ desire to gain their respective party’s control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, according to the survey.

Among Republicans, 52 percent see their midterm vote as one for Trump, and only 4 percent view their vote as one against the president.

On the other hand, 61 percent of Democrats view their vote in November as one against Trump.

Though 65 percent of Democrats saw their vote as one against President George W. Bush in the 2006 midterms, that election was held at the tail end of Bush’s second term and amid growing backlash against the Iraq War. In contrast, the Trump administration has not reached the halfway mark in its first term.

“Trump is now a bigger negative factor in voting decisions for Democrats than Barack Obama was for Republicans during the midterm campaigns in 2010 and 2014,” the Pew report states. “However, Trump also is much more of a positive factor for Republicans today than Obama was for Democrats in the previous two congressional elections.”

Overall, the survey data indicates increased polarization between the two parties, which follows polling trends on multiple issues for several years.

The Pew study indicated that a Republican majority trust Trump’s statements more than previous presidents, whereas an even larger majority (85 percent) of Democrats felt the opposite.

In the aggregate, 54 percent of respondents said they trust Trump less than previous presidents.

In the same vein, 70 percent of Republican respondents said that the president has “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of respect for America’s democratic institutions and traditions, whereas 87 percent of Democratic respondents said Trump has “not too much” or no respect at all for American institutions and traditions.

Meanwhile, the president’s generic approval ratings have climbed in recent months, reaching 43 percent on average, according to poll aggregator RealClearPolitics.

Trump’s highest approval rating was 46 percent in the first few weeks of his presidency.

Ultimately, midterm outcomes will likely come down to whether increased Republican enthusiasm for the president can outweigh strong Democratic opposition to the Trump administration.

Outside of the presidential factor, candidates face anti-incumbent sentiments, especially from Democratic voters.

Seventy-four percent of Democrats surveyed by Pew do not want to see most incumbents to achieve re-election, an increase of 7 percent from 2014.

While a 54-percent majority of Republicans feel the same, the sentiment dropped 18 points from the last midterm cycle.

On the issues, voters indicated that immigration and health care were the most important policy factors from a list that also included education, the economy, gun control, taxes, the environment and drug policy.

Spread out amongst the list, 19 percent of respondents wanted their candidates to speak on immigration and 13 percent wanted them to talk about health care. Republicans also favored discussions on the economy (10 percent), and Democrats favored discussions about education (11 percent).

Voters appear as polarized as ever on specific issues, including the president, but respondents from both parties found relative consensus about the importance of the 2018 midterm elections for the country, which could be an indication of unusually high turnout for a non-presidential election cycle.