Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties

  • February 12, 2010

Nine months ahead of the midterm elections, voters have conflicted attitudes about both political parties, according to the latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Opinions of the Republican Party have improved significantly, and for the first time in years the GOP's favorable ratings nearly equal the Democratic Party's. Voting intentions for the fall elections also remain closely divided. However, the Democratic Party is still better regarded in many respects than is the GOP and far more people continue to blame the Republicans than the Democrats for the current state of the economy. And despite frustrations with his stewardship of the economy, bottom-line opinions of Barack Obama have not changed in the past few months.
The wild card in voter opinion at this point is the level of anti-incumbent sentiment, which is as extensive as it has been in 16 years of Pew Research Center surveys. About three-in-ten voters (31%) say they do not want to see their own representative reelected, which is well above the average percentage expressing this view in 29 previous surveys (23%). The only recent midterm campaigns when anti-incumbent sentiment equaled its current levels were in 2006 and 1994 – which culminated in elections that changed the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

The climate of opinion today, however, is different than it was prior to those historic campaigns in two important ways. First, through most of the 2006 campaign the opposition party was viewed more favorably than the incumbent party. In 1994, both parties were favorably rated by substantial majorities of the public; currently, neither is.

Second, opinions about Barack Obama are not nearly as negative as were views of George Bush in 2006 and are somewhat better than opinions of Bill Clinton were for much of 1994. Currently, slightly more voters say they think of their vote as a vote for Obama (24%) than as a vote against him (20%). Throughout most of 2006, roughly twice as many said they were voting “against” Bush as “for” him. And in three surveys during the fall of 1994, slightly higher percentages said they thought of their vote as against Clinton rather than for him.

Read the full report Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.