NBC News poll shows sky-high interest and polarization ahead of the midterms

A sign reading “This Way To Vote” is displayed in front of the Old Wilson Schoolhouse Community Center in Wilson, Wyoming on August 16, 2022 as Wyoming holds its Republican primary.

Patrick T Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, voter interest for a midterm election has now reached an all-time high, with a majority of registered voters saying this election is “more important” to them than previous midterms.

Additionally, about 80% of Democrats and Republicans believe that political opposition is a threat that will destroy America as we know it if not stopped.

And two-thirds of reliable Democratic and Republican voters say they would support their party’s political nominee even if that person had a moral flaw inconsistent with their own values.

These are some of the key findings from a brand new national poll from NBC News, which also shows competitive competition for November and offers positive signals for both major political parties.

Among Democrats, President Joe Biden’s approval rating remains steady at 45%; congressional preference remains relatively balanced (with 47% of registered voters prefering the Democrats to control Congress versus 46% who want Republicans to be in charge); and “Threats to Democracy” is the #1 voter topic for the third consecutive NBC News poll.

For Republicans, the positive signs are that Biden’s approval ratings among independents and swing-state voters are in their 30s and low 40s; that the GOP once again holds the enthusiasm advantage; and that Republicans lead the congressional preference in the smaller group of likely voters, 48% to 47%, although that’s within the poll’s margin of error.

But horseracing numbers aside and the keen interest in the upcoming election, NBC News’ poll highlights the bipartisan anger of Democratic and Republican voters when asked what one message they hoped to send with their vote.

“Tell Biden to resign,” said a Republican respondent from Missouri.

“Save this country,” responded a Republican from upstate New York.

“Democracy is in jeopardy,” responded a Democratic man from Massachusetts.

“Don’t mess with reproductive rights,” said a Democratic woman from California

“We know that many voters will vote in anger,” said Hart Research Associates’ Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted the poll with Republican Bill McInturff and his team at Public Opinion Strategies.

“We just don’t know who’s going to be angrier on which side,” Horwitt added.

According to the poll, 47% of registered voters say they prefer the Democrats to control Congress, while 46% want a Republican-controlled Congress – essentially unchanged from last month when the two parties were at 46% each .

Democrats enjoy some of their greatest advantages among black voters (who prefer Democratic control of Congress with a 74% to 13% majority), 18 to 34 year olds (60% to 30%), Latinos (57% to 30%) and women (50%-43%).

Republicans are ahead among white voters (55–40%), white voters without a college degree (61–33%), and male voters (49–43%).

And the parties are 40% tied 40% among independents.

Among voters the NBC News poll identifies as “likely voters” — those who either have a high interest in the election or have high modeled turnout — 48% prefer a Republican-controlled Congress versus 47% who do Democrat-controlled Congress want.

It’s the first time this cycle that the poll has measured likely voters.

An “eye popper” in the interests of the election

The poll also found that 70% of all registered voters say they have a strong interest in the upcoming election – either a “9” or a “10” on a 10-point scale – making it the highest percentage ever in the poll for a midterm election on this one Time is time.

“It’s eye-catching” when you have a higher number on that question now than 2018, which set a record midterm election turnout, said McInturff, the GOP election researcher.

However, broken down by party, 78% of Republicans have a high interest in the midterms compared to 69% of Democrats.

That 9-point GOP enthusiasm lead has been up since September (when it was R+3) and August (when it was R+2).

Additionally, 57% of all voters say November’s congressional elections are more important to them than previous midterms — more than the 2018 (52%) or 2010 (44%) poll showed.

Thirty-seven percent say it’s equally important for earlier midterms, and 6 percent say it’s less important.

Once again, Republicans are expressing more importance in the upcoming midterms – 68% of them say the election is more important to them versus 53% of Democrats saying so.

Biden agrees, nation’s direction remains steady

In the poll, 45% of registered voters approve of President Biden’s overall job performance, while 52% disapprove – unchanged from September.

But Biden’s job rating is in the same territory as other recent presidents whose party lost control of at least one chamber of Congress in their first midterm elections.

In the October 2010 NBC News/WSJ poll, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 45% (when the Democrats lost 63 House seats in those midterm elections). And by early November, Donald Trump’s approval rating was 46% (when the GOP lost 40 seats in the House of Representatives).

Across major demographics, Biden has the highest ratings among black voters (70% agree), urban dwellers (61%), voters ages 18 to 34 (54%), and Latinos (51%).

But his support is significantly lower among voters from swing states (41%), suburban women (40%) and independents (37%).

71 percent of voters say the country is going in the wrong direction, compared to 20 percent who say it’s on the right track.

It’s the sixth time in NBC News’ last seven polls that the wrong title has exceeded 70%.

“These are really tough numbers for Democrats, and they’ve had them for months,” said McInturff, the Republican pollster.

And in terms of the country’s economy, 20% say it will improve over the next year, 26% say it will stay about the same and 50% say it will get worse.

That 50% say the economy will get worse in the next 12 months is the highest number on this question, dating back to 1994.

A divided electorate
NBC News poll shows just how polarized the electorate is ahead of the midterm elections.

Eighty-one percent of Democrats believe the Republican Party agenda poses a threat that will destroy America as we know it if not stopped.

An almost identical proportion of Republicans – 79% – believe the same of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

“It looks like voters are no longer looking for a ‘Treaty with America,’ they want a divorce,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

When GOP voters who say they prefer Republicans to control Congress were asked whether a GOP candidate they supported had a moral failure in their business, marriage, or personal life, 67% of those voters said, that they would still vote for the party Republican nominee.

In contrast, a total of 22% said they would skip the race and vote for a Democrat or third-party candidate.

When asked the same question of Democratic voters who prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress, 63% said they would still vote for the Democratic nominee, while 26% said they would not — either by skipping the race , vote for the GOP candidate or vote third party.

More results of the survey

  • 9% of registered voters say they have already voted during the midterm elections, 40% plan to vote early (either by absentee ballot or by voting early in person) and 47% say they will go to the polls on election day.
  • 77% say they are confident their vote will be counted early, versus 19% who are not confident.
  • And 60% of all voters say President Biden won legally in 2020, compared to 33% (and 65% of Republicans) who say he didn’t win legally.

That NBC News poll was conducted October 14-18 with 1,000 registered voters – 750 of whom were reached by mobile phone – and has an overall error rate of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

The margin of error among the 797 voters identified as likely voters is plus or minus 3.47 percentage points.

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