Democrats Remain Strong in Republican Battleground Congressional Seats


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Democracy Corps

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Executive Summary

A new survey by Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the latest in our series of weekly trackers in the Republican-held Congressional battleground, shows Democratic candidates maintaining their strong position with just over a week left before Election Day, even in an extended battleground. Because of the Democrats’ strong position, for this survey we expanded the battleground to the 55 most endangered Republican-held districts, adding 5 more districts once considered safe for the incumbent party. They are clearly no longer safe; in the lowest tier of seats, Democrats are within striking distance, trailing by just 5 points. And despite some improvement by Republican incumbents, Democrats continue to hold a significant lead in the top tier of Republican districts while fighting to a draw in the second tier.

Key Findings

  • Democrats lead in top 20 GOP seats, remain close in Tiers 2 and 3. Democratic candidates continue to post a significant lead in the top tier of the 20 most vulnerable Republican seats, besting the Republicans 50 to 44 percent in a named congressional vote. They also remain poised to win a sizeable number of seats further down the list of targets, managing a statistical tie of 46 to 48 percent in the second tier of seats and trailing by just 5 points (44 to 49 percent), and holding a group of mostly Republican incumbents under 50 percent, in the expanded third tier of districts that now includes such once-safe districts as South Carolina 01, Texas 10 and California 50.
  • Republican incumbents show some improvement in job performance and image but still in poor shape. Republican incumbents in the top two tiers of seats have seen their standing improve marginally. Their job approval rating has inched up from 38 to 42 percent, an improved, but still anemic score. They have also gained ground on a number of important attributes, gaining 4 points since last week on “will bring the right kind of change,” 2 points on being “effective in Congress” and dropping 4 points on “following Bush’s direction too much.” But overall their ratings are still quite poor for long-tenured incumbents; across our 55-seat battleground, for instance, just 44 percent believe these Republican incumbents are “on your side” and just 45 percent say that they are “effective in Congress.” Moreover, the Republicans have failed to translate these improvements to gains in the head-to-head matchups with the Democratic candidates on most of the issues such as the economy or associations such as who better shares your values, or who would better “fight for people here.” The only issue on which Republicans have made progress is taxes, where they have expanded a 2-point advantage over the Democrats to 5 points, suggesting that their concerted attacks on the issue might be finding some traction.
  • Change still the dominant force in these races. With the percentage of voters saying the country is on the wrong track near record levels and President Bush’s approval ratings still near all-time lows this remains a change election, even in this Republican-leaning battleground. By a 54 to 42 percent margin, voters here say they are inclined to vote for someone who can bring change rather than someone with experience. And by an even larger 55 to 37 percent margin, they say they want to use their votes for both president and Congress to bring change to Washington rather than using their vote for president to bring change while using their congressional vote to support someone who “is focused on people here.” Similarly, a 52 percent majority say that it is more urgent to change the direction of the country by voting to change who is president and who “represents us in Congress” than it is to support a member of Congress who has done a good job.
  • Voters are hearing more about Republicans, but news is breaking against the GOP. Overall, voters are hearing more about the Republicans (74 percent say they have recently heard about the Republican candidate) than the Democrats (67 percent). But the news is breaking against the Republicans and for the Democrats. In the top 40 Republican seats, by a 7-point margin voters say what they are hearing about the Republicans is making them feel less favorable toward the GOP candidates. This may be a result of a more effective communications effort by Democrats in the top tier of seats, who are now reaching more voters via television and door knocking than the Republicans for the first time. Meanwhile, in the third tier of seats, by a 7-point margin voters say that what they are hearing about the Democratic candidate is making them feel more favorable, suggesting that as voters in these districts are getting to know the Democratic candidates better they are liking what these candidates have to offer.