Anger Aside, Voters Favor D.C. Status Quo

Oliver Solomon, of Davenport, Iowa, and his wife LaDonna arrive at the Davenport Public Library before casting their ballot for the Nov. 6th election, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in Davenport, Iowa. Early voting for the Nov. 6th election likely will set an Iowa record, as presidential candidates seek to lock-in votes in the battleground state.
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Oct. 31, 2012, 9:32 a.m.

Des­pite dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the na­tion’s dir­ec­tion and Wash­ing­ton’s per­form­ance, voters lean to­ward re­tain­ing the status quo in Wash­ing­ton, the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll has found.

This fi­nal Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll be­fore the Nov. 6 elec­tion found that among likely voters, Pres­id­ent Obama has re­opened a slim ad­vant­age over Mitt Rom­ney, while a nar­row plur­al­ity prefers that Re­pub­lic­ans main­tain House con­trol. By a wider mar­gin, likely voters said they prefer that Demo­crats re­tain their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,010 adults — in­clud­ing 713 likely voters by cell phone and land­line — on Oct. 25-28. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of 3.7 per­cent­age points for the en­tire sample, and 4.4 per­cent­age points for likely voters.

These na­tion­al meas­ures of sen­ti­ment don’t ne­ces­sar­ily pre­dict the res­ults in the state-by-state and dis­trict-by-dis­trict con­tests that will de­cide House and Sen­ate con­trol. Yet they il­lu­min­ate the com­pet­ing, even con­tra­dict­ory, im­pulses among voters that are shap­ing the re­la­tion­ship between the pres­id­en­tial and con­gres­sion­al con­tests.

The para­dox­ic­al bot­tom line is that even as most voters say they want to di­vide con­trol of the White House and Con­gress to check the next pres­id­ent, they are dis­play­ing an in­creas­ing tend­ency to­ward party-line vot­ing in con­gres­sion­al races that could make that out­come less likely.

Over­all, the sur­vey found Obama lead­ing Rom­ney among likely voters by 50 per­cent to 45 per­cent, after the two tied at 47 per­cent each in a late-Septem­ber Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll. Con­versely, the poll re­cor­ded a slight shift to­ward the GOP in House races. Now, 47 per­cent of likely voters say they would prefer that Re­pub­lic­ans main­tain their House ma­jor­ity, while 44 per­cent want Demo­crats to take over; Demo­crats held a 45 per­cent to 43 per­cent ad­vant­age in late Septem­ber. Voters, by a sol­id 50 per­cent to 40 per­cent mar­gin, now say they would prefer a Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate; that’s up from a 47 per­cent to 42 per­cent ad­vant­age for Demo­crats in Septem­ber.

The sur­vey found an over­whelm­ing cor­rel­a­tion between pref­er­ences in the pres­id­en­tial race and the battle for con­gres­sion­al con­trol. In the House, fully 85 per­cent of Obama voters pre­ferred a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity, while 92 per­cent of Rom­ney voters said they want the Re­pub­lic­ans to main­tain con­trol. In the Sen­ate, Obama voters by 89 per­cent to 3 per­cent said they pre­ferred Demo­crat­ic con­trol, while Rom­ney voters, by 83 per­cent to 9 per­cent, want Re­pub­lic­ans to take the ma­jor­ity.

These res­ults track closely with re­cent state-level polls show­ing a tight­en­ing con­nec­tion between at­ti­tudes in the pres­id­en­tial and Sen­ate races. Al­though spe­cial cir­cum­stances al­ways al­low some can­did­ates to swim against this tide (such as Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill in Mis­souri this year), in most re­cent pub­lic sur­veys, at least 80 per­cent of voters sup­port­ing Obama for pres­id­ent also say they are back­ing the Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ate in that state, and vice versa for Rom­ney.

The para­dox is that voters are mov­ing fur­ther to­ward this quasi-par­lia­ment­ary style of party-line vot­ing even as they ex­press re­luct­ance to uni­fy con­trol of Wash­ing­ton be­hind one party.

In the poll, three-fifths of likely voters say that if Rom­ney wins they want Demo­crats to con­trol at least one cham­ber “so they can act as a check” on his agenda; just 34 per­cent want Re­pub­lic­ans to con­trol both cham­bers “so they can im­ple­ment his agenda.” Even among those vot­ing for Rom­ney, fully one-fourth say they want Demo­crats to con­trol one con­gres­sion­al cham­ber.

Like­wise, just 36 per­cent of voters want Demo­crats to con­trol both cham­bers if Obama wins; 58 per­cent say they want Re­pub­lic­ans to hold at least one to check him. About one-fourth of Obama voters say they would prefer di­vided con­trol.

And yet, des­pite that broad pref­er­ence, re­l­at­ively few voters in either camp ap­pear in­clined to ac­tu­ally split their bal­lots between the pres­id­en­tial and con­gres­sion­al race. That cre­ates a for­mula for frus­tra­tion.

On the one hand, as in this sur­vey, voters are now con­sist­ently voicing a pref­er­ence for dis­trib­ut­ing power between the parties in a way that would com­pel them to co­oper­ate. On the oth­er, by send­ing to Wash­ing­ton few­er can­did­ates rep­res­ent­ing voters who sup­port the oth­er party’s pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, they are re­du­cing the num­ber of le­gis­lat­ors with an in­trins­ic in­cent­ive to com­prom­ise.

The poll’s find­ing of a 50-45 Obama ad­vant­age in the pres­id­en­tial race high­lights the cent­ral un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the bliz­zard of late cam­paign polling: What will the par­tis­an and ra­cial com­pos­i­tion of the ac­tu­al elect­or­ate look like?

In its likely-voter mod­el, the Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll pro­jec­ted that the 2012 elect­or­ate will be vir­tu­ally un­changed from 2008, with Demo­crats hold­ing an 8 per­cent­age-point ad­vant­age among voters (com­pared with 7 points last time) and whites rep­res­ent­ing 73 per­cent of voters (com­pared to 74 per­cent last time).

Oth­er re­cent polls, such as the Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey re­leased on Monday show­ing a tied race, have found a nar­row­er, or nonex­ist­ent, Demo­crat­ic iden­ti­fic­a­tion ad­vant­age for 2012. Rom­ney’s pro­spects, ob­vi­ously, will in­crease the more the par­tis­an gap de­clines. The biggest mes­sage from the sur­vey is that even small changes in the elect­or­ate’s com­pos­i­tion next week could have huge rami­fic­a­tions in a cam­paign that is di­vid­ing the na­tion so closely.

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