The final Yahoo News/YouGov poll before next Tuesday’s midterms shows that Republicans have erased Democrats’ long-standing lead in the battle for control of Congress, putting the GOP in position to make significant gains on Election Day.
The survey of 1,641 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Oct. 27 to 31, found that the two parties are now effectively tied — within the poll’s 2.7% margin of error — among all registered voters (46% Democrat, 44% Republican) as well as among those who have already voted or say they will definitely vote on Nov. 8 (49% Democrat, 47% Republican).
In August, Democrats were ahead on the so-called generic ballot question — which asks respondents which candidate they would vote for in their congressional district if the election were held today — by 6 points (45% to 39%). As recently as late September, they were ahead by 4 (45% to 41%).
But even that trajectory — a threefold reduction in Democrats’ lead in the closing days of the campaign — does not fully capture how difficult the environment has become for President Biden’s party as the election approaches.
The rest of the Yahoo News/YouGov results tell the tale.
Enthusiasm, for one thing, is likely to favor the opposition party. While Democrats have an early-voting edge — one in five registered voters (20%) say they have already voted, up from 5% two weeks ago, and so far they prefer Democrats (64%) over Republicans (33%) — the GOP is poised to catch up.
All told, 74% of registered voters on the Democratic side have either already voted (24%) or say they will “definitely” vote (50%). But that number is 7 percentage points higher among Republicans (81%), with 18% saying they’ve already voted and 63% saying they will definitely vote by Tuesday.
Persistently high prices, meanwhile, aren’t helping. Throughout the campaign, voters have told pollsters again and again that inflation is their top concern, and that continues to be the case today: a full 38% — including 20% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans and 37% of independents — pick inflation as “the most important issue when thinking about this year’s election.” Nothing else comes close: not democracy (18%), not abortion (10%) and not crime (5%).
Likewise, 74% of voters rate inflation as a "very important" election issue, more than the six other issues tested — and nearly everyone (94%) rates it at least “somewhat” important.
The problem here for Democrats is twofold. The first challenge is that soaring costs make it nearly impossible for Biden’s party to pass Ronald Reagan’s classic “Are you better off today?” test. Asked whether things have gotten better or worse “for people like you” since Biden took office, just 24% of registered voters say better — while nearly half (48%) say worse.
Inflation is at the heart of this imbalance. Despite glimmers of improvement over the summer, a full 63% of voters now say that inflation — which climbed again in September at the fastest annual rate in 40 years — is “getting worse.” Just 17% say it’s “getting better.”
As the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates in response to inflation, even more voters (67%) say the U.S. economy is either already in a recession (52%) or “heading for” one (15%). And 75% describe the “state of the American economy” as either fair (26%) or poor (47%).
As a result, just 13% of registered voters say their own “economic situation” is improving; more than three-and-a-half times as many (47%) say it is deteriorating, up from 44% in August. Among independents, that gap widens to 40 percentage points: 8% getting better vs. 48% getting worse.
The second inflation-related challenge for Democrats is that despite widespread recognition that the pandemic helped trigger rising prices — a full 79% of voters say COVID-19 disruptions deserve either “some” (35%) or “a great deal” (44%) of blame — many remain deeply dissatisfied with how the party in power has handled the issue.
Six in 10 voters believe Biden deserves either “some” (18%) or a “great deal” (42%) of blame for inflation; of those who say inflation is getting worse, nearly three times as many blame “policies the president can control” rather than “events the president can’t control.” Similarly, just 29% of voters believe Biden is doing enough to address inflation. A majority (53%) do not.
The GOP is likely to benefit from this perception. By a 43% to 34% margin, voters believe the GOP would do a “better job” than Democrats on inflation. And a similar plurality (40%) says things would “get better for people like them” if “Republicans took control of Congress after this year’s election”; slightly fewer (38%) say things would get worse.
Those may not be overwhelmingly positive numbers, but they’re a lot better than the Democrats’: just 32% of voters say things would get better for them if Biden’s party kept control of Congress, compared to 43% who say things would get worse. Even fewer independents (20%) think things will get better for them under continued Democratic rule.
The aforementioned enthusiasm gap is evident here as well. While about 6 in 10 Democrats say things would get better for them under a Democratic Congress (58%) and worse under a Republican one (62%), more than 7 in 10 Republicans express the opposing sentiments — that things would get worse for them under a Democratic Congress (77%) and better under a Republican one (73%).
Simply put, the personal stakes of the election seem higher to Republicans than to Democrats — and that can be a powerful predictor of turnout.
The poll isn’t all bad news for Biden. At 42% approve to 49% disapprove among all adults, the president’s approval number is one point lower than two weeks ago. But it’s also slightly better than his average approval rating in Yahoo News/YouGov surveys conducted during August and September (38% approve, 54% disapprove). Among registered voters, Biden's rating (46% approve, 52% disapprove) is higher still, and shows similar improvement from his August and September stats (42% approve, 55% disapprove).
Yet Biden is still underwater — and he isn’t winning many converts. In fact, nearly all of the uptick in his approval rating is coming from voters who say they were already planning to vote Democratic in November; as the election approaches, they appear to be less inclined than before to express negative views of their own party’s president.
At the same time, Democratic leaders had hoped that the Supreme Court’s momentous June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade and let individual states outlaw abortion would help counteract the typical midterm backlash against the president’s party. And to a degree it has. Just over a third (34%) of all registered voters, better than half of Democratic registered voters (55%) and nearly two thirds of Democratic women voters (66%) describe themselves as “angry” about the Dobbs decision; fewer voters (30%) say they are angry about “Joe Biden’s response to inflation.” That may still help boost Democratic turnout.
But the politics of abortion also has limits in today’s troubled economic environment, and there are signs that the White House’s preferred message — “Restore Roe” — isn’t breaking through. Asked “which of the following [four] views on abortion policy comes closest to your own,” a plurality of voters (30%) say “abortion should be as legal throughout the U.S. as it was under Roe v. Wade”; just half as many (16%) say “there should be no restrictions on abortion in the U.S.” Yet when asked which of the same four options “comes closest to the Democratic Party’s view on abortion,” more voters pick “no restrictions” (38%) than “restore Roe” (37%).
This is the line that Republicans have been pushing in the homestretch of the campaign — that Democrats are the “real abortion extremists” — and it may help explain why Democrats’ advantage on the question of which party has the “more extreme view on abortion” has shrunk from 10 points to six points among registered voters over the last two weeks.
Either way, the more time Democrats have spent emphasizing abortion to motivate the base, the less time they’ve had to emphasize voters’ overriding concern. Asked to select the one issue (out of 10 options) that they’ve “heard Democratic Party candidates talking about most often” over the “past few weeks,” a wide plurality of registered voters (41%) pick abortion. Just 8% choose inflation.
Asked the same question regarding the GOP, 37% of voters say Republicans have been talking most about inflation as the campaign comes to a close — roughly triple the number (13%) who say they’ve heard Republicans talking the most about crime, the next closest issue.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,641 U.S. adults interviewed online from Oct. 27 to 31, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.