The Democrats’ yearlong lead among likely voters has evaporated, strengthening Republican chances of holding majority control in the House, according to the Gallup Poll.
Gallup’s latest survey of voters who say they will go to the polls Nov. 7 showed the contest is a “dead heat” between those who say they will vote Republican (48 percent) and those who say they intend to support Democrats (48 percent). The poll of 1,003 adults was conducted Sept. 15-17.
Democrats continue to maintain an advantage among registered voters; however, pollsters consider likely voters to be a more accurate measurement of the electorate’s preferences. The neck-and-neck estimates suggest the Republicans have the potential to offset the Democrats’ lead “with greater turnout,” Gallup said last week in an analysis of its findings.
“Should that result persist until Election Day, it suggests Republicans would be able to maintain their majority-party status in the House,” Gallup said.
Democratic strategists dismiss Gallup’s survey and other polls showing a similar tightening of the election, but some acknowledge that Republicans’ numbers were helped by President Bush’s higher job-approval scores — now at 44 percent — and his recent speeches highlighting the war on terrorism and its connection to the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
“Nobody believes those numbers. I don’t think anybody in the country believes the generic party preference is even right now,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network.
Still, Mr. Rosenberg said, Mr. Bush’s efforts to elevate the terrorism issue in the campaign “has been marginally effective.”
“The Republicans got a bounce out of his 9/11 speech. The president does have the ability to change the debate in the country. The problem is, it is not sustainable,” he said.
However, additional polling data released by Gallup within the past week suggest that not only is the president changing voter attitudes about the war in Iraq, but that the Democrats’ inability to shape a strong message about dealing with terrorism and Iraq may be hurting them among their own base.
“Americans are more positive about the war on terror, and voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush on terrorism, rather than one who opposes him,” Gallup said in a separate analysis. “By a slight margin, Americans tend to think that the country will be safer from terrorism if the GOP retains control of the House, rather than if the Democrats take control.”
While a majority of Americans still disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, only one in four now “believe the Democrats have a clear plan on Iraq — fewer than those who say this about the Bush administration,” Gallup said.
“Also, Americans are about equally likely to say they would vote for a candidate who supports President Bush on Iraq as to vote for a candidate who opposes Bush,” the pollsters said.
What should worry Democratic campaign officials “is the fact that only 14 percent say the Democrats have a clear plan, but Bush does not, while a greater percentage (23 percent) says Bush has a clear plan, but the Democrats do not,” Gallup said.
Gallup’s findings on these and related issues mirror those from several other polls that show a similar movement in the Republican Party’s favor. One poll conducted last week for the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg found “the GOP may be gaining momentum before November’s battle for control of Congress.”
While that survey of 1,347 registered voters showed Democrats leading 49 percent to 39 percent in the party preference question, the Times said “that advantage may rest of softening ground: On virtually every comparison between the parties measured in the survey, Republicans have improved their position since early summer.
“In particular, Republicans have nearly doubled their advantage when voters are asked which party they trust most to protect the nation against terrorism — the thrust of Bush’s public relations blitz in recent weeks,” the newspaper reported.