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Generic ballot surveys four months before an election cannot be trusted for accuracy, but they can reveal emerging or defining voter trends, which is the case for a newly released New York Times/Siena College poll.

Survey Results Reveal Significant Cleaves in Voter Cohorts

Early predictions of a red wave in midterm congressional elections may be premature as a series of polls pitting generic Republicans against generic Democrats show the race is trending closer than many thought likely. Some polls even show Democrats ahead.

Findings from The New York Times/Siena College Poll released last week show Democrats with a slight 41 percent to 40 percent edge over Republicans when respondents were asked what party should control Congress for the next two years.

When respondents were sifted just to include likely voters in this fall’s general election, the preference flipped to Republican control by a 44 to 43 percent difference, reflecting the importance of voter motivation and turnout. The survey was conducted after the US Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and control the 50-50 Senate because Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties. Betting odds are that Republicans will reclaim control of the House, but a number of political observers think it’s possible Democrats could expand their numbers in the Senate by flipping one to three seats now held by Republicans.

FiveThirtyEight has posted results from a series of generic ballot polls conducted in the same period that variously show Democrats with a 6-percentage point advantage over Republicans and Republicans with an 8-percentage point advantage over Democrats. Several of the polls showed one party’s lead over the other in the 3 to 5 percent range. FiveThirtyEight graded each of the polls it listed. The Times/Siena College poll was the only one given an A+ rating.

While generic ballot surveys this far out from actual voting may not be an accurate indicator of an election outcome, some of the findings from The Times/Siena College survey are still revealing. Perhaps the most intriguing finding is Democrats now receive a majority of votes from white college graduates who prefer generic Democrats by a 57 to 36 percent margin over Republicans.

Another striking finding from the poll is that Democrats rank gun regulation, abortion rights and threats to democracy as the important problems facing America, while Republicans say the economy and inflation are top concerns. Poll respondents who listed guns, abortion and democracy as their highest priorities backed Democrats over Republicans by 68 percent to 14 percent. Just 17 percent of white college graduate respondents identified the economy as a top issue.

As reported in The New York Times, “The fight for congressional control is very different among the often less affluent, non-white and moderate voters who say the economy or inflation is the biggest problem facing the country. They preferred Republican control of Congress, 62 percent to 25 percent, even though more than half of the voters who said the economy was the biggest problem also said abortion should be mostly legal.”

“Just 74 percent of the voters who backed Mr. Biden in the 2020 election, but who said the economy or inflation was the most important problem, said they preferred Democratic control of Congress,” according to The Times. “In contrast, Democrats were the choice of 87 percent of Biden voters who said abortion or guns was the most important issue.”

Gender and ethnicity breakdowns in the poll also are revealing. Female voters back Democrats over Republicans 44 to 34 percent, with 21 percent undecided. Male voters favor Republicans over Democrats by a 47 to 38 percent margin, with only 15 percent undecided.

White voters prefer Republicans 47 percent over 38 percent for Democrats. The gap is largest for non-college graduate whites at 54 percent to 23 percent, with 23 percent undecided. White college graduates were more firmly in support of Democrats with only 7 percent of respondents saying they were undecided. Sixty-five percent of The Times/Siena College poll respondents identified as white.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding is Democrats now receive a majority of votes from white college graduates who prefer generic Democrats by a 57 to 36 percent margin over Republicans.

Black respondents overwhelmingly support Democrats 78 percent to 3 percent, the survey shows. The Hispanic preference is narrowly Democratic at 41 to 38 percent, with 21 percent undecided. All other racial groups showed a 39 to 34 percent preference for Republicans. Hispanic respondents were the mostly likely group to express concern over the economy.

The Times/Siena College poll confirms a significant age split on party preference. Voters between 18 and 29 give Democrats a 46 to 28 percent edge over Republicans. The result is similar for voters between 30 and 44 who favor Democrats over Republicans by 52 to 31 percent.

The preference flips for voters ages 45 and older. Those between 45 and 64 prefer Republicans over Democrats by a 50 to 35 percent margin. Those 65 and older give Republicans a 45 to 39 percent edge. The 45 and older voter cohort substantially outnumbers their younger peers.

The survey included questions about support for former President Trump, who has signaled strong interest in another presidential bid in 2024. Poll results suggest Republican support for Trump slipping, with 49 percent favoring the former President. Republican males registered slightly higher approval and Republican females slightly lower approval. The biggest difference was educational levels. Only 28 percent of Republicans with a college degree favored Trump, contrasted to 58 percent of non-college graduates.

Interviews by The Times that accompanied reports of survey findings suggested another revelation – support for Trump doesn’t always translate into support for Republicans. Silvana Read, 56, an Ecuadorian immigrant and certified nursing assistant who lives in Tampa, Florida, said she disliked what Trump said about Hispanics, but voted for him because of his tax stance. Read says she would vote for Trump again, but doesn’t plan to vote in the 2022 midterm election.