Analysis by Harry Enten. Updated 11:02 AM EDT, Tue October 4, 2022. Media: CNN.
Put in a historical context, this poll potentially portends very good things for Republicans come November.
We’re all used to polls that ask voters which issue is most important to them. Gallup puts the question to Americans open-ended, meaning a respondent can say anything from the mundane (e.g. inflation) to the inane (e.g. clowns).
Gallup, unlike other pollsters, has another twist on that question. They follow it up by pressing respondents to answer which party they think can better handle the issue that they just named as the most important.
Gallup’s latest data shows that 48% of Americans believe the Republican Party is best equipped, while 37% believe it is the Democratic Party.
This 11-point Republican edge is one of the best they have ever had. Looking at 20 midterm elections since 1946 when this question was asked, only once has the Republican Party had a larger advantage on this question. That was in 1946 when Republicans had a 17 point lead on the Democrats.
Republicans had a net gain of 55 House seats in the 1946 election. And while the correlation is far from perfect (+0.7 on a scale of -1 to 1) between House seats won by the Republican Party and how they stood against the Democrats on the most important issue question, it is very much existent.
Take a look at all elections since 1946 in which there was a Democratic president. Republicans ended up with 230 seats on average in the five elections when they led on the question of who Americans trusted more on the issue most important to them. This included 1946 when they won 246 seats.
In the four elections when Republicans trailed on this question, they won an average of just 189 seats. This included both 1962 and 1998, which are the two elections in the polling era with a Democratic president when Republicans had a net gain of less than five seats. Democrats need to keep Republicans to a net gain of less than five seats to maintain control of the House after November’s elections.
The large Republican lead this year may be a bit of a surprise given what seems to be the electoral landscape. Democrats and Republicans are basically tied on the generic congressional ballot at this point. Democrats have done well in special elections aided by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Indeed, it is certainly plausible that Democrats outperform the historical baseline the Gallup question suggests.
But it’s also possible that abortion is fading as an issue. It ranked seventh when compared to other issues when Americans were asked to name issues that were extremely or very important to them in a recent Monmouth University poll.
Gallup polling showed 8% of Americans named abortion as the nation’s most important problem in July. That was the highest since Gallup began tracking abortion as an important problem in 1984. In their most recent poll, only 4% said abortion was the most important problem. Additionally, the percentage of Americans who listed the judicial system/courts/laws as the most important problem dropped from 5% in July to 2% now.
We see this in Google searches as well. The number of Google searches for abortion in September was basically tied with the number of searches in April, before the May leak of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. Searches in September were one-third of the level they were in May. They’re one-fifth of the level they were in June, when Roe was overturned. They’re less than half what they were in July.
This could be very bad news for Democrats. Polls show Democrats are more trusted than Republicans on abortion by double-digits. Republicans are more trusted by double-digits on the issues of inflation and the economy, which Americans were far more likely to say was important to them in the Monmouth poll.
Another issue that ranked high in the Monmouth poll was crime. An issue Republicans have been running on. Polling indicates a double-digit advantage of them on crime.
Notably, abortion searches outnumbered crime searches on Google in May, June and July. Today, crime searches outnumber abortion by greater than two-to-one.
If that holds come November, Republicans may have no problem reaching that 230 House seat average they have when they hold the advantage on who Americans think can better handle the issue that is most important to them.