Poll: Midterm momentum shifts back to GOP as inflation fears grow
As backlash to the end of Roe v. Wade came to dominate U.S politics this summer, poll after poll showed the tide turning in Democrats’ favor — leading many to wonder whether President Biden’s side might avoid the sort of sweeping midterm losses that typically befall the party in power.
But a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests the winds may be shifting again — and that Democrats would be wise not to ignore new signs of Republican momentum, particularly around the all-important issue of inflation.
The survey of 1,566 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Sept. 23 to 27, found little movement in its topline midterm numbers. When asked which candidate they would vote for in their district if the election were held today — the “generic congressional ballot” question — registered voters now give the Democrats a 4-point advantage (45% to 41%), a point narrower than three weeks ago (45% to 40%).
Likewise, Biden's job-approval rating among all Americans — which had been improving over the summer — has moved only a single percentage point on each side (to 39% approve, 53% disapprove, from 40% approve, 52% disapprove, earlier this month).
Both of these changes are well within the poll’s 2.7% margin of error. Yet both are in the same direction: toward Republicans.
Beneath the surface, indications of gathering GOP strength are more significant. As usual, partisanship will determine how most Americans vote in November. But which Americans turn out to vote in November will determine who wins — and Democrats’ advantage on the congressional ballot narrows further among those who say they will “definitely” vote this fall (47% to 44%); those who voted in all three national elections between 2016 and 2020 (47% to 44%); and those paying “a lot” of attention to the campaign (48% to 47%).
Stubbornly high prices are further complicating matters. In fact, the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that inflation fears are rebounding rather than subsiding as the election approaches. More than three-quarters of Americans (76%) now rate the condition of the economy as “fair” or “poor,” up 6 percentage points since April, the last time the question was asked. Nearly half (48%) now rate the economy as poor, also up 6 points (from 42%).
Inflation is the reason. In mid-August, 51% of Americans said U.S. inflation was getting worse; today, that number is 60%. Among independents, 69% now say inflation is getting worse — a pronounced 15-point jump over the past month and a half.
If that trend continues, it will not help the president’s party. A full 92% of Americans say inflation is a “very” or “somewhat” important issue “when thinking about this year’s election,” and the number who say it’s very important (73%) is up 4 points since early September. In comparison, just 51% of Americans say abortion is very important.
Likewise, a third of U.S. adults (33%) select inflation as “the most important issue” this fall. “Democracy” (13%) is the only other issue that cracks double digits. Crime — the subject of recent GOP attack ads — is at 4%.
The more inflation remains front and center, the more Republicans are likely to benefit. Biden's approval rating on inflation, which had improved slightly in August, has declined from 33% to 31% to 28% over the last three Yahoo News/YouGov surveys, and his disapproval rating on inflation has ticked up over the same period, from 59% to 56% to 61%.
Today, just 27% of Americans say they are either “enthusiastic” or “satisfied” with Biden's policies on inflation, down 5 points (from 32%) since mid-August. Among Americans who say inflation is getting worse, far more blame “policies the president can control" (60%) than “events he can't” (24%). Asked which party would better handle inflation, 39% say the GOP; just 29% say Democrats.
A closer look at the 11% of registered voters who still say they’re “not sure” how they would vote if the election were held today hints that the Democrats’ narrow polling lead could further erode between now and Election Day:
● 82% think the condition of the economy is fair or poor.
● More identify or lean Republican (27%) than identify or lean Democrat (14%), though nearly half (49%) are independents who lean to neither party.
● Just 27% approve of the job Biden is doing as president; 57% disapprove.
● Just 11% approve of Biden's performance on inflation, while 72% disapprove (including 49% who “strongly” disapprove).
Given these dynamics, it would be remarkable if Democrats do wind up limiting their losses in November — perhaps by emphasizing abortion rights in order to hold the Senate and keep GOP House gains to a minimum. While 53% of unsure voters say they would consider their choice this fall to be "a vote for a different approach on the economy," a greater share also say they are "angry" about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade (34%) than about Biden's response to inflation (22%).
Still, a separate question in the Yahoo News/YouGov poll underscores the challenge ahead for Democrats. Fully half of registered voters (50%) say things have "gotten worse for people like you" since Biden took office, while just 19% say things have “gotten better.” (Another 24% say things have “stayed the same.”) Unsurprisingly, Republicans are the most likely group to say things have gotten worse (78%) under Biden. But most independents (51%) agree — and even then, only 42% of Democrats say things have gotten better.
At the same time, nearly a third of adults (31%) say things would get better if Republicans took control, and slightly more (34%) say things would be better if Trump became president again. That’s no majority. But it’s a lot more than the 19% who think things have improved under Biden.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,566 U.S. adults interviewed online from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, 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%.