Democrats gain in generic congressional race amid shifts in GOP base support
Women voters could play a key roll in November’s midterm elections, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Democrats gain in generic congressional race amid shifts in GOP base support

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll indicates significant shifts among women and older voters are steering support toward Democrats ahead of the midterm election. [4 ¼ minutes]
ByEmily Gersema

Democrats have made gains among older voters and women voters in recent months, raising the likelihood that they could take over the U.S. House majority, according to the most recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times national poll. 

When likely voters were asked which party’s candidate they would support if the election were held today, Democrats had a 14-point edge over Republicans, 55 to 41 percent. That is a 4-point shift in Democrats’ favor since voters answered the same question in July.

“It’s raised my expectation that the Democrats are going to take the House,” said Robert Shrum, director of USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future, which oversees the poll.

The fact that the economy remains healthy should give the Republicans an edge in the midterm, but they’ve lost control of the election topic to growing voter unhappiness with President Donald Trump, said Michael Murphy, co-director for the center. The latest results from the poll conducted from Aug. 22 to Sept. 24 showed Republicans are losing ground with women. They also appear to be losing support among voters 65 and older.

Forty-five percent of likely voters characterized their midterm vote as a statement of opposition to Trump, including half of women likely voters. “The poll was conducted before the hearings on the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” said Jill Darling, survey director for the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR), which conducts the poll.

“Given the number of voters who said the midterms are an expression of their support or opposition to the president, his actions around the U.S. Supreme Court nomination may have an impact on women’s voting decisions or galvanize more women to turn out,” Darling said. “It might also serve to energize the president’s base.”

Noting that more than half of likely voters — 57 percent — disapprove of him, Murphy said, “We now know from the data that President Trump is a drag on the midterm. He has all of the problems of a president facing his first midterm. He is still trying to grab the primary rather than capitalizing on these other issues, like the economy.”

Blue ripples

Support for Democratic candidates grew 9 points among suburban women since the July/August poll. Democrats now have a 61 percent to 35 percent advantage in this group. Although likely women voters who have no college degree still largely support Republican candidates (56 percent to 39 percent), their support has shifted 10 points in Democrats’ favor since the summer.

The survey, undertaken when the Kavanaugh allegations emerged, may also have captured another factor — the controversial policy of separating and detaining immigrant children and parents, said USC Dornsife’s Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, Dean’s Professor of Gender Studies and professor of gender studies and political science.

“In the past, Republicans and Democrats alike have wooed suburban women through their identities as mothers, and this specific shift away from the Republican Party comes after the controversial images of immigrant children in detention hit the news,” she said. “Through their support of this policy, Republican candidates also became complicit in a policy of family separation.”

Among likely voters age 65 and older, Democrats now have a slight lead of 51 percent to 45 percent, which falls within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

“Health care is a key issue for older Americans,” said Shrum, who holds the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics. “Thousands of Americans have lost their coverage in the past two years.”

Half of all likely voters 65 and older say that health care is one issue that would be a deal-breaker for them if their congressional representative didn’t support their view.

Agreement on immigration

Although Republican and Democratic likely voters largely differ on their most important issues, they agree that a candidate’s views on illegal immigration could affect how they will vote. Fifty-four percent of likely Republican voters and 50 percent of likely Democratic voters “definitely would not support” a congressional candidate who disagrees with them on the issue.

However, only 40 percent of all likely voters support building the border wall Trump has called for. When respondents were asked whether they still wanted the wall if their tax dollars paid for it, support dropped even further to 37 percent.

“The vast majority [of Republican voters] said it is one of the most serious problems facing the country today,” said Darling. “However, we are not seeing any evidence that it is driving the `red wave’ that President Trump has predicted. As a deal-breaker issue for just over half of Republican voters, it was no more potent than the economy, taxes and gun regulations.”

Among likely voters, 3 out of 4 support a path to citizenship for children whose parents brought them across the border illegally to live in the U.S.

Additional polls are planned in the coming weeks, both of California voters and a series of national tracking polls leading up to the midterms.

The poll’s sample of more than 5,000 adult residents of the U.S. comprises members of CESR’s Understanding America Study probability-based internet panel. The latest survey included more than 4,100 registered voters and over 2,500 likely midterm voters. The Center for Political Future website has more information about the poll.