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Key GOP groups are more fired up to vote in midterms than Democrats, NPR poll finds

Among the findings in the latest NPR/PBS <em>NewsHour</em>/Marist poll is that Democrats are losing ground on which party voters want to control Congress and inflation being the top issue — with voters saying they trust Republicans more on the issue by 20 points.
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Among the findings in the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll is that Democrats are losing ground on which party voters want to control Congress and inflation being the top issue — with voters saying they trust Republicans more on the issue by 20 points.

Heading into the final week of voting, some of Democrats' key base voters' levels of enthusiasm are far below that of Republican-base voter groups, the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found. It is the last NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey before voting wraps up Tuesday.

The crosscurrents of this election are combining to make for uncertainty and volatility with just days to go. Most midterms are referenda on the sitting president and the party in power. That is largely the case with President Biden's approval rating slipping again, Democrats losing ground on which party voters want to control Congress and inflation being the top issue — with voters saying they trust Republicans more on the issue by 20 points.

But preserving democracy and abortion have also been key and hugely motivating factors, as former President Trump, whom the poll found is equally unpopular as Biden, has weighed in heavily in these elections. He's endorsed scores of candidates, many of whom have emulated him, perpetuated his election lies and struggled in purple states.

The poll also found, though, that Republican voters are largely OK with voting for an election denier, as long as they agree on policy positions — and it found in this age of hyperpartisanship, a huge shift away from people thinking divided government is a good thing.

The survey of of 1,586 adults and 1,469 registered voters was conducted Oct. 24 through Oct. 27 by the Marist Poll and sponsored in partnership with NPR and PBS NewsHour. There is about a +/- 4 percentage point margin of error, meaning results could be 4 points lower or higher than what's listed.

Republicans hold the enthusiasm edge

While white women with college degrees, who are an important bloc for Democrats, are among the most enthusiastic to vote, Black voters, Latinos and young voters are among the least.

At the same time, older voters, Trump voters, white evangelical Christians and rural voters — all key GOP groups — are fired up to vote. Those without college degrees are less enthusiastic about the election, but that's driven by voters of color without degrees.

Notably, showing why midterm elections tend to be base elections, independents are also way down the list when it comes to enthusiasm.

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Before the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision overturning Roe, Democratic enthusiasm was way below that of Republicans'. But Democratic activism, fundraising and interest in these elections went way up. Democrats closed the enthusiasm gap and were on par with GOP voters over the summer and into September.

In the last few weeks, however, as more voters have begun tuning into the election — and with inflation persistently high — Republican enthusiasm has outpaced Democrats'. It's not so much that Democrats aren't gaining in their enthusiasm levels — they are — it's that Republicans have increased theirs by more in that time.

Democrats are also losing ground on the generic congressional ballot test. That's when pollsters ask who a respondent would vote for if the election were held today, a Republican or Democrat.

In this survey, it's tied 46%-46% — and that tends to be bad news for Democrats. Historically, they have needed a substantial lead on that question to do well in the House, because of how districts are drawn and with swing districts largely in right-leaning places.

Top issues remain inflation, abortion and preserving democracy

The survey found inflation continues to be the top issue for voters heading into the final days of voting with 36% saying so, followed by preserving democracy (26%), abortion (14%), immigration (9%), health care (8%) and crime (7%).

Predictably, it's different when looking at preferences by party — slightly more than half of Republicans and 40% of independents said inflation was their top voting issue, but for Democrats, it was preserving democracy (42%) followed by abortion (22%).

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Republicans are trusted by wide margins on inflation (R+20), crime (R+16) and immigration (R+12), the three issues the GOP has focused on most in these elections.

Democrats, on the other hand, are trusted most on health care (D+14), abortion (D+13) and preserving democracy (D+7).

Overwhelming majority of Republicans are OK with voting for an election denier

More than four-in-five Republicans said they would "likely" vote for a candidates they agree with on most issues — even if that candidate thinks the 2020 election was stolen, which it was not.

In contrast, only a third of Democrats said they would, while slightly more than half of independents would.

A majority of Republicans (53%) said they would "very likely" vote for someone who thought (incorrectly) that the election was stolen, as compared to one-in-five Democrats and a third of independents.

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Republicans were also less likely to say their preferred candidate should "definitely" concede if they were declared the loser in their race. While almost two-thirds of Democrats said so, only 39% of Republicans did.

Three-quarters of Americans said they have confidence in their local and state governments to conduct a fair and accurate election, though. Republicans were less likely to say so, but still almost two-thirds of them said they do have that confidence despite extreme rhetoric coming from candidates and people like Trump.

Americans no longer favor divided government

For a long time, Americans tended to think divided government was a good thing — a way for a party in power's worst instincts to be checked.

Not anymore.

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Now by a 53%-to-38% margin, they say it's better for the government to be controlled by the same party. Democrats, who are seeing their majorities threatened this year, are driving that with 73% saying so, but a slim majority of independents and about half of Republicans feel the same way.

Also, overall, 27% of Americans say they have already voted with another 28% saying they plan to vote before Election Day. Forty-three percent say they will vote in-person on Election Day.

Sixty-two percent of Democrats said they have already voted or plan to do so, while 46% of Republicans said so. A majority of Republicans said they plan to vote in-person on Election Day.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.