NEW YORK — Two weeks out from the midterm elections, a second round of MSNBC/McClatchy polls, conducted by Mason-Dixon in eight states, show Democrats are slightly closer to taking control of the Senate than they were last month. The Democrats are ahead or within striking distance in all these states but there is no evidence of a national Democratic “tidal wave.”
In the Senate, Democrats need to gain six seats to regain control of the chamber. These new polls show that Democrats have a reasonable chance of gaining control.
The poll numbers
Here are the state-by-state results for the latest MSNBC/McClatchy polls. Click the state name to read the poll data. And click the candidates’ names for their profiles.
In Pennsylvania , incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is well behind his Democratic challenger Bob Casey , with Casey currently ahead by 12 percentage points, 51 percent to 39 percent, with 7 percent undecided. In an MSNBC/McClatchy poll conducted in late September, Casey was up by 9 percentage points. In Rhode Island , Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse has opened a slight lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee , with Whitehouse supported by 48 percent of likely voters, compared to Chafee’s 43 percent. There are 9 percent undecided. A month ago, Whitehouse and Chafee were tied at 42 percent to 41 percent. In Missouri , Democrat Claire McCaskill and incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent remain virtually tied, with McCaskill supported by 46 percent of likely voters and Talent supported by 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided. Last month, the candidates were tied with 43 percent each, and 13 percent were undecided. In New Jersey , incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez remains tied with his Republican challenger, Tom Kean Jr. , with 45 percent of likely voters supporting Menendez and 42 percent supporting Kean. There are still 11 percent undecided. In late September, the candidates were also in a virtual tie (44 percent for Menendez to 41 percent for Kean). In Washington , incumbent Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell has increased her sizable lead over Republican challenger Mike McGavick . She now leads by 15 percentage points, 52 percent to 37 percent, with 8 percent undecided. Last month, she led by 10 percentage points (50 percent to 40 percent). In Ohio , incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine has fallen behind Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown , with 40 percent supporting DeWine to 48 percent for Brown. There are 9 percent undecided in this race. Last month, a Plain Dealer poll showed the candidates tied (45 percent for Brown to 43 percent for DeWine). In Montana , incumbent Republican Sen. Conrad Burns is now in a virtual tie with Democratic challenger Jon Tester . Burns trails by a very narrow 43 percent to 46 percent margin, with 9 percent undecided.A Mason-Dixon/Lee Newspaper poll last month also showed Burns trailing (41 percent to 47 percent). In Tennessee , Republican Bob Corker and Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. are still in a virtual tie, 45 percent for Corker to 43 percent for Ford, with 9 percent still undecided. In late September, a Mason-Dixon poll for the Memphis Commercial Appeal/Chattanooga Free Press showed Ford with 43 percent and Corker with 42 percent.
Video: Vote prospects And in another Mason-Dixon Virginia Poll , the race is still close, with incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen struggling to win a seat that was once thought to be a “sure thing” for Republicans. Allen is slightly better off in this poll, with 47 percent, while Democrat Jim Webb remains at 43 percent. Undecided voters have dropped to 8 percent. This compares to a 43 percent-to-43 percent tie in late September.
In all, these key Senate races show the following:
- Two Republican incumbents in very serious trouble, Santorum and DeWine.
- One Republican incumbent trailing his challenger, Chafee.
- Three Republican incumbents virtually tied with their challengers, Allen, Burns and Talent.
- One Democratic incumbent tied with his challenger, Menendez.
- One Democratic incumbent with a real lead, Cantwell.
- One Republican open seat with a tie, Tennessee.
The results show that the Democrats have a slightly better chance of gaining control of the Senate than they did a month ago. However, as the election approaches, Democrats may have to lead by significant amounts to counteract the well-funded Republican get-out-the-vote effort. And Democrats need to hold their seats and win six of the seven hotly contested races to gain control. In most of the races, the number of undecided voters has decreased to less than 10 percent.
The war in Iraq is the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds in seven of the eight states polled, and terrorism ranks second in only two of the states. In Ohio, the economy is the most important problem. As was the case last month, Democratic Senate candidates win among those who believe Iraq is the most important issue, whereas Republican Senate candidates win among those who believe terrorism is the most important issue.
The war in Iraq continues to be unpopular with voters. In the eight states, the percentage of those disapproving of how the war has been handled ranges from 47 percent in Tennessee to 79 percent in Rhode Island. Also, in each of these states, respondents still want to see withdrawal of troops from Iraq. More want to see a partial or total withdrawal of troops than want to keep the same number of troops or send more troops.
A majority of voters in all eight states polled believe that “things in the country” are “off on the wrong track,” and this number has increased in most states since last month. Most of the likely voters in all these states are either “very” or “somewhat” worried about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next few years and worried about another terrorist attack. In addition, voters’ personal financial situations may also be a source of worry as about one-third in each of these states feel as though they have “fallen behind” in their finances.
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Presidential approval and approval of Congress continue to sink. Public opinion of the president remains somewhat weak, with approval ratings below 50 percent in each state poll. Approval of the president’s job performance ranges from a low of 22 percent in Rhode Island to 47 percent in Montana.
Congress fares much worse with approval ratings below 30 percent in each state, ranging from 15 percent in Rhode Island to 29 percent in Missouri. Voters are divided, however, on whether or not House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign as a result of the Mark Foley page scandal. In six out of eight states, a slight plurality thinks he should resign.
The political environment in these eight states still seems to favor the Democrats. These polls show that Democrats now have a very real chance of gaining control of the Senate, a slightly better chance than they did a month ago. Republicans now have two weeks to motivate their base and encourage turnout on Nov. 7. This may be the key to maintaining control of the Senate.
Three of these states also have contests for governor:
In Pennsylvania , Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell still has a large lead in a race against Republican Lynn Swann, 56 percent to 35 percent, with 9 percent undecided. Last month, he led 54 percent to 37 percent. In Rhode Island , incumbent Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri still leads Democrat Charlie Fogarty 49 percent to 39 percent, with 12 percent undecided. A month ago, Carcieri led 50 percent to 34 percent. In Ohio , Democrat Ted Strickland has a significant lead over Republican Ken Blackwell by a 54 percent to 34 percent margin, with 11 percent undecided.
These polls were conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc.of Washington, D.C. from:
- Oct. 18-20 in Rhode Island, Tennessee and Ohio.
- Oct. 17-19 in Montana, Missouri, Virginia and Washington.
- Oct. 18-21 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
A total of 625 likely voters in each state were interviewed by telephone. Those interviewed were selected by the random variation of the last four digits of telephone numbers.
A cross-section of exchanges were utilized in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the state. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter turnout by county. The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points in each poll. This means that there is a 95 percent probability that the “true” figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled. The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as a gender or regional grouping.
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