NBC News poll finds sky-high interest and polarization ahead of midterms

A sign reading “This Way To Vote” is displayed outside the Old Wilson Schoolhouse Community Center in Wilson, Wyoming, on August 16, 2022, as Wyoming holds its Republican primary election.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Less than three weeks before Election Day, voter interest has now reached an all-time high for a midterm election, with a majority of registered voters saying that this election is “more important” to them than past midterms. 

What’s more, some 80% of Democrats and Republicans believe the political opposition poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it. 

And two-thirds of reliable Democratic and Republican voters say they’d still support their party’s political candidate, even if that person had a moral failing that wasn’t consistent with their own values. 

These are some of the major findings of a brand-new national NBC News poll, which also shows a competitive contest for November and offers positive signs for both major political parties. 

For Democrats, President Joe Biden’s approval rating remains steady at 45%; congressional preference continues to be relatively even (with 47% of registered voters preferring Democrats to control Congress, versus 46% who want Republicans in charge); and “threats to democracy” is voters’ No. 1 issue for the third-straight NBC News poll. 

For Republicans, the positive signs are that Biden’s approval with independents and swing-state voters is in the 30s and low 40s; that the GOP once again holds the enthusiasm advantage; and that Republicans lead in congressional preference among the smaller set of likely voters, 48% to 47%, though that’s well within the survey’s margin of error. 

Yet beyond the horserace numbers and the high interest in the upcoming election, what stands out in the NBC News poll is the bipartisan anger from Democratic and Republican voters when they were asked which one message they’d like to send with their vote. 

“Tell Biden to resign,” said a Republican male respondent from Missouri.

“Save this country,” answered a Republican female from New York state.

“Democracy is in jeopardy,” replied a Democratic male from Massachusetts.

“Don’t mess with reproductive rights,” said a Democratic female from California

“We know that many voters will be casting ballots with anger on their minds,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff and his team at Public Opinion Strategies.

“We just don’t know who which side will be angrier,” Horwitt added.

According to the poll, 47% of registered voters say they prefer Democrats to control Congress, while 46% want a Republican-controlled Congress — essentially unchanged from last month, when the two parties were tied at 46% each.

Democrats enjoy some of their biggest advantages among Black voters (who prefer Democratic control of Congress by a 74%-13% margin), those ages 18-34 (60%-30%), Latinos (57%-30%) and women (50%-43%). 

Republicans have the edge with white voters (55%-40%), white voters without college degrees (61%-33%), and men (49%-43%). 

And the parties are tied among independents, 40% to 40%. 

Among the voters the NBC News poll identifies as being “likely voters” — those either with high interest in voting or who have a high modeled turnout score — 48% prefer a Republican-controlled Congress, versus 47% who want a Democratic-controlled Congress. 

It’s the first time this cycle the poll has measured likely voters. 

An ‘eye-popper’ in election interest

The poll also finds 70% of all registered voters expressing high interest in the upcoming election — either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale — which is the highest percentage ever in the survey for a midterm election at this same point in time. 

“It’s an eye-popper” when you have a higher number now on this question than in 2018, which set a turnout record for a midterm election, said McInturff, the GOP pollster. 

By party, however, 78% of Republicans have high interest in the midterms, compared with 69% of Democrats.

That 9-point GOP enthusiasm edge is up from September (when it was R+3) and August (when it was R+2). 

Additionally, 57% of all voters say this November’s congressional elections are more important to them than past midterm elections — higher than the poll showed for 2018 (when it was 52%) or 2010 (44%). 

Thirty-seven percent say it’s equally important to past midterms, and 6% say it’s less important. 

Yet once again, Republicans express more importance about the upcoming midterms — with 68% of them saying the election is more important to them, versus 53% of Democrats who say that. 

Biden’s approval, nation’s direction remain steady

In the poll, 45% of registered voters approve of President Biden’s overall job performance, while 52% disapprove — unchanged from September. 

But Biden’s job rating is in the same territory it was for other recent presidents whose party lost control of at least one chamber of Congress in their first midterm election.

In the Oct. 2010 NBC News/WSJ poll, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 45% (when Democrats lost 63 House seats in that midterm election). And in early November, Donald Trump’s approval was 46% (when the GOP lost 40 House seats).

Looking at key demographic groups, Biden’s best ratings come among Black voters (70% approval), urban residents (61%), voters ages 18-34 (54%) and Latinos (51%).

But his approval is substantially lower among voters from swing states (41%), suburban women (40%) and independents (37%).

Seventy-one percent of voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 20% who say it’s on the right track.

It’s the sixth time in the last seven NBC News polls that the wrong track has been higher than 70%.

“These are really difficult numbers for Democrats, and they have had them for months,” said McInturff, the Republican pollster.

And on the nation’s economy, 20% say it will get better over the next year, 26% say it will stay about the same, and 50% say it will get worse.

That 50% saying the economy will get worse over the next 12 months is the highest number on this question dating back to 1994.

A divided electorate
The NBC News poll shows just how polarized the electorate is before the midterm elections.

Eighty-one percent of Democrats say they believe the Republican Party’s agenda poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.

An almost identical share of Republicans — 79% — believe the same of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

“It seems like voters are no longer looking for a ‘Contract with America,’ they want a divorce,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

What’s more, when GOP voters who say they prefer Republicans to control Congress were asked if a GOP candidate they support was revealed to have a moral failure in their business, marriage or personal life, 67% of these voters said they would still vote for the Republican candidate. 

By contrast, a combined 22% said they’d skip the race, vote for a Democrat or for a third-party candidate.

When Democratic voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress were asked the same question, 63% said they would still vote for the Democratic candidate, while 26% said they wouldn’t — either by skipping the race, voting for the GOP candidate or voting third party. 

Other findings in the poll

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