Poll shows Republicans lead congressional race CAMPAIGN 1994

October 28, 1994|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Although congressional races around the country appear to be tightening, the Republicans remain within striking distance of seizing one or both houses of Congress from the Democrats, according to campaign strategists and recent national polls.

A new national survey being released today shows that a majority of likely voters (51 percent) favor the Republican candidate in their congressional district, compared with 43 percent who back the Democrat. That is a reversal of historical trends over the past five elections, in which Democrats won the total national vote in House elections by 53 percent to 46 percent.

The new poll found increased support for Democratic candidates, a finding reflected in other recent opinion surveys and in individual races in a number of states. But the 8-point Republican advantage among likely voters is still only 4 points less than the unprecedented 12-point edge measured in early October.

The telephone survey of 2,052 adults was conducted Oct. 20-24 for the Times Mirror Co., which publishes The Sun and other newspapers. It had a possible margin of error of 3 percentage points.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll published yesterday supported the Times Mirror findings, with 53 percent of likely voters supporting Republicans in their congressional district and 43 percent Democrats.

To gain control, Republicans must pick up seven Senate seats and 40 House seats. At least 19 Senate races and 135 House races are still considered too close to call, another sign of the volatility of this election.

The poll detected an uptick in popularity for President Clinton, who has scored a number of well-publicized foreign policy successes in recent weeks. But his personal gains do not seem to be rubbing off on most Democratic candidates.

With 10 days to go in the campaign, Democratic officials remain publicly optimistic. "Momentum is coming our way," said former Rep. Tony Coelho, the chief Democratic campaign spokesman. "We're going to do very well on Election Day."

Privately, however, Democratic strategists are gloomy about their candidates' chances. "If the election were held today, we'd lose the House," said a Democratic pollster who advises dozens of congressional candidates and spoke on condition he not be identified.

"By and large, I'd say the Democrats are in for a whopping," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Times Mirror poll. He noted that Republicans are now in a stronger position in the overall &L congressional ballot than they have been at this stage of a campaign in more than 40 years.

That is one reason why analysts like Stuart Rothenberg give the Republicans at least an even chance of gaining control of the Senate, and almost an even chance of taking over the House, something they haven't done since 1952.

"What we are seeing is a normal, but up until now uncertain, return of Democrats to their party," said Mr. Rothenberg, who publishes an independent newsletter on congressional campaigns. "But . . . voters are still anti-Congress and anti-Washington, and I think the Democrats are still carrying a partisan burden."

Behind the growing support for Democrats is a more general softening in Americans' attitudes toward congressional incumbents. A majority of likely voters (57 percent) say they would like to see their representative re-elected, up from 49 percent in a previous Times Mirror poll.

Democratic campaign officials have being saying for some time that low voter turnout is the most serious problem they face. But the Times Mirror poll suggests that Republicans, and especially conservative whites, are more likely to turn out to cast an anti-Clinton vote than are women and blacks, two groups that tend to favor Democrats.

In addition, the Democrats have lost support among middle-income and older voters, the poll found. The 10-point lead that Democratic congressional candidates had among female voters in July is now just 3 points (46 percent to 43 percent), while the Republican advantage among men has increased to 11 points (52 percent to 41 percent).

According to Larry Hugick, who analyzed the poll for Times Mirror, the Democrats' fate may lie in the hands of a swing group of middle-class voters -- a group that includes many young-to-middle-aged women, including working women and some single mothers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.