Democrats' Chances of Beating GOP for Control of Congress: Polls

Republicans appear narrowly favored to take control of Congress next year with just about six months until the midterm election in November, but recent polls are mixed, and several showing an advantage for the GOP fall within the margin of error.

Democrats currently maintain narrow control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the evenly split Senate, which Democrats control only through Vice President Kamala Harris' power to cast tie-breaking votes as the president of the legislative body, just one seat flip in the Republicans favor would shift the balance of power. With only a 12-seat margin in the House, Democrats have relatively little wiggle room to lose any seats.

Recent historical precedent suggests that one or both Congressional chambers are likely to flip to Republican control. Last June, the University of Virginia's Center for Politics released an analysis of midterm elections going back to 1946. That report showed that a president in power, on average, loses more than 26 House seats during the midterms. The largest loss has been 64 seats, while the largest gain has been just eight seats.

The analysis showed similar results in the Senate. Since 1946, on average, the president's party has lost more than three seats during the midterms. The biggest loss has been 13 seats, while the largest gain has been just four seats. Recent polling shows such a shift is definitely possible, if not likely.

Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aims to keep Democrats in control of Congress during the November midterm election, but GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is confident he will lead Republicans to victory. Above, McCarthy stands with Pelosi before she is sworn in as House Speaker in during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

A CNN/SSRS Opinion Panel carried out from May 3 to 5 showed that 49 percent of registered voters said they'd vote for a generic Republican candidate if the election were held today. Just 42 percent said they'd cast ballots for generic Democratic candidates—giving the GOP a 7-point advantage.

An additional 2 percent said they'd vote for other candidates and 6 percent said they'd support neither Democrats or Republicans. The survey interviewed 800 respondents with a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

However, a similar poll carried out by The Economist/YouGov from April 30 to May 3 found very different results. That survey had Democrats with a 6-point advantage over Republicans. Just 47 percent of registered voters said they'd back GOP candidates and 53 percent said they'd support Democrats. More than 1,300 registered voters were included in the poll and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Another recent survey conducted by Politico/Morning Consult had Democrats and Republicans tied. Both political parties received the backing of 43 percent of registered voters, while the rest of respondents said they didn't know or had no opinion. In total, 2,000 voters were included in the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

Other polls have shown varying results. For instance, a survey by Fox News from April 28 to May 1 had Republicans up by 7 points. Another poll by ABC News/The Washington Post from April 24 to 28 showed Democrats narrowly in the lead by 1 point. The RealClearPolitics average of recent generic congressional ballot polls currently has Republicans in the lead by about 3.2 percent.

GOP Confident on House Takeover

Republicans have expressed increasing confidence that they will take control of at least the House, and possibly the Senate. Analysts have largely agreed that this is a likely scenario—particularly considering President Joe Biden's dismal approval rating among voters. The FiveThirtyEight average of polls currently has Biden's approval underwater at 42.2 percent, compared to 52.4 percent who disapprove.

Last September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, rejected assessment that her party would likely lose control of Congress.

"I know we will win in the Congress. People say, 'Well, in the off year, it's not the good year.' But, I think any assumptions about politics are obsolete," the California Democrat told reporters at the time. "We live in a whole new world of communication and the rest. And I think that all of our members who survived Trump being on the ballot with them will survive next year because Trump's not on the ballot."

In a late April interview with Newsweek, Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, said that his party has time to convince voters to keep them in power. "We still have time to make a big impact. We have to be clear what we're going to do for people in the next two years and why we're going to be better at reducing prices, tackle inflation," he said.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has spoken confidently about his odds of becoming House Speaker after the midterms. "If you're a Minority Leader the day of the election, you win, and you win the majority, you're probably going to be the Speaker," the California Republican said in a March interview with Punchbowl News.