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CBS Battleground Tracker Finally Makes Admission on Midterms

Carolyn Kaster

There's been plenty to criticize CBS News Battleground Tracker poll about in the past. Glaringly, back in late August, it sought to undermine Republican chances of retaking the House by emphasizing the abortion issue. Most mainstream media outlets did so, even pollsters, as they bought into the narrative that the issue could save Democrats from historical precedent. In most modern midterm elections, the president's party loses seats, and Democrats currently have narrow majorities in the House and the Senate. 

Another poll came out on Sunday, though, which was promoted on CBS News's "Face the Nation," and it's not good news for Democrats, especially when it comes to the economy. A write-up from the pollsters at CBS News states, "GOP keeps lead for House control, Democrats' momentum stalls amid economy worries — CBS News Battleground Tracker poll." No longer is there so much focus on abortion. 

As a Twitter thread explains, this poll, unlike the others, no longer shows "Dems narrowing the gap" as "that movement has stalled--at least for now." The poll was released just over three weeks before the November midterm elections. Conditions are not likely to get better for Democrats. Last week's numbers on inflation, which not only showed an increase but blew past predictions, were the last to be released before the election. 

While speaking with host Margaret Brennan, CBS News Director of Election and Surveys Anthony Salvanto emphasized such points:

So this is the first time since we have updated the tracker throughout the summer and into the early fall where Democrats haven't been cutting into that Republican lead. And it comes at a time when people think the economy is getting worse. 

And, in fact, two-thirds of people say that. Now, we have gotten bad news this week about inflation. And the way that people interact with that often is gas prices. Well, there's been this stark turnaround. It was, in August, people thought they saw gas prices going down. Now a majority says they think that they're going up in their area. So that's one point. 

But we wanted to understand, how does this connect politically? So, I asked specifically, who's responsible for this? And are the Democrats and Joe Biden responsible for this? The answer is somewhat. People understand that there are other factors there. They know there's global factors. They know there's supply issues. But Democrats are, on balance, seen as having been more harmful than helpful.

Now, a president is always somewhat tied to their economy. And Joe Biden, when asked, gets some responsibility for this, not necessarily a lot. But two-thirds of people do say they think he and the administration could be doing more.

So, all that nets out. Democrats are still losing people for whom the economy is the most important issue. They're still trailing with people who say that their financial situation isn't good. And that is part of the reason that has stalled.

Salvanto raises telling points, and the actual numbers paint an even more grim picture for Democrats. 

The economy and inflation are regarded as the most important issues, as is the case with most polls. A plurality, at 40 percent, thinks it's "very bad," while just 5 percent think it's "very good." 

Later in the poll, respondents were asked about the direction they thought the economy was going in, and nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, said it was "getting worse." Just 15 percent think it's "getting better." Again, that shows you how much the Biden administration's narrative on the economy is actually working. Even more embarrassing is how multiple Biden officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, went on numerous Sunday shows to try to make a case about the economy, including on "Face the Nation."

And, while President Joe Biden, Buttigieg, and others try to downplay the likelihood of a recession, 47 percent of respondents believe we'll be in a recession next year.

More voters than not also believe congressional Democrats' policies are to blame, with 48 percent saying their economic policies "have been harmful to the economy." 

On the other hand, more respondents than not said that congressional Republicans' economic policies, if they took control of Congress, would help. Forty-two percent believe they would "be helpful to the economy."

Biden receives a similar amount of blame as congressional Democrats do, with 45 percent saying his policies are "a great deal" responsible "for the current state of the economy." Even worse is that more than two-thirds of respondents, 68 percent, say the Biden administration "could be doing more to fight inflation."

Further, as Salvanto also discussed with Brennan, voters older than 65, which is a particularly reliable voting bloc, are especially hurting under this economy. "It's a really, really important voting bloc," Salvanto emphasized. 

While CBS News Poll highlights on Twitter that abortion is "very important" to 54 percent of voters, this number has decreased since September, while 23 percent say it's "somewhat important" and "not too/at all important," which is actually a slight increase.

Of 12 issues that likely voters were asked to regard as "very important," "somewhat important," and "not too/at all important," abortion ranked seventh. As mentioned, the economy is most important, with 80 percent saying it's "very important," followed closely by inflation, with 76 percent saying so. 

Abortion is also not necessarily regarded as a deal-breaker issue, the poll found. Of the five issues asked about, which included the economy, immigration, January 6, 2021, and gun policy, abortion is tied for third place as a deal-breaker. Sixty-four percent of respondents said that a candidate must agree with them to get their vote. With 36 percent of respondents saying that a candidate could disagree with them and still get their vote, it was tied for second in that regard. 

During his conversation with Brennan, Salvanto acknowledged they had been playing up abortion. "Up until now, we have talked a lot about the abortion issue, because that's been underpinning a lot of those Democratic gains. It is still critical. Democrats are still winning voters who prioritize the abortion issue. But the thing is, there are not more of them in the electorate now than there were last month," he added, with his point at the end being particularly noteworthy. 

Also of note is that for how "extreme" the Republican Party is portrayed, it's regarded as no more statistically so than the Democratic Party. Voters overall think both parties are extreme, in that 54 percent used the word to describe the Democratic Party, and 55 percent used it to describe the Republican Party. The parties are also statistically tied when it comes to being viewed as "reasonable," with 50 percent saying so about the Democratic Party and 49 percent saying so about the Republican Party.

Republicans also have better numbers when it comes to those who don't say the party is "weak," at 57 percent of respondents. Fifty-two percent say the Democratic Party is weak. 

While a majority of respondents say they would not describe the Republican or Democratic Party as "strong" or "effective," Republicans see better numbers, as 48 percent say the party is strong and 45 percent say it's effective. This is compared to 39 percent who feel the Democratic Party is strong and 42 percent who think it's effective. 

The poll was conducted October 12-14, with 2,068 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. Some questions specified when involving likely voters.


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