New poll reveals political mood ahead of midterms and how young voters could sway outcome

With less than a week to go until Election Day, our latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll is giving us a look at the landscape and key issues playing out in the midterm elections. It reveals the political mood and how turnout among young voters could sway the outcome. Lisa Desjardins breaks down the results.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Election Day is less than a week away and, already, 30 million Americans have cast a ballot.

    Our latest "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll is giving us a look at the landscape and the key issues that are playing out in the midterm elections.

    Lisa Desjardins is here to walk through the results.

    Lisa, hello.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hello. I got the results right here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do. And there's a lot to talk about, a lot to report on.

    So, here we are, six days out. What are the polls telling us?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Who's going to win? That's the question everyone wants to know, right?

    We asked, of course, in this election, do you prefer Republicans or Democrats? Let's look at where the country is right now in this poll. It does not get closer than that, 46 percent of Americans in our survey saying Democrats, 46 percent Republican. That little tiny gray space in the middle, that's the 8 percent who didn't have a preference either way.

    Now, I will say, Judy, this looks like a dead heat. When you ask voters who say, I will definitely vote, Republicans have a slight advantage, just a little one. But it's really just as close as it could be in this election.

    So we wanted to know, of course, what's on voters' mind, what's going to affect whether — who they vote for. And we look at the issues, and here's what we know right now voters are thinking about. If you look by party, Republicans say inflation is their top concern, 54 percent, independents, also 40 percent

    Democrats, look at that number there; 42 percent of Democrats now say that the issue that gets the most attention from them, preserving democracy. Judy, that is a significant change from just a few months ago, when the top issue for Democrats was abortion.

    Now, there are still a number of Democrats, I think about a third of Democrats, top of mind is abortion. But that issue was really driving some enthusiasm for Democrats that we just don't see in the poll anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's kind of a negative motivation under that heading.

    So, Lisa, in a close election, it is often turnout. It's who turns out to vote. What are the polls telling us about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, first of all, I should say something that we also noticed in this poll was that President Biden's approval rating, President Trump's approval rating are the same. So that's a mark of enthusiasm that we usually look at.

    But they're dead tied right now, both the current and former presidents. When we asked, who is actually going to come I'm out to vote by party, here's what we see right now at this moment. Democrats, 82 percent of them say they will definitely vote, Republicans, more, 88 percent.

    Independents seem the least enthusiastic right now at 73 percent. Now, those numbers don't look all that different between Democrats and Republicans. But, overall, we asked Lee Miringoff, who is the director of the poll at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, what kind of picture is emerging from this, and this is what he told us.

    Lee Miringoff, Director, Marist Institute for Public Opinion: The current winds are blowing more Republican in this poll than Democratic. The Republican electorate is more, showing greater interest at this point than the Democratic electorate is.

    And the Republican interest has grown. And we're also seeing that when, we look at definite voters, as opposed to the registered electorate as a whole, that has a slightly more Republican flavor to it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So let's drill down on those definite voters.

    Those are really your most guaranteed voters. Everyone else, it could be a bad day, they might not show up. Here's what we're talking about that is a problem for Democrats right now. Let's look at some of their key groups that we see vote in highest numbers Democratic. Black voters, 67 percent only say they will definitely vote, Latino, 69 percent. Of course, we talked about that when we were in Nevada last week.

    Generation Z, millennials, younger voters, only 65 percent saying that they will definitely vote. Those are key high number voter — high proportion voters for Democrats. Let's look at some other groups. On the other hand, white evangelicals, 89 percent of those who generally do vote more Republican are planning to definitely vote.

    And then the group I'm watching the most, white college graduates. Look at that figure, 95 percent planning to vote definitely. And, Judy, in this poll, we saw a shift in their opinion. College graduates in general are moving away from Democrats, now just 55 percent saying they're voting Democrat vs. 65 Last month. So that also is a problem for the Democratic Party this election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that changed just in the last month?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm sorry, in the last two months, since the end of August.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the last two months.

    So, finally, overlaying this, Lisa, is something you alluded to earlier, it's the critical question of, how do people feel about the fairness of the election system? What do you see?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, we will be watching this in real time on Election Day, of course, as will the whole country.

    We asked people in this poll, how confident are you that this election will be fair and accurate? Here's what we got by party. Look at that difference; 62 percent of Democrats say they are very confident, only 30 percent of Republicans.

    Now, when you ask, are you somewhat confident, those numbers get closer. And a majority of Republicans have some level of confidence. But, by and large, Democrats are more confident.

    Here's the question I want to look at. Look at this. Should your candidate, if they lose, concede? Now, look at that. Democrats, 64 percent say, definitely, my candidate should concede if they lose. Republicans, just 39 percent say definitely; 42 percent aren't so sure.

    And I have to say, even that number from Democrats saying — only two-thirds of Democrats say my candidate should definitely concede, I mean, that's very different than, let's say, 10, 20 years ago. And it's something that's happening right now.

    So we will be watching these candidates and voters are going to be watching them closely too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's an essential tenet of this democracy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    People concede when they have lost an election.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You see that loss of confidence, based on who wins or loses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, very worrying, very worrying.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

Listen to this Segment