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Republicans have the advantage with voters in 2022 elections, poll finds

Republicans are favored to take back the House in November's midterm elections, according to a new NPR/<em>PBS NewsHour</em>/Marist poll. Here, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 18.
Chip Somodevilla
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Republicans are favored to take back the House in November's midterm elections, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Here, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 18.

All signs are pointing to a difficult midterm election for President Biden and Democrats, and a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll has fresh evidence of that.

Of the 1,162 registered voters surveyed, 47% said they are more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, as opposed to 44% who said Democrats. (The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points, which means results could be almost 4 points higher or lower.)

It's the first time in eight years that Marist's survey has found Republicans with an advantage on the congressional ballot test. Back then, months before the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans had a 5-point edge in the poll and then won control of both the House and Senate.

This past November, Democrats had a 5-point advantage on the question, and traditionally, Democrats need a lead of at least a few points to do well or break even. That's because their voters are largely compacted in urban areas and because congressional districts across the U.S. are drawn in a way that broadly favors Republicans. When Democrats won control of the House in 2018, they had a 6-point edge in the poll, for example.

In this survey, independents — an important swing group, particularly in suburban areas — said they favor Republicans by 7 points, 45% to 38%. There is a significant gender gap overall and in suburbs, with a majority of women favoring Democrats and a majority of men wanting Republicans in charge.

Republicans with the edge on key issues

Republicans are also favored on a raft of issues, including double-digit advantages on inflation, crime and national security. Inflation, in particular, is critical, considering Americans say it is their top concern. Of note, about three times as many independents say they think Republicans would do a better job controlling inflation as they say Democrats.

Democrats, on the other hand, have big leads on handling LGBTQ rights and climate change, and they have a 12-point edge on dealing with the coronavirus.

Notably, on immigration, however, the country is split, with lots of U.S. adults undecided. How that moves will be important to watch in the coming months, as the Biden administration has indicated it will soon be lifting Title 42, a section of the law cited to keep immigrants out of the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. A surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is expected if that lifts.

People are growing more optimistic about the coronavirus's trajectory, with three-quarters saying they think the end of the pandemic is near. And a majority continues to approve of how Biden is handling it.


Biden approval still down, but a caveat about elections and choices

Overall, Biden's approval rating stands at 41%. That's up 2 points from his low of 39% last month, once the boost he got from his State of the Union address wore off.

Biden continues to have an intensity problem — 37% of adults said they strongly disapprove of the job he's doing, while just 16% said they strongly approve.

There's a clear generational divide on how Biden is viewed. Essentially, the older people are, the more likely they are to approve of the job he's doing and vice versa, and that holds for intensity as well.

Black voters give Biden the highest approval of any group polled, aside from self-declared Democrats and Biden voters. Two-thirds of Black voters said they like the job Biden is doing, compared with just 40% of Latino voters who said so.

In fact, a majority (55%) of Latinos disapprove of the job he's doing. A caveat here: The margin of error is almost 9 percentage points because of the sample size, but the finding may be a significant warning sign for Democrats.

Democrats need Latinos to show up in key states in this midterm election. And many counties with significant Latino populations, in South Florida and South Texas, in particular, showed Biden faring worse than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 — despite Biden doing better than Clinton in most other places.

All that said, just because Biden's approval is underwater doesn't mean that this equates to him losing a 2024 reelection bid.

Biden's favorability rating, for example, is just 42% favorable to 54% unfavorable among voters. But that 42% is actually 3 points higher than how former President Donald Trump is viewed (39% to 56%).

Biden continues to struggle with how the public perceives he's handling the economy — just 39% approve of the job he's doing with it. That's down 6 points from March.

Biden has also seen a decline in his handling of the situation in Ukraine — just 44% approve, down from 52% on a similar question in March.

The survey of 1,377 adults, including 1,162 registered voters, was conducted from April 19 through Tuesday. Live interviewers with Marist reached survey respondents via landline and cellphone, with interviews conducted in English and Spanish.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.