By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus
More than eight months before the November midterm elections, 42 percent of registered voters would pick a generic Republican for Congress, while 39 percent would back a generic Democrat if the midterm elections were being held today. Of course, national polls are not perfect predictors of congressional elections, since the conditions and state of the race in each individual district vary.
Among Republican voters, 86 percent say they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district. Eighty-five percent of Democrats similarly say they would support their party's candidate. Among voters who are independents, more express a preference for the Republican candidate in their district (43 percent) over the Democrat (27 percent).
The poll suggests that Americans remain disenchanted with both political parties.
Perceptions of the two parties have changed little in the past year: while more view the Democratic Party than the Republican Party in a positive light, majorities have a negative opinion of both parties.
And majorities think neither party has the same priorities for the country that they have themselves.
A Look Inside the Republican Party
While 41 percent of Republicans see their party's nominees as about right, a third thinks they are not conservative enough. Tea party Republicans, who make up 42 percent of Republicans, would pull their candidates further to the right; 50 percent say their party's candidates are not conservative enough. By comparison, 67 percent of Democrats think their candidates are about right.
The recent vote in Congress to raise the debt ceiling until next year finds disfavor among Republicans (69 percent disapprove), even more so among tea party Republicans (82 percent disapprove).
Americans disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner by a 2 to 1 margin - perhaps partly due to widespread dissatisfaction with Congress - but his own party's rank and file also disapprove (49 percent), as do just over half of tea party backers (52 percent).
While a majority of Republicans (and most tea party Republicans) are mostly hopeful about the future of the Republican Party, about four in 10 are mostly discouraged. Democrats are more positive; just 20 percent are mostly discouraged about their party, and 77 percent are mostly hopeful.
The poll asked about a number of issues: 70 percent of Republicans would like to see the health care law repealed, and while more than half are opposed to raising the minimum wage, 42 percent favor that. A majority think illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally in some way (including 36 percent who back citizenship), but 39 percent think they should be required to leave the country. Three in four Republicans would like abortion to be further restricted or not permitted at all.
But there are specific issues on which Republicans themselves disagree. Republicans under age 45 are far more likely than their older counterparts to think same sex marriage and marijuana should be legal. Younger Republicans are less likely to think Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs to taxpayers, and fewer think the U.S. should take a lead role in solving international conflicts.
There are also clear differences between tea party and non-tea party Republicans on some issues. Tea party Republicans are more likely to think same sex marriage should not be legal, to oppose raising the minimum wage, to want the 2010 health care law repealed, and to say deficit should be reduced with spending cuts only.
When it comes to their vote, there are some issues on which Republicans could be flexible and vote for a candidate who disagrees with them, but there are other issues on which they would draw the line.
Health care reform is a deal-breaker: only 27 percent would ever consider voting for a candidate who disagrees with them on that issue -- it even outranks abortion (42 percent) in that regard. Fewer than half would consider a candidate who parted with them on immigration (41 percent) or same-sex marriage (47 percent). But global warming isn't as critical (56 percent), nor is the minimum wage (59 percent).
The poll also asked Republicans about outreach to various voter groups, including those that the party has lost in recent years. Rank-and-file Republicans overwhelmingly (67 percent) say their party should do more to address the concerns of the middle class.
About a third of Republicans would like to see the party reach out further to women and Hispanics, but most Republicans say the party is doing enough to reach out to those groups already. Republicans are more apt to say the party should do more for gun owners (43 percent). Very few (18 percent) would have it do more for big business.
The poll finds some dissatisfaction with the Republican Party among a segment of the party's own rank and file. Although two in three have a favorable view of their party, 29 percent of Republicans hold an unfavorable view. Just 54 percent of non-tea party Republicans have a favorable opinion of their party; that percentage rises to 72 percent among tea party Republicans.
In contrast, 85 percent of Democrats feel favorably toward the Democratic Party.
Whatever their differences or dissatisfaction, Republicans' voting behavior shows strong party allegiance (the same is true for Democrats). Eighty-six percent intend to vote for the Republican candidate in their district for the House, and only 3 percent currently plan to vote Democratic. More than half of Republicans say they would consider voting for a Democrat - though in practice, exit polls routinely show that few actually do. In contrast, just 39 percent of Democrats would consider voting for a Republican for Congress.
Like Americans overall, most Democrats are dissatisfied (50 percent) or angry (17 percent) with the way things are going in Washington, but they are optimistic about the future of the Democratic Party. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats are mostly hopeful about their party's future, while far fewer - 20 percent - are mostly discouraged. Liberal Democrats are especially hopeful.
Two in three Democrats are satisfied with where their candidates fall along the ideological spectrum. While 41 percent of Americans overall think the Democratic Party is nominating candidates that are too liberal for them, this is true of just 9 percent of Democratic partisans. Another 18 percent think they aren't liberal enough. Sixty-five percent of liberal Democrats - who make up 42 percent of the Democratic Party - view their party's candidates as about right.
By a wide margin, more Democrats than Republicans express satisfaction with the ideology of their candidates.
Democrats also widely believe that their party shares their priorities for the country: 76 percent think so (compared to 38 percent of Americans overall). Among Democrats, majorities of key constituent groups within the party, including both men (72 percent) and women (78 percent), whites (77 percent) and blacks (72 percent), and Democrats of all age, income, and education levels think their party shares their priorities.
Still, most Democrats believe their party can do more for middle class voters: 70 percent say so. About half of Democrats think their party is doing enough for women voters and Hispanic voters - two groups thought to be crucial to securing an electoral victory in November - while fewer think their party should do more for gun owners (30 percent) or big business (20 percent).
Liberal Democrats differ from moderate and conservative Democrats on whether their party is doing enough for women and Hispanics: 56 percent of liberal Democrats think the party should do more for women voters, and 51 percent think it should do more Hispanic voters.
While many Democrats think the Affordable Care Act needs some changes to make it work better, just 16 percent think the law should be repealed. Fifty-five percent think abortion should be generally available, 70 percent think same-sex marriage should be legal, 86 percent favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and 71 percent think illegal immigrants already in the U.S. should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship. Sixty-six percent of Democrats think global warming is caused by human activity (compared to 46 percent of Americans overall).
Like Republicans, Democrats are split along generational lines on two prominent issues where public opinion is changing rapidly: legalizing same sex marriage and marijuana. More younger Democrats than older Democrats favor legalizing each.
There are also differences between liberal and moderate/conservative Democrats on abortion, same sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, immigration and global warming.
As for the impact of these issues on their voting behavior, Democrats are the most inflexible on the Affordable Care Act and abortion: six in 10 could not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on these issues. Democrats are a bit more flexible on immigration - 47 percent would be willing to vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on this.
Fifty-five percent of Democrats would not consider voting for a Republican for Congress, rising to 61 percent among liberal Democrats. In contrast, most Republicans (55 percent) say they would consider voting for a Democrat (although few now say they would cast their House vote for one).
This poll was conducted by telephone February 19-23, 2014 among a total of 1,644 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.
The poll included a general population sample of 1,003, along with additional interviews to yield the following sample sizes: 519 Republicans, 515 Democrats, and 610 independents. The additional interviews were obtained through callbacks to people indicating party id on a previous poll. The total sample was then weighted to party distribution targets from the general population portion of the poll.
The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for Republicans, Democrats and independents is 6 points. The error for subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.