The Republicans have a lead. But it keeps shrinking.
While they're still in a very good position to capture a House majority, that majority looks narrower today than it ever has, having ticked down for the second straight month to 223 seats in our model estimate. Republicans were at 226 in August and 230 in July.
Voters are engaged because they think the stakes are so high — for many, bigger than just affecting their pocketbooks.
Two-thirds of voters feel their rights and freedoms are very much at stake in this election — more so even than say their financial well being is.
And each side feels if the opposition gained control of Congress, people like them would have fewer rights and freedoms than they do now.
Voters believe by two to one that a Republican Congress would lead to women getting fewer rights and freedoms than they have now, rather than more rights.
By more than four to one, if Republicans win, voters think any change in rights for LGBTQ people would see them getting fewer rights, not more.
Voters feel that on balance, men and people of faith are more apt to gain rights rather than lose them if Republicans win — but many also feel things would stay the same.
How the issue constituencies define this race — and why things have shifted a little
Democrats' lead on the abortion issue is a little bigger now, while Republicans haven't grown their support among voters prioritizing the economy since last month.
Republicans have the same lead they did in August among voters who say the economy and inflation are "very important" to their vote.
Democrats now have a slightly larger lead among those saying abortion is very important than they did in August.
Why? One possible reason: people who say abortion is very important to their vote tend to think Democrats are talking about the issue — more so than other topics. That may be satisfying their need to hear about it.
People who think the economy is very important think the Republicans are talking about immigration and President Biden more than about their economic policies.
It's not that those topics are unimportant. It's just not necessarily matching voters' priorities. So there's perhaps a relatively unmet need there. (And voters who prioritize the economy say Democrats are talking about economics even less.)
And that's why the campaign right now is centered around defining what the contest is about
If Democrats want this contest to be about abortion, we can clearly see why:
The idea of a national abortion ban is very unpopular: 70% of voters oppose it.
Voters overwhelmingly reject the idea of the state requiring a woman to give birth if she were to become pregnant through a case of rape or incest, instead saying that decision should be left up to the woman.
Abortion is a make-or-break issue for most women voters. Seven in 10 women say a candidate must agree with them on that to get their vote. That's higher than other issues tested. This is especially the case for women who want abortion to be legal. A larger percentage of them rank the issue as very important than either the economy or inflation.
Abortion is now the top issue for Democratic women.
By a substantial margin, voters say the overturning of Roe makes them more likely to back a Democratic candidate than a Republican one.
If Republicans want to make immigration a central issue, that's important at least for their base. In a turnout election, that matters.
The Republican base overwhelmingly likes that GOP governors are sending migrants to Democratic areas of the country — nearly nine in 10 approve. Views on this are split on party lines overall.
The migrant transfers may have increased the salience of the immigration issue a little for each party's base, and a bit for independents. It's up with both groups ranking it "very important."
Most Republicans say they approve of transferring migrants because it forces other states to deal with the issue and calls attention to the problem, though fewer than half say it is good for the migrants.
Republicans want crime to be a central issue — and they have a distinct edge on that.
Republican policies are seen by more voters as able to keep them safe. And Republicans are winning voters who say crime is very important, by a wide margin.
The big picture: the threats to democracy
And then — the number who feel democracy is threatened is still high.
The 2022 election may not end this, after a year in which election deniers have already won nominations for offices.
One third of Republicans — and fully half of MAGA Republicans — think the Republicans should plan to challenge states and districts the Democrats win in 2022, and not accept the results.
Only 17% of Democrats feel Democrats should similarly challenge if the GOP wins.
The Trump factor is still there
Former President Donald Trump is a net negative with the rest of the electorate overall. For that matter, Mr. Biden is too.
More voters are voting to oppose Trump than support him, on balance.
But two-thirds of Republicans say it's at least somewhat important for the party to be loyal to Trump.
Trump motivates turnout for Republicans: those who think loyalty to him is "very important" are more enthusiastic and more likely to say they'll vote than those who place less importance on loyalty.
That makes it harder for Republican candidates to distance themselves even if they wanted to.
What can change
Here's a reason the Democrats still trail:
Despite enthusiasm growing, Democrats are still less likely than Republicans to say they'll definitely vote. They haven't closed that gap. (A big part of that is young people being less likely to turn out.)
Once we get beyond those most concerned with abortion, the Democrats still have work to do making this midterm electorate look like midterms that they've won.
Last month we found people becoming a little less negative about the economy. But there's been no change since then. And a majority still expects things to slow or head into recession. One key factor could be the direction that sentiment heads from here.
And there's Mr. Biden. A sitting president is usually a factor in any midterm. Mr. Biden's approval rating ticked up last month but has not changed since. As with the economy, movement from here could potentially change things.
Finally, each party thinks they're hearing a lot of campaign talk about the other side, more than talk about issues.
Plenty of partisans continue to see the other side as enemies, threats to their way of life — not just political opponents. It's the case for over half of Republicans, with MAGA voters especially seeing things this way, and for almost half of Democrats.
Those voters are far more likely to see rights and freedoms at stake.
But they're also more likely to vote.
So, in an election that will turn on turnout, we might expect to hear a lot of negative partisanship — because that's what a lot of these voters want, a reflection, perhaps, of the state of our politics today.
This CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,253 registered voters interviewed between September 21-23, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.3 points. The House seats estimates are based on aincorporating voter responses to this survey. Each party's seat estimate has a margin of error of ±13 seats.
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