One new survey suggests rising support for Obama's handling of Islamic State militants. Another finds a slight uptick for Democrats nationwide, but maybe not one that will help in November. And a third finds Charlie Crist up in Florida -- for now. This is HuffPollster for Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
SURVEY FINDS SURPRISINGLY STRONG RATING FOR OBAMA ON ISIS - Aaron Blake: "Get ready to pop the champagne, White House. For the first time since January, President Obama is polling a 50 percent approval rating on an issue: his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. That is not a typo: It has been eight months since Obama last cracked half the American public on any given issue -- foreign policy or otherwise -- in Washington Post/ABC News polling. The newest WaPo-ABC poll shows 50 percent approve of Obama's handling of the Islamic State, as compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That's an improvement from August, when the question referenced only Iraq and not Syria, and 42 percent of Americans gave Obama a vote of confidence. Obama's new polling heights come as Americans overwhelmingly approve of the airstrikes he ordered in Syria." [WashPost]
Partisan gap - As Blake notes, support for airstrikes doesn't necessarily translate into approval of the president. Without Obama's name mentioned, Republicans are close to unanimous in supporting intervention in Syria, with 80 percent agreeing, but just 30 percent give Obama a positive rating.
How do other polls compare? - The Post/ABC survey is the second released this week to show Obama's rating on ISIS improving significantly. A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found Americans divided on Obama's handling of ISIS, with 45 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving -- up from 37 percent approval on the issue earlier in September, although still somewhat south of a positive rating. Other polling, released earlier this month, most found Obama's rating on ISIS in the high 30s or early 40s, similar to his overall foreign policy rating. [Pollster chart]
CNN FINDS DEMS GAINING ON GENERIC BALLOT - Jeremy Diamond: "Five weeks before the November midterm elections, voters give Democrats an edge over Republicans, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday. But the poll also indicates most of Democrats' gains are coming from the Northeast and not from the parts of the country where they're locked in tight contests that could give Republicans control of the Senate. In a generic ballot among likely voters, Democrats edged out Republicans 47 -45%, a 6-point swing from a CNN poll three weeks ago when likely voters favored the Republicans by a 4-point margin. The Democrats' advantage is within the poll's 3.5% margin of error." The CNN result helps nudge the generic ballot estimate produced by the HuffPost Pollster back to a near tie. Our tracking model is based on all public polling data but is calibrated to the results of the more reliable non-partisan surveys. [CNN, Pollster U.S. House vote chart]
Economy remains main issue - CNN's survey also finds that 65 percent of Americans consider economic conditions to be a bigger midterm issue than military action against ISIS. While majorities of both parties continued to name the economy, nearly three quarters of Democrats and two thirds of independents did, compared with just 55 percent in the GOP. Republicans were also most likely to say they disapproved of Congress' handling of the situation with ISIS.
HOW MANY SEATS WILL DEMOCRATS LOSE? - Mark Mellman (D) considers various forecasts for the outcome of races for the U.S. House: "History suggests Democrats will lose House seats, and so does everyone else....Four things are clear for this run-down: First, no one yet knows just how many seats Democrats will lose in this very challenging environment. Second, Democratic losses are likely to beat the historical average, making it hard for Republicans to claim real bragging rights. Third, for the most part, academic modelers foresee bigger changes than do the D.C.-based handicappers. By the handicappers’ lights, Republicans are unlikely to achieve their goal; the modelers say it’s quite likely they will meet and even exceed their modest objective. Finally, with forecasts ranging from Democratic losses of two to 39 seats, this election sets up an interesting test of alternative approaches to forecasting. In the end though, unlike with the probabilistic models of Senate control, we will know who was more and less right." [The Hill]
RECAPPING THE MOST RECENT MIDTERM POLLS - Tuesday's new Senate polls produced an ironic twist: Two surveys from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) gave a slight edge to Republicans in Iowa and Louisiana, while a new poll from the conservative Civitas Institute favored the Democrat in North Carolina.The new data helps tick the probability of Republicans winning control of the Senate down slightly to 57 percent, from 58 percent Monday, but the overall assessment of the HuffPost Pollster tracking model remains essentially unchanged. Contests in four states currently represented by Democrats -- Arkansas, Iowa, Alaska and Colorado -- are currently tipping to Republicans by tiny margins (roughly 2 percent or less, as of this writing), margins that our model considers close to a 50/50 tossup. Republican wins in those states would add to a 53 seat majority, but the 59 percent probability of that occurring is barely better than a coin flip. [Huffpost Senate Forecast]
North Carolina Senate - The Republican Civitas Institute found Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leading Thom Tillis (R) by 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent, the eleventh survey in a row to show her ahead. The survey also found Libertarian Sean Haugh's support at just 4 percent, down from 10 percent in May and June Civitas polls. HuffPollster's model gives Hagan a close to 4-point edge over Tillis and a nearly 60 percent chance of winning, making North Carolina the tossup state most likely to swing blue. [North Carolina chart, Civitas]
Iowa Senate - PPP (D) found a nearly tied race in Iowa, with Joni Ernst (R) just 2 points ahead of Bruce Braley (D). Recent polls have painted sharply differing pictures of the race, with Fox, Rasmussen, and a Harstad (D) poll for the DSCC all showing the race tied, while Quinnipiac and a Selzer poll for the Des Moines register gave Ernst a 6-point lead. The Pollster average gives Ernst a 2-point edge and a just-better-than-even chance at winning. [Iowa chart, PPP]
Louisiana Senate - A second PPP (D) poll gave Bill Cassidy (R) a 3-point advantage in a head-to-head matchup over Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). Most other recent surveys, including CNN, have Cassidy ahead by similar margins, although a Fox survey found him up 13 points. The Pollster average gives him about a 4-point edge and a 65 percent shot at victory. [Louisiana chart, PPP]
New Hampshire Senate - American Research Group gave Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) a 10-point lead over Scott Brown (R), 53 percent to 43 percent -- the highest percentage she's seen all year, and among the best margins for her in recent polling. Other surveys show a somewhat closer race, although they vary widely, with two GOP polls giving Brown a slight edge. The Pollster average gives Shaheen a margin of just below 5 points, and about a two in three chance of winning. [New Hampshire chart], ARG]
Michigan Senate - A Target-Insyght poll for the Michigan Information & Research Service and the lobbying firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc. found Gary Peters (D) up 10 points over Terri Lynn Land (R). While Peters has led in 10 consecutive polls, most show a smaller margin, between 2 and 7 points. The Pollster model gives him a 6-point lead and a 70 percent chance of winning. [Michigan chart, Target-Insyght]
Florida governor - The latest SurveyUSA tracking poll gave Charlie Crist (D) a 6-point edge over Gov. Rick Scott (R), his best margin since July. SurveyUSA noted in their writeup that the poll was conducted during the Jewish High Holy Days, "which altered school schedules in some parts of the state and resulted in others taking long weekends away from home," causing "volatility and [an] abnormal pattern of who is home and who is not home" that they expect to continue this week. The Pollster model shows the race virtually even.
[Florida chart, SUSA]
Ohio governor - A Wednesday morning Quinnipiac poll found Gov. John Kasich (R) with a 22-point lead over Ed FitzGerald (D). No poll taken this year has shown FitzGerald ahead, but the Democrat's numbers tanked further after his campaign was dogged with a series of unflattering revelations. Of the five polls released since August, just one -- which was sponsored by the state Democratic party -- found him taking more than 40 percent of the vote. [Ohio chart, Quinnipiac]
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WEDNESDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Harry Enten says relatively little has changed since 538 launched its Senate forecast. 
-Ameila Showalter explains why redistricting, turnout and "the Big Sort" make 2014 a tough year for Democrats. [Medium]
-Drew Altman notes fading interest in Obamacare as a political issue. [WSJ]
-More small business owners feel satisfied in their jobs, but fewer feel successful. [Gallup]
-Philip Bump finds female candidates have bigger winning, and losing, margins than their male counterparts. [WashPost]
-Only 36 percent of Democratic candidates running this year have explicitly expressed support for Obamacare. [WashPost]
-Americans think students should learn both to respect authority and about the history of civil disobedience. [YouGov]
-Hayley Munguia evaluates estimates of how many people participated in “the largest climate march in history.” 
-F.D. Flam profiles the field of Bayesian statistics. [NYT]