WASHINGTON - U.S. women increased their support for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, providing an anticipated swing to help the party take control of the chamber, according to a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll.
Fifty-five percent of women said they backed a Democrat for the House this year, compared with 49 percent who said they backed a Democrat in the 2014 congressional midterm elections, the poll found.
Overall, U.S. voters were deeply divided about Republican President Donald Trump’s job performance and the direction of the country as they cast ballots in Tuesday’s congressional elections, according to the poll.
Young voters also swung aggressively toward Democrats — with those 18 to 34 backing Democrats by 62 percent to 34 percent — a 28 percentage point gap. That is a big increase from 2014, when 54 percent of young voters backed Democrats and 36 percent Republicans, which amounted to an 18-point gap.
Hispanic voters also favored Democratic House candidates by 33 percentage points — higher than the 18-point gap that Democrats enjoyed in 2014, the poll found.
The poll, conducted online on Tuesday, was based on responses from 38,196 people who voted in 37 states. The poll is ongoing and will be updated as the vote is tallied.
Democrats nearly swept competitive House races and were poised to take control, projected by media organizations to win the needed minimum of 23 seats to wrest the chamber from Republicans. But Republicans outperformed expectations in Senate races, and were set to pick up seats in the upper chamber.
Election Day polling reveals a split among female voters — proving to be a decisive voting bloc for Democratic gains in the House but siding with Republicans in key Senate races.
In Virginia, women supported Democratic House candidates over Republicans by 19 percentage points: 58 percent to 39 percent. In 2014, Democrats won women by 10 points. Three U.S. House seats in Virginia flipped to Democrats and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine was re-elected.
By comparison, in Indiana, women backed Republican House candidates over Democrats by 57 percent to 40 percent. Democrats won only two House seats in Indiana — which were already held by the party — and lost the Senate seat that was held by Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Early poll results found that about half of those who voted believed the country was on the “wrong track,” and four in 10 said it was headed in the “right direction.”
A slightly larger number of voters disapproved of Trump’s job performance, compared with about four in 10 who approved, the poll found.
Millions of Americans voted in the congressional and state contests on Tuesday, with all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 35 seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate and 36 of the 50 state governorship at stake.
Election forecasters said Democrats would likely pick up the 23 seats they need to gain a majority in the House. But the party had less hope of adding the two seats it needs to gain control of the Senate, where Republicans won four new seats, according to media outlets and data provider DDHQ.
Voters coalesced around top election issues, with 41 percent dividing between three issues. The poll found 14 percent listed the economy as their top issue and another 14 percent named immigration. In a close third, 13 percent said health care was their primary concern. Both Democrats and Republicans cited immigration as a concern — evidence that the issue both resonated among the Republican base but also stoked opposition among Democrats.
Trump and Republicans touted the strong economy during the campaign, with the president arguing Democrats would reverse the job gains that have occurred since he took office. Trump also played up his hard line positions on immigration in the final stretch, a strategy aimed at driving his base to turn out.
Democrats made health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, the central theme of their House and Senate campaigns, warning that people could lose coverage for pre-existing health conditions and other protections if Republicans kept control of Congress.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found robust support for changing the nation’s gun laws. Seven in 10 voters said they wanted “moderate” or “strong” regulations and restrictions for firearms, the poll found.
Emboldened by a spate of school shootings and shift in public opinion, Democrats this cycle embraced limits on firearms after decades of avoiding talking about gun control.
Calls for background checks and limits on “bump stocks” and high-capacity magazines appeared in campaign ads — even in some of the most conservative districts.
About half of midterm voters want abortion to be legal in “most” or “all” cases, the poll found. A slightly smaller number, four in 10, want abortion to be illegal, the poll found.
Abortion entered the 2018 elections debate during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats argued Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ultimately lead to a woman’s right to abortion being overturned.