As was the case in the last presidential election, voter preferences in the upcoming congressional elections appear to be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The latest FOX News poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation shows the parties almost evenly divided, with Democrats having a slight lead in the generic congressional ballot question. Among registered voters, Democrats lead Republicans 45 percent - 42 percent when respondents were asked how they would vote if the midterm election were held today (numbers include those who are "leaning" toward that party's candidate).

"The generic congressional vote means less today than it used to," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "State legislatures have tended to draw districts that protect incumbents by creating safe seats. Only 20 to 40 seats are really 'in play' this election and they will decide who controls the House for the next two years."

Today, President Bush enjoys a 65 percent job approval rating (25 percent disapprove). Not surprisingly, those who approve of the job Bush is doing as president say they intend to vote Republican (59 percent to 25 percent). And the reverse is also true -- those who disapprove of the president's job performance prefer the Democrat (56 percent to 32 percent).

Undoubtedly, the situation with Iraq and Saddam Hussein will play a major role in the upcoming elections. The current level of support for taking military action to topple Hussein stands at 58 percent, down from 66 percent in the FOX News poll taken prior to the 9/11 anniversary. Voters who support ousting Hussein are almost twice as likely to vote Republican this fall (55 percent to 29 percent).

One-third of the public says the candidate's position on war with Iraq will be the most important factor in their vote this November, 23 percent say the candidate's position on tax policies, and for 14 percent the most important factor will be the candidate's political party.

When Iraq is the most important factor to their vote, over half intend to vote Republican (52 percent to 32 percent). If the candidate's position on tax policies is the top factor, voting preferences are almost evenly split with 45 percent backing the Republican and 43 percent the Democrat.

Another key issue is the state of the economy -- an issue the Democrats hope to use in their favor. Right now a majority of the public (63 percent) says it seems like the economy is not getting stronger, but the voting preference among these folks is divided (42 percent Democrat to 40 percent Republican). Only about one-quarter of Americans (26 percent) feel like the economy is strengthening and these voters overwhelming plan to vote Republican (64 percent to 24 percent).

Of course, Election Day is several weeks away and many people are thinking more about homeland security issues and possible war than about the campaigns. When asked what topic comes up most often in conversation with friends and neighbors, Iraq (13 percent) and the war on terrorism (12 percent) top the list, followed by the economy (nine percent), family issues (five percent) and politics (five percent).

Polling was conducted by telephone September 24-25, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.

1. Thinking ahead to this November's elections, if the congressional election were held today, would you vote for the Republican candidate in your district or the Democratic candidate in your district? (If undecided) Well, if you had to vote, which way would you lean?

    Republican     Democrat    
  Vote Lean Total Vote Lean Total (Other/Not sure)
24-25 Sep 02 32% 10 42 43 2 45 13
6-7 Aug 02 33% 6 39 31 5 36 25
26-27 Feb 02 34% 6 40 30 2 32 28

2. In voting for members of Congress this fall, which one of the following factors will be most important to your vote, the candidate's:

1. Position on war with Iraq, 33%
2. Political party, or 14
3. Position on tax policies? 23
4. (Something else) 6
5. (Combination) 18
6. (Not sure) 5
7. (Won't vote) 1

3. Which of the following comes closest to your view? My vote in the upcoming elections will express my:

1. Support for the war on terrorism, or 47%
2. Opposition to today’s economic policies? 30
3. (Neither) 10
4. (Not sure) 12
5. (Won't vote) 1

4. For you and your family, does it feel like the economy is getting stronger or not?

1. Economy is getting stronger 26%
2. Economy is not getting stronger 63
3. (Not sure) 11

(Compare to 9-10 Jul 02) For you and members of your family, does it feel like the country's economy is bouncing back or like the economy is not recovering?

1. Economy is bouncing back 47%
2. Economy is not recovering 45
3. (Not sure) 8

5. Do you support or oppose the federal government spending more on national defense and intelligence even if it means that there will be less funding available for social programs?

  Support Oppose (Not sure)
24-25 Sep 02 53% 34 13
30-31 Jan 02 59% 29 12
19-20 Sept 01 79% 14 7