Don't expect a big Democratic wave this fall, a new CNBC poll says

  • The poll of 800 Americans across the country, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found a six-point Democratic lead on the question of who voters will choose in the November congressional elections.
  • The 42 percent to 36 percent margin is not far from what pollsters would expect given the greater percentage of Democratic registered voters.
  • Working in the Republicans' favor is not only record-high optimism about the economy but also about the stock market and near-record high optimism about wage growth.

With economic optimism soaring in the country, will Democrats be able to sweep to power in either house of Congress or will buoyant sentiment help Republicans keep hold of their Congressional majorities?

The latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey offers mixed signals, but leans against a wave Democratic election like that those that swept Republicans to power in 2010 and 2014.

The poll of 800 Americans across the country, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found a six-point Democratic lead on the question of who voters will choose in the November congressional elections. The 42 percent to 36 percent margin is not far from what pollsters would expect given the greater percentage of Democratic registered voters.

"A six point differential is not something that's going to cause a big electoral wave," said Micah Roberts, the Republican pollster on the CNBC poll, a partner Public Opinion Strategies. "Economic confidence that people have among a lot of groups is providing a buffer" for Republicans.

Indeed, the poll found that 48 percent of the public is optimistic about the current economy and optimistic it will get better, the highest level in the poll's 11-year history and more than double the 20 percent registered in the December 2016 survey. The poll, conducted Oct. 4th through the 7th, shows 83 percent of Republicans are optimistic but also 22 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Independent voters.

To be sure, control of Congress is often decided by the sum of local issues and candidates rather than national sentiment. And this time, several special factors could have a big effect: including more open GOP seats, greater Democratic enthusiasm and millions of dollars of outside money flowing into contested seats. And a lot can change in the remaining weeks before the vote.

Still, Jay Campbell, the Democratic pollster for the survey and a partner with Hart Research Associates, is skeptical of a wave for the Democrats, saying the six-point advantage is "not enough to suggest this is going to be a massive wave election a la 2010." Campbell did add that the survey found a large 17 percent of undecided voters who will be critical to the outcome.

Several other polls have found a double-digit lead for Democrats in the so-called generic ballot question, but the average for polls tallied by Real Clear Politics is just 7.3.

Working in the Republicans' favor is not only record-high optimism about the economy but also about the stock market and near-record high optimism about wage growth. American expect their wages to grow an average of 5.1 percent in the next year, up from 4.7 percent in the June survey and the highest since 2008. A record-high 51 percent of the public say now is a good time to invest in stocks, with a record-low 25 percent saying it's a bad time.

Working for the Democrats, only 23 percent say the tax cuts have benefited them personally, including just 41 percent of Republicans and only 31 percent say it has benefited average taxpayers. By contrast, 71 percent say the tax cuts have benefited large companies and 67 percent say it benefited the wealthy.

President Donald Trump's approval rating also pulls both ways. Just 41 percent approve of the job he's doing as president overall, unchanged from the June survey. Some 49 percent disapprove and 10 percent say they are unsure. But 51 percent approve of his handling of the economy, also unchanged from June, including 89 percent of Republicans, 51 percent of Independent voters and even 18 percent of Democrats.

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