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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls: Week Ending October 18

Just over two weeks to go, and Republicans appear on course to make some of the key pickups they need to take charge of the Senate. But a lot can still happen, and Ebola’s a powerful distraction.

Does America think it’s ready for Ebola? 

It’s certainly a target rich environment for the GOP. The number of voters who think the country is heading in the right direction remains below 30% where it’s been for most weeks over the past year.

Just 34% think America’s best days are still to come.

Consumer and investor confidence remain down.

Thirty-five percent (35%) think their home will be worth more in a year’s time, but that level of confidence hasn’t changed since the beginning of last year.

Republicans have focused much of their campaign strategy on the new national health care law which remains just as unpopular as it’s been since its passage by Democrats in Congress in 2010. Meanwhile, the number of voters who say their health insurance coverage has changed because of Obamacare continues to increase, and the vast majority of those voters say the change has been for the worse

President Obama is no help to struggling Democrats in most states, with his job approval continuing to hover near the -20 mark

Still, voters are skeptical of the electoral process, with 62% who think most incumbents in Congress are reelected because election rules are rigged in their favor. 

Democrats and Republicans are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Our surveys this past week of several states that remain Toss-Ups in the Rasmussen Reports 2014 Senate Balance of Power rankings show Republicans holding a slight lead in Alaska, Arkansas and Iowa. All three of these Senate seats are now held by Democrats.

Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu remains well short of the critical 50% plus one mark she needs in Louisiana to avoid a runoff. She’s slightly ahead of Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy in a race with multiple candidates in it, but Cassidy holds a wide advantage if the contest goes to a two-candidate runoff as expected.

Democrats’ hopes of knocking off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appear to be fading fast. McConnell has now crossed the 50% mark in his bid for reelection in Kentucky.

Our latest numbers out of the Bluegrass State follow the only debate between McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s debate season nationwide as candidates for Senate and governor take to the podium in an effort to further define themselves to the electorate.

Most voters consider debates important to their vote and good indicators of where the candidates stand. But most also say a debate has never changed the way they ultimately decided to vote.

Political labels can make a difference, though, and voters in general think linking a candidate to the Tea Party is the most toxic label. Republicans disagree and say it’s worse to call a candidate a liberal or a progressive.

Voters don’t rely too much on the news media, however. Regardless of its source, TV, radio or Internet, voters don’t trust the political news they are getting.

The gap has widened in the governor’s race in Alaska. Arkansas remains a Toss-Up, as does Massachusetts despite its traditionally strong Democratic leanings.

See our latest election update video. 

America’s increasing military action against the radical Islamic group ISIS is figuring in several Senate races, too. Few voters believe the United States and its allies are winning that war in Iraq, but a strong majority remains confident that ultimate victory is likely.

In other surveys last week:

-- The decision of a 29-year-old California woman with terminal cancer to end her life has cast the spotlight again on states that allow voluntary assisted suicide. Americans by a near two-to-one margin support the practice known as voluntary euthanasia, but most also believe there is life after death.

-- Most Americans agree that the minimum wage was not intended to be a wage that someone could live on but favor raising it from its current level of $7.25 an hour. They're more closely divided, however, when asked if raising the minimum wage will help the economy.

-- Fast-food restaurants have been in the news lately because of protests to raise the minimum wage, but Americans who regularly eat at those restaurants aren't willing to pay more for their food to raise the pay of their workers.

-- Americans continue to say that buying a house is a family’s best investment. They also still believe the government should not help those who are struggling with their mortgage.

-- “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Most Americans know that, but they’re not as sure we should still be celebrating his journey as a national holiday.

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Remember, if it's in the news, it's in our polls.

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