I will begin by restating what I have said many times: trust the polls not the pundits. It is getting to be a real problem believing the talking heads on television who are all now warriors in the Trump-Anti-Trump camp. Just as in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, there were plenty of folks who just couldn’t see the trend lines moving away from Hillary Clinton so were stunned when she actually lost the election.
We are hearing a lot today about a massive Blue Wave that will hit this country on November 6. The Democrats need to win only 23 seats in the House of Representatives currently held by the Republicans to win back a majority, only 2 seats in the Senate. There is no doubt that such a Blue Wave can indeed occur – but I would advise caution right now. I just don’t see it yet.
First, the Democrats enter the Fall 2018 campaign with distinct advantages. First is history. On average, first term incumbent Presidents normally lose an average of 23 seats in the first off-year election. History seems to be less of guide these days but this average loss is a fact.
Second, in eight special elections involving House seats held by Republicans, Democrats have won seven – plus they picked up a Senate seat in Alabama.
Third, in California where there are a number of open previously held GOP seats plus a few vulnerable Republican incumbents, Democratic candidates have made it past the primaries to challenge Republicans in general election. In other words, districts that were not competitive before now appear to be up for grabs.
Fourth, despite some serious infighting in Democratic ranks, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has done a good job recruiting candidates in 2018. They have sought and are running more women and persons of color, moderates who can appeal to independents in GOP districts, but not so much that they alienate the Democratic base. There are significant numbers with military backgrounds. It remains to be seen if this formula works, but thus far it does not seem to be hurting the Democrats.
Fifth, the Obama Coalition of 2008 and 2012, which did not materialize in 2016, appears to be mobilized and ready to vote. This includes young voters, especially young women, non-whites, and the Creative Class. Millennials appear to be energized and the Parkland Tragedy appears to be the Pearl Harbor moment for Generation Z. Thus far, these groups have been voting closer in numbers to the Obama presidential elections and less like 2010 and 2014.
Sixth, there is a huge gender gap in all of the polls. This is hardly surprising given the #MeToo movement, as well as the record numbers of women running for office. But most especially, the GOP appears to be particularly tone deaf on these matters.
And seventh, poll after poll reveals that health care is at or near the top of issues mobilizing Democrats to vote. The Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act means genuine fear among those who are losing a benefit and conjures up anxiety about the health of Medicare.
On the other hand, let us not kid ourselves. The GOP may be down but is not out. As of this writing, the official unemployment rate is at 3.9% and unemployment among non-whites is at record lows. The GDP is at a 4.2.% annual clip, 400,000 new manufacturing have been created, and wages have been moving up the past few months. Significantly, the numbers of African Americans, Hispanics, and young people who are saying that the nation is on the right track is edging higher. For that matter, over 40% of voters overall in recent polls say the country is moving in the right direction. This is not an impressive number, but it was at 28% -30% in most polls when Donald trump became President.
Mr. Trump’s job approval as I write is at 45%, also not great, but also not dismal or even dangerous. He retains the support of 87%-88% of his base. Of equal importance, more than 50% approve of how he is handling the economy – 42% like the way he is dealing with foreign policy. It remains to be seen whether or not these are winning numbers. But they clearly are not losing numbers.
In more than four decades as a pollster, I have observed that the Democrats need at least a 5-6 point margin in the Congressional generic ballot to win seats in Congress. Today’s average leads for the Democrats is 6-8 points – not yet a landslide.
And in the 8 most competitive races for the US Senate, — Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Montana, Tennessee and Arizona – only a few (or even no) points separate the two main candidates. Too close to call.
While Congress receives only a 17% approval rating, neither political party is beloved by US voters. That could dampen turnout as could the sense among some potential Democratic voters that things are getting better, thus why even bother to throw the bums out.
The Republicans want to talk about the economy. Because their base is solidly behind the President, they do not want to talk about him. The Democrats clearly want to rally their base by talking about the President and his boorish, internationally embarrassing, gratuitously insulting, at times erratic, and possibly incompetent behavior. But the Democrats still have to show they have a better plan to address the nation’s problems.
You may get to use your navy blue crayon to color the political map this year. But not just yet.