At the start of 2018, all signs pointed toward a “blue wave” sweeping through Congress in November, with many analysts predicting both the House and Senate would end up in Democrats’ hands. But over the past six months, the tides have undoubtedly shifted, and it now appears Democrats could be in for a disappointing election season.
Democrats’ 2018 election strategy — if you can even call it a “strategy” — appears to be to run against the most important American politician who isn’t worried about losing in 2018: President Donald Trump. Virtually every part of the DNC’s election machine is geared toward stopping President Trump’s agenda, which Democrats have routinely characterized as racist, heartless, and reckless.
Americans don’t seem to be listening.
According to Gallup’s most recent presidential tracking poll, President Trump’s approval rating has risen in recent weeks to 45 percent, the highest it’s been since his first week in office. Independent Journal Review reports Trump’s approval rating is only 2 percentage points lower than Obama’s at this point in his presidency and the same as President Reagan.
More importantly, the trend has been moving upward over the past several weeks. As recently as April 22, President Trump’s approval rating was as low as 38 percent.
Some Democrats have pointed to generic ballot polling showing voters favor them as a sign of good things to come in the 2018 election, but a closer examination reveals the picture isn’t quite as rosy as they would have you believe. The Real Clear Politics average of generic congressional ballot polls for June 3 through June 13 shows Democrats with a 7 percentage point lead. However, historically, Democrats almost always perform better at this point in an election year in generic ballot polling than they do in on Election Day.
For instance, from May 16, 2014, an election year, to Sept. 7, 2014, Democrats never performed worse than Republicans in RCP’s generic ballot polling average. But Democrats ended up losing both the House and Senate. In fact, House Republicans gained 13 seats in 2014, and Senate Republicans added a whopping nine seats.
Similarly, from April 2016 up to the 2016 election, generic ballot polling showed Democrats ahead. On October 14, less than one month before the election, Democrats had a commanding 6.2 percentage point lead in RCP’s generic ballot. But on Election Day, Republicans ended up winning the House 241 to 194 and the Senate 52 seats to 48.
It’s true that Democrats are performing better in the generic ballot than they did in 2014 or 2016, but not by a significant margin. The last two polls conducted of likely voters — a more accurate measure than polls that capture the views of registered, but not necessary “likely,” voters — show Democrats’ lead is only 4 percentage points, nearly identical to what some pollsters were reporting just prior to Republicans’ major congressional victories in 2016.
For instance, the Economist/YouGov poll of likely voters conducted from Nov. 4-7 in 2016 showed Democrats leading by 3 percentage points. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of likely voters taken from Nov. 3-5, 2016, also showed Democrats with a 3 percentage point lead.
Additionally, Republicans have a huge advantage in this year’s Senate race because many of the toss-up seats are held by Democrats in Republican-leaning states. Although it’s a bit too early for a detailed analysis of all Senate races (some primaries have yet to be completed), some indicators suggest Republicans could steal a few seats from Democrats.
For instance, the two most recent polls conducted in Florida (one in May and one in June) show Republican Rick Scott with a 3 to 4 percentage point advantage over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. (Scott is well liked in Florida and is the state's current governor.)
Further, pollster Mason-Dixon has Republican challenger Kevin Cramer currently polling ahead of Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in deep-red North Dakota.
In conservative Indiana, challenger Mike Braun, who has never served in Congress, is trying to take down Sen. Joe Donnelly, and early signs show the two are locked in a tie. But according to Real Clear Politics’ May analysis, the fact that the race is already so close is a bad sign for an incumbent in a Republican-dominated state.
“Assuming no major skeletons are in Braun’s closet, Donnelly is in deep trouble,” the analyst wrote.
For every one Senate seat Republicans flip in their favor, Democrats would need to flip two to gain on the GOP’s current Senate advantage, which means if Republicans manage to flip just two seats, it’s highly unlikely Democrats could take control of the Senate.
Democrats’ chances are made even worse by the fact they have virtually no prominent policy proposals. I wish I could write dozens of articles outlining why Democrats’ plans for the future should they win Congress would be disastrous, but, frankly, I’m not sure what their plans for the future are!
Other than a possible impeachment of President Trump and calls from the socialist wing of the Democratic Party for single-payer health care, there are few, if any, serious reforms being put forward by liberals trying to capture Congress. They are banking, for better or worse, that Americans will come out in full force to oppose President Trump, even though he’s not running for office and the economy continues to boom under Republicans’ economic policies.
Conventional wisdom says parties holding the White House, Senate, and House often lose in midterm elections, but conventional wisdom also says Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. Needless to say, we aren’t living in conventional times.