For millions of Americans, Donald Trump's presidential victory in 2016 was a shock; they never saw it coming. But some did, including Anthony Salvanto, CBS News' director of elections and surveys. He's a seasoned pollster who can spot polling trends better than most.
Now, he's set his sights on the 2018 midterm elections, whose results will greatly influence the 2020 presidential contest, and he's identified a trend Democrats will not like: The "blue wave" they promised is looking less and less likely that it will come to fruition.
What are the details?
For 2018, Salvanto is focusing his energy on CBS' ongoing tracking poll, instead of popularized random surveys. This allows him to track the sentiment of the same large group of demographically diverse people over a long period of time, which makes spotting trends much easier. And for 2018, the trends are already clear, he told the New York Post.
For 2018, the CBS News Battleground Tracker has gathered a panel of nearly 5,700 registered voters. Almost all of them live in the 50 to 60 districts that might switch from Republican to Democrat, or vice versa, in November — the only races that matter, when it comes to control of Congress.
Salvanto’s polling currently indicates that few House seats will change hands in November — and that the GOP could very well hold its majority in the House.
“In this era, a district’s voting patterns from the past tend to stay that way,” Salvanto said. “Not as many partisans today are willing to cross party lines.”
Of the nation’s 435 House districts, fully 85 percent will almost certainly stick with its current party affiliation come November, Salvanto projects.
Indeed, midterm elections are "the most interesting and difficult challenge" pollsters face, Salvanto said. That's for two reasons: Voter turnout is much lower and only a few dozen races are competitive.
That means pollsters must home in on the races believed to be competitive. It's in those races that pollsters can best gauge where the election is heading. However, choosing those races can be difficult, although he and his colleague have tools they can rely on, such as demographic indicators and campaign spending.
So what's he predicting for 2018?
Salvanto told the Post that Republicans will likely fend off the promised "blue wave."
"Right now I think this election looks like a toss-up. We see a Democrat pickup in the House of Representatives in the 20-odd seat range, but Republicans could certainly hold on to the House," Salvanto said.
"Even though Republicans have not fared well in special elections so far this cycle, it does look like they will be turning out for the midterms. So far we do not see a large number of Republicans saying they will flip and vote for a Democrat," he explained.
Currently, Republicans have a 43-seat majority in the House. And while the GOP certainly doesn't want to lose seats there, the party's main concern is retaining — or even growing — its majority in the Senate, where they hold a two-seat majority.
How can Democrats win?
"They have to bring new voters in," Salvanto told the Post. "A large number of Democrats are contesting districts they have not contested before. That has new people coming into politics — younger, more women, more ethnicities — making for some interesting dynamics."
However, the Democratic Party's current strategy of simply opposing President Donald Trump will not succeed, he warned.
"Voters say the Democrats need to do more than just oppose Trump," Salvanto said. "They’re asking, 'What are they arguing we’ll get if they take the majority?'"
Moreover, media coverage may hamper Democrats' ability to win in November. With near-constant negative coverage of the president, Republicans, which overwhelmingly support Trump, "feel driven to come to his defense," Salvanto said, which means Republican turnout may be higher than normal in November.