This is turning out to be a fascinating midterm election, pitting the Democratic wave against the Republican seawall.
Historic midterm voting patterns combined with national, state, and district-level polling data and off-year election results are combining to make a strong case for a classic midterm wave—obviously not what Republicans want to see. But district boundaries and natural population patterns provide at least some degree of protection for House Republicans. Similarly, in the upper chamber, the states that have Senate seats up tilt the playing field decidedly toward Republicans. As Shakespeare might (but probably wouldn’t) say, “The wave or the wall—that is the question.”
There is no question that passage of the tax-cut bill in late December was a huge shot in the arm for Republicans. Through much of 2017, many GOP partisans and independents who lean Republican had grown despondent over the inability of their party to repeal Obamacare or move many other desired pieces of legislation. The hope among Republican officials and strategists is that the enthusiasm among GOP voters for the tax measure would be contagious, and help among the 7 in 10 voters who identify as independents or Democrats. But polling over the past two weeks suggests that the boost for President Trump and Republicans was relatively contained and short-lived.
Fresher polling shows Trump’s approval rating has ticked back down after a brief rise. Remember, it’s always best to keep an eye on the averages; resist the temptation to cherry-pick polls, focusing on the ones that tell you what you want to hear and ignoring those with bad news.
The latest RealClearPolitics average of major polls has Trump’s approval at 41.2 percent, with disapproval of 54.8 percent. FiveThirtyEight’s average is 39.4 percent approve, 55.2 percent disapprove (in mid-February, the site had approval up to 41.5 percent and disapproval down to 53.2 percent). Similarly, the generic-congressional-ballot test narrowed a bit over January but has widened back out some, with less of a Democratic lead than in early December but still in the danger zone for the GOP.
With the Hill more focused on the generic-ballot test, the three most recent live telephone surveys are the CNN/SSRS survey taken Feb. 20-23, giving Democrats a 16-point lead over Republicans; Marist College’s Feb. 20-21 poll putting the Democratic edge at 7 points; and Quinnipiac University’s Feb. 16-19 poll putting Democrats up by 15 points. Among the online pollsters, YouGov (Feb. 18-20) has the Democratic margin at 8 points while Harris Interactive (Feb. 16-19) has it at 5 points.
For polling aficionados, there is a very smart article by Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll and a longtime political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, that looks into why so many polls differ and why the mix of polling in the averages has changed since the first of the year, illustrating the differences between robo-polls, internet polling, and the more traditional live telephone-interview surveys.
A subplot for this election is public attitudes toward the economy—what Republicans are banking on to save their majorities. The University of Michigan’s influential national survey of consumer sentiment for the first half of February showed consumer confidence rising to its second-highest level since 2004. On Tuesday, the other widely watched indicator, the Conference Board’s consumer-confidence rating, will be released; it, too, has been showing a far more optimistic base of consumers than prior to Trump’s election. The National Federation of Independent Business’s survey of small-business owners shows their confidence levels in recent weeks at the highest point since early 2005, no doubt linked to passage of the tax bill.
That leaves open the question of how much attitudes toward the economy affect Trump’s approval ratings and, by extension, Republican fortunes. Will the economy make voters less likely to rock the boat by changing control of the House and/or Senate, or are visceral attitudes for or against the president so great that they outweigh all else?
Another variable is the long-term effect of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Events always look bigger immediately after the fact than they do much later, and while there is no question that Democrats and left-of-center voters are stirred up, they already were before the tragedy. Will this also fuel intensity on the other side? Will gun-control opponents be able to match the enthusiasm that their ranks had in opposition to and fear of President Obama—a force that drove their ranks to turn out in big numbers in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections? The fact that both sides of the gun debate are now extremely motivated adds yet another wild card to this fascinating election.
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"North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests went into effect Saturday." The announcement comes shortly before Kim Jong Un "is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang."
"Republican megadonor Foster Friess has told party leaders in Wyoming that he plans to run for governor," and is expected to make an announcement this afternoon. Friess has donated "millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes over the last decade, according to federal campaign finance records," including over "$1.7 million to boost Santorum's [presidential] campaign" in 2016. Gov. Matt Mead (R) is term-limited, and "a handful of Republicans are running in an open primary to succeed him in one of the reddest states in the country."
Four Palestinian protestors have been killed by Israeli fire near the Gaza-Israel border, bringing the death toll to 38, in what marks the "fourth consecutive week of Gaza's March of Return mass protests." The marches are part of a "month-and-a-half-long protest organized by Hamas near the border fence," which organizers have said will not stop before May 15. The marches are intended to emulate anti-apartheid protests in South Africa, and to commemorate the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, during the establishment of the State of Israel.
"Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is looking to sue for defamation, wrongful termination and other possible civil claims, his lawyer told reporters Friday." McCabe's attorney Michael Bromwich said that his team "hasn't managed to find any witnesses to corroborate McCabe's version of the story," although they have not had enough time to do so. "McCabe’s lawyers are also seeking ways to release the emails between McCabe and Comey, which would offer insight into their communication about the leaks to the Wall Street Journal."
"The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there." The DNC is seeking "millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks," and is arguing the cyberattack" undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats."