Blue Wave Watch: CBS Polling Shows Dems' Generic Ballot Lead Shrinking, GOP Leading in Key Senate Race

Posted: Jun 25, 2018 10:35 AM
Blue Wave Watch: CBS Polling Shows Dems' Generic Ballot Lead Shrinking, GOP Leading in Key Senate Race

With the midterm elections a little over four months away, what is the status of the widely-discussed 'blue wave,' which threatens to sweep Republicans out of power in Congress?  The picture is murky.  In the 'pro-wave' column, we've repeatedly highlighted this data from off-year and special elections during the Trump era, which would strongly suggest that burgeoning anti-GOP sentiment will result in very significant Democratic gains in the next national election.  In other words, forget the polls; look at actual results.  If this evidence proves to be the decisive indicator, Republicans are in store for a world of pain come November.  Also bear in mind that history favors the opposition party, as well.  Sprinkle in a recent shift back toward Democrats in generic ballot polling, and you're looking at a solid case that a sizable blue wave is gathering.  

On the other hand, there are plenty of data points that complicate that narrative.  For instance, is the conventional wisdom that Democrats enjoy a major enthusiasm advantage accurate?  Sure, there are the electoral outcomes referenced above, but there are also numbers like this:

That's not just a stray statistic, either.  Cook Political Report analyst Amy Walter recently dove into the data to compare the current climate with the environment leading up to Democrats' last successful midterm cycle (2006).  She discovered a number of key differences that may not cut in the minority party's favor this time:

For much of 2017 and early 2018, GOP consultants of a certain age would tell us that this election had the same look, feel and smell of 2006...Today, however, there are plenty of signs that 2018 isn’t like 2006. For, one, Trump’s job approval rating in the Gallup survey is 45 percent, eight points higher than the dismal 37 percent where George W. Bush was sitting at this point in 2006. Data from the most recent Pew Research poll also found evidence of a more energized and unified GOP base than we saw back in 2006. According to Pew data, in June 2006, about one-third of Republicans (33 percent) said their vote in the upcoming midterm was a vote FOR the president. This year, a little over half (52 percent) of Republicans said the same....Republicans are also more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were back in 2006...where Trump is today on job approval and support from the GOP base is a heck of a lot better than where he was back in the fall of 2017. And, it’s way better than where George W. Bush was in the summer of 2006.

An open question is whether opposition among Democratic and independent voters is more ferocious now than it was back then -- and if that discrepancy would manifest itself at the polls.  National Journal's Josh Kraushaar also delves into some of Trump's approval ratings from contested districts and finds "mixed signals," including from internal Democratic surveys:

All told, looking at some of the key political indicators for the midterms, Republicans should be in solid shape. Take Trump’s unpredictability out of the picture and some political pundits might even declare Republicans the favorite to hold control of both branches of Congress...I’ve long been convinced that Democrats hold the edge in winning the House, based on special-election results, the historic energy of the anti-Trump Democratic base, and the suburban exposure in the battleground map of vulnerable GOP House seats. On a race-by-race basis, just look at the Cook Political Report roster of the seats most vulnerable to flipping—56 held by Republicans, six held by Democrats—and it paints a picture of an unmistakable Democratic wave. But I’ll admit to some second-guessing, especially after Democrats released some of their own polling this week from battleground districts that should be trending in their favor.

He runs through polling from a number of districts that look like plum pick-up chances for House Democrats, where GOP resilience looks surprisingly strong -- from California, to New Jersey, to Florida. On the other hand, he notes Democrats' competitiveness in traditionally redder (or pro-Trump) areas of New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia and Texas. Looking at the "contradictory key indicators" and a possible wave's "unpredictable path," Kraushaar concludes: "Because Democrats are showing up to vote in droves in red and blue districts alike, there will be plenty of surprise outcomes in November. That alone should still give Democrats a clear edge for House control, even if the path to winning the 23 seats they need remains bumpy."  Another potential sign of bumpiness is a new CBS News poll showing Republicans' generic ballot deficit shrinking to just four points, even as a huge majority of respondents (72 percent) disapprove of President Trump's handling of the child separation issue.  This is pretty narrow for a supposed wave year:

Some of the internals are brutal for Trump, yet within the same set, 67 percent of Americans say the US economy is either 'very' or 'somewhat' good.  That's a big reason why Republicans are still in the game.  Then again, the number of respondents who call themselves strong Trump opponents is roughly double the number who say they're strong Trump supporters (43/21).  That has to be a concern the GOP on the turnout and intensity front.  CBS also polled three Senate races, yielding mixed results.  Ted Cruz is holding down the fort in Texas against his liberal opponent, while Arizona is looking awfully dicey for Republicans -- while Florida is increasingly looking like a real pick-up opportunity for the GOP, given the incumbent's low name recognition and general weakness:

An incumbent sitting at 50 percent and up double digits is probably in very good shape.  An incumbent at 41 percent and down five points is not, particularly given his opponent's high profile.  As for Arizona, that race -- along with Nevada and possibly Tennessee -- represents one of Democrats' best chances to gain Senate seats.  But a longtime political pro with deep ties to Senate Republicans thinks the race in the desert is far from over:

I'll leave you with two new polling numbers:  A Monmouth poll shows West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin leading his GOP challenger somewhat comfortably (+7), though it's still a competitive race and undecideds lean heavily pro-Trump.  The president may very well be able to move those numbers.  And a Marquette survey shows Republican Governor Scott Walker with modest leads over all potential Democratic opponents.  Given the state's recent history, a tiny blip in turnout could reverse Republicans' fortunes there.  "Contradictory key indicators" galore.