Midterms 2018: Democrats take double-digit poll lead over Republicans ahead of elections crucial to Trump future

Majority of Americans say president is out of touch

Scott Clement,Dan Balz
Monday 15 October 2018 15:47 BST
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Two months ahead of the midterm elections, Democrats hold a clear advantage over Republicans in congressional vote support, with antipathy towards Donald Trump fuelling Democratic enthusiasm, even among those in the party who stayed home four years ago, a new poll has found.

The survey by Washington Post-ABC News also points to broad unrest and frustration with the political system generally. More than six in 10 Americans say Mr Trump and the Republican Party are out of touch with most people in the country. While Democrats fare better, a narrower 51 per cent majority also judged them out of touch.

Registered voters say they favour the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate in their district by 52 per cent to 38 per cent. That is a marked increase from the four-point edge in an April Post-ABC poll but similar to the 12-point advantage Democrats enjoyed in January.

Because of the overall makeup of congressional districts, analysts have long said that Democrats would need a clear advantage on this "generic ballot" question, and in the national popular vote for the House, if they hope to flip the 23 seats needed to take control. The Post-ABC poll puts Democrats in a stronger position today than some other recent surveys, which showed them with an edge of about eight points on this measure.

Self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are slightly more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to say they are absolutely certain to vote, by 80 per cent to 74 per cent.

Four years ago, when Republicans made gains in the midterm elections, the GOP enjoyed a 10-point advantage on this question in Post-ABC surveys that fall, 71 per cent to 61 per cent. The latest survey also asked whether people had voted in 2014, and among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who say they did not, 63 per cent say they are absolutely certain to vote in November.

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The past three midterm elections - 2006, 2010 and 2014 - produced substantial losses for the party that held the White House. In 2006, Republicans lost control of the House, but they regained it four years later. In 2014, they captured control of the Senate. Mr Trump's victory in 2016 gave them full control of the executive and legislative branches.

Presidential approval has become a strong indicator of which party voters will support in midterm elections. More than eight in 10 voters who disapprove of a president's performance have backed opposition party candidates in recent midterm elections.

In the Post-ABC poll, more than eight in 10 voters who approve of Mr Trump support Republicans, while more than eight in 10 of Trump disapprovers support Democrats. Given Mr Trump's current ratings, this puts Republicans at a clear disadvantage heading towards November.

Through most of his presidency, Mr Trump's approval ratings have been generally stable. His current average in surveys polling random samples of registered voters since mid-August is about 42 per cent, which includes the results from the Post-ABC poll. Republicans know they will be exceedingly vulnerable in November if the president is not able to improve his standing over the next two months.

Ironically, the GOP's weak position comes even as 58 per cent of Americans say the economy is excellent or good, tying ratings from January as the most positive marks in 17 years. The fact that many Republicans are worried about whether they can hold the House during a time of positive economic assessments underscores how much Mr Trump's unpopularity has undermined the party' greatest asset as fall campaigning begins.

The 38 per cent minority of voters who rate the economy as "not so good" or "poor" favour Democrats over Republicans at 70 to 20 per cent, a 50-point margin. But Republicans hold only a seven-point advantage with the majority of voters who view the economy positively, 49 to 42 per cent.

Mr Trump is a key factor in the asymmetry. Nearly half of voters who are upbeat about the economy still disapprove of the president's job performance. Among this group, Democrats lead Republicans by a lopsided 74-point margin in congressional vote preferences, 83 per cent to 9 per cent.

When asked whether they would rather have Democrats control Congress "as a check on Trump" or a Republican-controlled Congress "to support Trump's agenda," 60 per cent of voters say they prefer having Democrats in control. In July 2017, that figure was 52 per cent, at a time when Mr Trump's job ratings were almost identical to today.

Meanwhile, 59 per cent of voters say it is extremely or very important for them to support a candidate who shares their opinion of Mr Trump, a figure that has grown seven points since April. Sixty-nine per cent of Democrats and 65 per cent of Republicans say they are seeking candidates with similar views of the president, suggesting that Mr Trump is a motivator for both his supporters and his opponents.

The gender gap in views of Mr Trump continues to be a key factor looking ahead to the fall campaign, with the Post-ABC poll finding 66 per cent of female registered voters disapproving of Mr Trump, including 59 per cent who disapprove "strongly." Among men, 52 per cent disapprove, 45 per cent strongly.

Vote preferences show a similar divide, with men basically split in support for Democratic or Republican House candidates, but women favouring Democrats by 58 per cent to 33 per cent, a 25-point margin. Women are also nine points more likely than men to say it's important for congressional candidates to share their views on Mr Trump.

Americans sense high stakes for the November elections, which could boost turnout from a half-century low point in 2014. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters say it is more important to vote now than in past midterms. Democratic-leaning voters are more likely than Republican-leaning voters to say that voting this fall is more important than in previous midterm years, by 75 per cent to 57 per cent.

A Democratic takeover of the House would break unified Republican control of the federal government and give lawmakers substantial power to launch investigations of the Trump administration on a range of fronts.

Many Democrats have avoided talking about their intentions on whether to pursue impeachment proceedings that could remove Mr Trump from office, while some Republicans, including Mr Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, have warned that Democrats would try to impeach the president.

The Post-ABC poll finds that 72 per cent of adults think the Democrats would seek to impeach the president if they were in power in the House, including 79 per cent of Republicans and 70 per cent of Democrats. However, the country is closely divided on the question of whether Congress should begin such proceedings - 49 per cent are in favour and 46 per cent opposed. The gap between the support for impeachment proceedings and the wider perception that Democrats would undertake them could be a liability for Democratic candidates in November.

Both parties have sought to take advantage on the issue of immigration, with Democrats hoping to exploit Mr Trump's now-rescinded policy of separating parents and children at the border, while Republicans are casting Democrats as weak on immigration and favouring "open borders" that have led to increased gang crime.

The Post-ABC poll finds a 56 per cent majority of adults overall think Mr Trump is "too harsh" in dealing with illegal immigration, while about three in 10 think he's handled it about right and one in 10 say he is "not tough enough." Asked how Democrats would govern if they won control of Congress, 47 per cent think they would handle illegal immigration about right, but 43 per cent think they would not be tough enough and only 4 per cent believe they would be too harsh.

Trade also looms over the fall campaign, with US agriculture and other industries expecting to take an economic hit from escalating trade disputes with China and other countries. The Post-ABC poll finds that 41 per cent of the public supports the tariffs Mr Trump placed on some goods imported to the US, while 50 per cent oppose them.

On the broader question of who is or is not in touch with the American people, the perception of the president and the GOP has changed little since the early days of Mr Trump's presidency, with 63 per cent saying each are out of touch. At the same time, 51 per cent say the Democrats are out of touch with most people; in April 2017, it was 67 per cent who thought that was the case.

This Post-ABC poll was conducted 26-29 August among a national random sample of 1,003 adults, including 879 registered voters. The overall results have an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, while the sample of registered voters has an error margin of plus or minus four points.

The Washington Post

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