The Dems Won’t Match Their Potential Next Year

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has some good news for Donald Trump. His approval number is 41%, which is substantially higher than the 34% he’s getting from Gallup or the 32% he got from Monmouth and Pew Research in their most recent surveys. Trump can also find some comfort in the fact that the Republican Party enjoys a 2-point advantage on the generic congressional preference question among white voters (46% to 44%) and a 12-point advantage with whites without a college degree (50%to 38%). In other words, these voters would narrowly prefer that the Republicans retain control of Congress.

This is pretty much where the happy news ends, however. Despite a comparatively strong approval number in the low-40’s, Trump can’t be too pleased to learn that twice as many people strongly disapprove of his performance (48%) as a strongly approve of it (24%). On the congressional question, the GOP is in a deep hole overall.

Fifty percent of registered voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 39 percent who want Republicans in charge.

The last time Democrats both held a double-digit lead and hit 50 percent on this question in the NBC/WSJ poll was September 2008, right before the party won the White House and picked up a substantial number of House and Senate seats.

This past October, Democrats had a 7-point advantage on congressional preference, 48 percent to 41 percent.

In this most recent poll, Democrats hold a whopping 48-point lead in congressional preference among voters ages 18-34 (69 percent to 21 percent), a 20-point lead among female voters (54 percent to 34 percent) and a 12-point lead among independent voters (43 percent to 31 percent).

There’s one other piece of bad news for Trump and the Republicans. The Democrats are showing more interest in the midterms.

The NBC/WSJ poll also shows Democrats with the intensity advantage, with 59 percent of Democratic voters saying they have a high level of interest in next year’s elections (registering either a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale), versus 49 percent of Republican voters saying the same thing.

Additionally, 62 percent of voters who said they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 have a high level of interest in next year’s midterms, compared with 50 percent of Trump voters.

So, now’s the time for me to use a caution.

The answer to that question is “one.” If the Alabama special election for Senate that was held last Tuesday had been held instead to decide on the state’s congressional delegation, the GOP would have sent six members to Congress to the Democrats’ one member. This is the current distribution in the U.S. House of Representatives, so it would have resulted in zero pickups for the Dems despite their dramatic over-perfomance in a deep south state.

This is only partly explainable by the careful gerrymandering the Republicans did after the last census. It has much more to do with the distribution of the voters in Alabama. Democrats live in concentrated geographical spaces. This gives them a disadvantage even in neutrally drawn district maps, and it also makes them sitting ducks for partisan maps. If they want to come anywhere close to winning as many seats in our country’s legislatures as their raw numbers would justify, the Dems need to do better with white voters, including rural whites and whites who don’t have a college degree. If they don’t, they will see many repeats of Alabama where even massive tilts in their direction in the statewide vote will not yield a corresponding improvement in  performance in the district-by-district results. As for gerrymandering, that only makes matters worse, but the way to prevent this is to win at least some control over the redistricting process. There’s no better way to do that than to win, at a minimum, a share of control of state legislatures. In many states, winning the gubernatorial election will give them veto power over partisan maps, so that’s a good backup plan.

And I know how irritated a lot of people get every time it is suggested that the Democrats need to appeal to white Trump voters but there’s no shortcut around the facts I’ve laid out above, and if we want to win seats like this, we need to be able to capitalize on the Republicans running a Right to Work PAC-endorsed candidate in a heavily unionized western Pennsylvania district. We can’t do that if we don’t try.

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