The freakiest midterm poll yet

At some point the numbers become sufficiently ludicrous that even pessimists like me can look at them and say, “Nah, c’mon. It can’t be *that* bad.” We’re near that point with this new CNN poll, which has Democrats leading on the generic ballot by, uh, 18 points. Midterm waves typically come about when a party has piled up a lead on the generic ballot of around nine points. It can’t be that bad.

But the little voice in the pessimist’s brain answers back, what if it is?

Silver lining: Unless the Dems’ polling comes back to earth soon, Ryan and McConnell will have every incentive to go full YOLO with their agenda this year. Pass whatever you can pass, no matter how bold and unpopular. If there’s any private pressure that can be put on Anthony Kennedy to send him into retirement, do it and confirm the next guy ASAP. An 18-point generic ballot advantage is practically a guarantee that Democrats will reclaim at least one chamber of Congress next fall. Republicans should press their advantage while they have it knowing that Trump will be in place until at least early 2021 to veto any Democratic attempt to undo what the GOP gets done in 2018.

Among registered voters, 56% say they favor a Democrat in their congressional district, while 38% prefer a Republican. That 18-point edge is the widest Democrats have held in CNN polling on the 2018 contests, and the largest at this point in midterm election cycles dating back two decades. The finding follows several other public polls showing large double-digit leads for Democrats on similar questions…

And those Republicans who are still in the electorate are less enthusiastic about voting next year than Democrats. Overall, 49% of registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for Congress next year, compared with 32% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters who say the same…

Trump himself continues to garner deeply negative favorability ratings — 36% hold a positive view, 60% a negative one — and his approval rating for handling the economy has reached a new low, despite the White House’s frequent touting of the country’s economic progress.

In a year of bananas political stories, none is more bananas than Trump and the GOP getting creamed in midterm polling at a moment when the public is high-fiving about the state of the economy. It’s almost impossible. But before you conclude that this is more FAKE NEWS from CNN, note well that their numbers aren’t a big outlier. On the contrary:

The last two weeks of generic-ballot polling by RCP have found Democratic leads of 13, 12, 8, 8, 15, 11, 11, 15, 9, and now today’s blockbuster of 18. Literally every one of those is a landslide number, some extreme landslides. The recent trend is interesting too:

Apart from a blip here and there Democrats have been hugging 46 percent since October — until recently, when their share of the vote began to climb on December 11 to its current ominous level of 48.9 percent. I can only assume that was a reaction to the impending passage of tax reform, which Democrats have been screaming is a giveaway to corporations and the rich even though 80 percent of taxpayers will get a cut next year. I wonder, though, if it’s partly a reaction to Alabama too, with more of the public tuning in to the charges against Roy Moore and the GOP’s defenses of him in the days before the election on December 12. Either way, the trend is gruesome. Hopefully 100 million or so Americans will brighten up in January when they notice their paycheck is suddenly a little thicker than it was this month and the Democratic lead will begin to deflate. Hopefully.

An obvious question: Is it worth caring about generic ballot polls 11 farking months out from a midterm? Actually, yes, says data-nerd extraordinaire Nate Cohn. Historically the numbers at this stage have tracked well with the results on election day.

As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote months ago, even the very earliest generic ballot polls tend to correlate with the final generic ballot polls. There’s a tendency for the polls to drift toward the party out of power — and that’s exactly what has happened over the last few months.

At this later stage, the generic ballot is even more stable than it was when he wrote about it in April. Since 1970, there has been surprisingly little movement between generic ballot polls taken between 221 and 421 days ahead of the midterms — we’re at 321 today — and those taken over the final 30 days. The average shift is just 2.4 points.

The possibility that the generic ballot might drift further towards Democrats over time is horrifying given the lead they have right now. All we can do is hope that there’s a natural ceiling to this sort of thing and, in a hyperpartisan age, they’ve already hit it. Maybe there’s nowhere for them to go but down.

One note on the sample. CNN has it D33/R23/I44, a 10-point Democratic advantage. That’s an awfully tiny share of Republicans making up the national electorate right now, but you’d expect a tiny share if the GOP and its agenda are unpopular. The partisan composition of the electorate isn’t static, remember; it’s not like Democrats retain a four- or five-point advantage in perpetuity and any poll that deviates from that in the sample is necessarily skewed. As one party becomes more or less popular, the number of voters who admit to being a member of it will grow or shrink too. It’d be weird if the sample *didn’t* have a big Democratic lean given Trump’s poor job approval and the unpopularity of the tax reform bill.