Hope and change: Another poll shows Democrats' midterm lead shrinking

I don’t mean to overstate the comeback. RCP still has the average generic ballot lead for Democrats at 8.5 points, even including the numbers in today’s NBC survey. Eight and a half points is still well into “wave” territory 10 months out from a midterm.

But the trend this week has been encouraging, especially after that ugly upset in the Wisconsin special election on Tuesday.

The poll’s economic news shows a rosy picture for a nation ten years removed from a crippling recession. Nearly seven-in-ten Americans say that they are satisfied with the overall state of the economy, a share last seen during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sixty-nine percent say they are either very satisfied (21 percent) or somewhat satisfied (48 percent). That’s up dramatically just since June 2015, when just 37 percent said they were satisfied

The poll has some potential good news for Republicans who are nervously eyeing their reelection prospects in November. The Democratic advantage on the generic ballot is down to six points, compared to 11 points last month. In December, 50 percent of Americans said they preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2018 election, while 39 percent favored one led by Republicans. Now, 49 percent say they want to see a Democratic Congress , while 43 percent pick the GOP to lead on Capitol Hill.

But there is also some evidence that, as in past midterm waves, voters energized by opposition to the president could still be an overwhelming factor in November.

Asked about the message they hope to send with their 2018 vote, 38 percent say they want to send a signal of opposition to Trump, while 26 percent want to signal their support for him and 34 percent say their vote doesn’t have to do with the commander-in-chief at all.

A month ago the Republicans’ deficit on the generic ballot was gruesome. Read it and literally weep. Across 10 polls conducted between December 7 and December 19, Democrats led by double digits in eight of them, twice by 15 points(!) and once by 18(!!). A lead of 10 or greater in the generic ballot is rare air but they were hitting that number repeatedly and well beyond. That’s a midterm bloodbath in the making, seppuku numbers for the GOP.

But then the tax-cuts bill passed. Of the last seven polls taken, Democrats lead by double digits in only one. Of the other six: +7, +5, +6, +5, +6, +6, including the Marist poll Ed wrote about yesterday. As the dust has cleared from the tax-cuts debate and people have absorbed the fact that most taxpayers are getting money back this year, contrary to Democratic scare stories in December, the GOP’s deficit has been cut in half. And as NBC notes, economic optimism is soaring, eternally a key to strong electoral performance for the majority party. If tax cuts spur even further economic growth this year, all bets on the midterms are off.

In fact, you’re left wondering why Republicans aren’t close to even or in the lead on the generic ballot given all the good news lately. Good economy, no terror attacks, only a few minor wars here and there that the average joe pays no attention to. Seems like a recipe for victory. The problem, in a word, is Trump. His job approval is up too lately but only modestly, to 40 percent. NBC found that 69 percent say they don’t like him personally while just 29 percent say he has the right character to be president. We’re headed for a midterm reckoning in which undecided voters are torn between wanting to send the president a message that he should stop what he’s doing and wanting to send a message that things should more or less continue as they are now. Good luck sorting out that dilemma.

Oh, one other detail from NBC’s poll: Steve Bannon’s favorable rating is now, ahem, 5/49, easily the lowest of any name tested and 18 net points worse than his nemesis, the highly unpopular Mitch McConnell. Congratulations on becoming the least popular political figure in America, Steve!

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