Red wave or red wedding? GOP surges to highest numbers yet in generic ballot polling

Red wave or red wedding? GOP surges to highest numbers yet in generic ballot polling
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

“Well, at least it can’t get any worse than this,” Joe Biden is thinking as he scans this Monmouth poll. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, Vladimir Putin picks up the phone and gives the “go” order to his generals outside Ukraine…

Coupla real gut punches for Democrats in this new data from Monmouth. Biden has reached the lowest job approval of his presidency in their polling to date, crossing the political Mendoza line by falling from 40 percent last month to 39 now. Republicans also lead 51/43 on the generic ballot, an all but unheard of advantage for the GOP at this stage of the electoral cycle. (More on that below.) More Americans now identify as Republicans than Democrats too despite the fact that the party is wholly owned by a twice-impeached former president whose last meaningful act on the job was giving a speech that inspired a riot at the Capitol. Hoo boy:

Currently, 26% of American adults identify themselves as Democrats, a number that ranged from 30% to 34% in Monmouth polling throughout last year. Republican identifiers currently stand at 31% of the population, which is up from a range of 23% to 27% in 2021. Moreover, when these numbers are combined with independents who say they lean toward either party, Republicans (51%) have a decided advantage over Democrats (41%).

Steadily rising inflation and another year of the pandemic will help a lot of people to forget the things they dislike about the out-party.

I think this is the cruelest cut for Dems, though. Here’s what six months of daily messaging about Build Back Better have gotten them:

“Which side cares more about the financial well-being of average people?” should be a slam dunk for the redistributionist party, especially after it just devoted so much energy to trying to pass a bill that would extend the child tax credit and provide paid family leave. Instead, Biden and the Dems fare no better than Trump and Republicans do on that question. And they do so even though Build Back Better itself polls solidly here, with 61 percent at least somewhat supportive of the bill.

How does that square? Is it a “messaging problem,” the terms in which lefties typically like to frame their failures? I don’t think so. I think it’s a prioritization problem, with voters frustrated that Democrats continue to obsess about BBB while the average joe is worried about inflation. Monmouth’s data bears that out: Only 24 percent of Americans, including less than half of Democrats(!), say that passing the bill should be a top priority. The country’s anxious about inflation and disappointing jobs reports, not paid family leave. Insofar as Republicans understand that while progressives appear not to, the GOP wins the contest of which party is more in touch with the common man economically.

The important part for the midterms is that the generic ballot numbers in Monmouth’s poll aren’t an outlier. Other recent polling has showed Republicans scoring 48, 49, 53, even 56 percent on the generic ballot. Five different surveys this month (including Monmouth’s) have them leading by six points or more. Add all of that up and you find the GOP at its highest number all year in the RCP generic ballot polling average:

There’s a weird divergence in the polling this month in which some surveys show the two parties neck and neck while others show Republicans ahead comfortably. That helps explain the sudden spike in the GOP’s numbers over the last 10 days, as there have been more of the latter than the former lately. My guess is that the disparity is due to some pollsters including “leaners” more liberally than others, with leaners tending to lean Republican right now. In Monmouth’s poll today, in fact, leaners account for most of the GOP’s large advantage: “[P]ushing those who initially say party control does not matter on which direction they lean adds 15% to the GOP column versus a smaller 10% for the Democrats.” That’s the one hopeful note for Democrats in the data, that the voters who’ll potentially drive a red wave this fall may not be fully committed to voting Republican yet.

But the RCP numbers are what they are. At 47.1 percent, Republicans currently poll better on the generic ballot than they ever did during the red wave year of 2014. And while they did eventually top 47.1 percent in the red tsunami year of 2010, that didn’t happen until August, once voters started making up their minds. In January 2010, Republicans never touched even 46 percent, which means they’re currently ahead of the pace they set in a year that netted them 63 House seats. It’s hard to believe things could get much darker for Biden and his party, but stay tuned.

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