Jump ball: Fox poll shows Dems tied on generic ballot as women shift left

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

I’d been calling this “bedwetting season” for Republicans in posts lately as polling has begun to tilt towards Democrats.

In light of today’s data, maybe it’s time to start calling it pants-sh*tting season instead.

No, I kid. It’s not yet time to panic. But if the trend lines don’t change over the next month, October will be an unexpectedly panicky month for righties.

Fox News has the generic ballot at 41/41 today, the third straight poll tracked by RCP to have Dems tied or in the lead. In May Fox had Republicans up seven points; in June that lead shrank to three points but held steady at three in July. Now it’s gone.

Imagine what sort of crazy legislation Dems will pass during their next two years of total control of government under Biden!

“Between passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, killing al Qaeda’s leader, less pain at the pump, and the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices taking away abortion rights, the political landscape is less horrible for Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Chris Anderson, who conducts the Fox surveys with Republican Daron Shaw. “There are successes Democrats can point to that didn’t exist in the spring, but the biggest single change I see in this poll is the increased disapproval of the Supreme Court and suspect that is a significant factor.”

Meanwhile, the shift in vote preference mainly comes from women. They preferred the GOP candidate by 1 point in May and now go for the Democrat by 6.

Also since May, party loyalty among Democrats increased by 3 points and decreased among Republicans by 2 points. And while independents remain largely undecided, their support for the GOP candidate is down 2 points.

Disapproval of the Court has gone from 48 percent in June, pre-Dobbs, to 55 percent now. Between that and Democrats overperforming in special elections since Roe was overturned, it doesn’t take a genius to build a narrative of what’s happening. Some unknown number of pro-choicers across the spectrum are suddenly motived to vote Democratic in November to assert their opinions about abortion rights. Combine that with the rest of the good news buoying Dems lately and there’s a meaningful blue shift across the electorate.

What experts are struggling with is whether this is all just a blip, with GOP dominance destined to reassert itself in October as inflation continues to bite, or if we’re looking at a black-swan election that defies the expectations for midterms set by the so-called “fundamentals.” Amy Walter marveled today in a piece about the “summer breeze” at Dems’ backs at how independents reeeeeeeally don’t like Joe Biden — but also don’t seem to be holding that dislike against his party. That same phenomenon shows up in today’s Fox survey. Sleepy Joe is rocking a 26 percent(!) approval rating among indies but that group is nearly evenly divided in their choice on the generic ballot, with 18 percent favoring Dems and just 20 percent favoring Republicans. Another 20 percent say they’ll vote for a third party. And a hefty 41 percent say they’re undecided, still reserving judgment despite their obvious dissatisfaction with POTUS.

Normally a poor presidential job approval rating among indies means doom for his party in the midterms. “Since 2010, the sitting president entered the fall of the midterm election year with a job approval rating among independents anywhere between 38 and 45 percent,” Walter writes. “In all three of those midterm elections, the party in the White House lost independent voters by double-digits.” Presidential job approval tends to act as an upper bound on what share of the vote candidates from his party running downballot can realistically expect to win. But that rule may be out the window this year because, as much as independents may hate Biden and the Democrats, they hate Republicans more. Asked by Fox News whether they approve of how congressional Democrats are performing, indies split 20/76, worse than their rating for Biden. But asked whether they approve of congressional Republicans, they break … 18/78, the worst rating of any of the major players in this election.

One pollster recently told Walter that among the group that only “somewhat” disapproves of Biden rather than “strongly” disapproves, Democrats are winning the generic ballot by 17 points. “Decoupling” may be a real thing this year thanks to swing voters’ antipathy to the Trumpified GOP.

Nate Silver is also coming around to the possibility that this will be a black-swan election where an expected wave year for the out-party ends up being much more competitive than thought. When that’s happened in the past, he writes, one can usually look back in hindsight and identify some “special circumstance” that scrambled expectations. There’s an obvious special circumstance this year:

Near-universal Republican opposition to Obama’s agenda didn’t hurt them at all in the midterms in 2010. Instead, what differentiated 1998 is that Republicans were on the attack and not merely trying to block Democrats from getting their own agenda implemented. Relative to the standards of 1998, impeachment was a dramatic step and one that allowed Clinton to gain significant public sympathy.

This time, Republicans are exercising power not through the Congress but through the courts: most importantly, through the decision by a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed judges on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade…

If nothing else, Democratic voters have no shortage of motivation to turn out: Many feel as though their basic rights are being threatened, something a party’s voters ordinarily aren’t concerned about when it controls both the presidency and Congress. The “enthusiasm gap” often accounts for much of the presidential party’s disadvantage at the midterms, but it’s not clear it exists this year after Roe was overturned.

Actually, the enthusiasm gap does still exist in Fox’s poll despite the other bad signs for the GOP: “More Republicans than Democrats are enthusiastic about casting a ballot (50% vs. 41%) and certain they will vote (69% vs. 60%).” That’s one reason to hold off on panicking over the blue trend in polling. Another is the fact that the numbers on questions about whether things are going well or badly in America continue to look gruesome, with Fox registering a 24/75 split on that question. If your party has total control of government and three-quarters of voters believe the country’s headed in the direction, it normally doesn’t mean another two years in power.

On top of all that, remember that Democrats typically need to *lead* the generic ballot by several points in order to have a shot at a decent outcome on Election Day. One of Fox’s pollsters explained why a tied ballot would be expected to result in Republicans gaining seats overall: “One, Democrats are more geographically concentrated in a smaller set of districts and two, Republicans have drawn more districts to their advantage.” There have also been multiple cycles in the recent past in which the polls underestimated GOP turnout. The most famous example was 2020, when Democrats expecting comfortable wins across the board ended up much less comfortable than they’d hoped. But another came in the GOP wave year of 2014, when the final generic ballot landed with Republicans up 2.4 points. At the polls on Election Day, that lead ballooned to 5.7 points.

Bottom line: If they want a meaningful chance of holding onto the House, Dems will need to keep gaining in polling before November. A 41/41 generic ballot ain’t gonna do it.