Yesterday, I wrote about the polling on the generic Congressional ballot and its apparent disconnect from the presidential race. The latest WaPo/ABC survey and the general trend in the RCP average show Republicans as consistently competitive, even when the volatility of the presidential race puts Donald Trump in a tough position against Hillary Clinton. Aaron Blake wondered if ticket-splitting might make a comeback, and pointed to data in the NBC/WSJ poll that showed 53% supporting the GOP in Congressional votes as a bulwark against a Hillary presidency.
A good test case for that theory may be unfolding in Minnesota. Republican Erik Paulsen wants to win a fourth term in a narrowly GOP district (R+2), and hopes to fend off a challenge from Democratic state senator Terri Bonoff, who has held that seat for more than a decade. Paulsen has won by relatively wide margins in the past, but if there was going to be presidential-race boat-anchor effect, it should show up in MN-03.
Last night, Survey USA released a new poll from the Congressional district that shows Paulsen up by double digits — and Trump down by a slightly larger amount in the same sample. Paulsen leads 49/38 with 13% undecided, which SUSA describes as “comfortably ahead.” For an incumbent, hitting the 50% mark would be better, but given Bonoff’s relative familiarity with voters in the area, 38% is a decidedly poor showing.
Trump, on the other hand, trails Hillary 35/48 in MN-03, with Gary Johnson at 4% and Jill Stein barely registering at 1%. His 13-point deficit comes mainly from independents, although Trump has some trouble holding Republicans in the fold, too. Paulsen keeps 90% of Republicans while Trump only gets 77%, but the party crossovers in both races are relatively close to each other. Independents break 46/35 for Paulsen, but Hillary wins them 51/25. Furthermore, as KSTP reports, the demos show considerable crossover, and for a good reason:
In fact, Paulsen leads among both male and female voters surveyed in the 3rd District. He has a 17-point lead over Bonoff among men, 53 percent to 36 percent, and a five-point lead among women, 45 percent to 40 percent. By contrast, Clinton has a narrow one-point lead over Trump among men, 40 percent to 39 percent, and a whopping lead among women, 55 percent to 32 percent.
“A lot of Republican incumbents in the House have tried to distance themselves from Trump as Erik Paulsen has for several months now and I think that’s showing up in voter evaluations,” Schier said after reviewing the poll results. “They view Paulsen very different than Trump.”
That explains much about the overall Congressional race, too. Trump has actively distanced himself from the Republican Party, at times going to war with its leadership and with House Speaker Paul Ryan in particular. Voters have followed suit, and seem to be treating Trump as a sui generis candidate. Ticket-splitting is the natural result, especially among independent voters. If MN-03 is the canary in the coal mine, then House Republicans may not have a bad night on November 8th.