Democrats have made it clear that they will make the midterms entirely a referendum on Donald Trump — at least until now. To the extent that they’ve discussed policy at all, it’s only to shriek at the news that taxpayers not only get to keep more of their own money through tax cuts, but that employers have been sharing the wealth by raising wages and paying unscheduled bonuses. Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren dismiss these as “crumbs” while highlighting Trump’s character issues as their path back to a majority.
Now one key Democratic super-PAC is hitting the alarm over this strategy, McClatchy reports. Private polling by Priorities USA shows that not only is the full offensive on Trump not working, it’s about to lose them an election that they thought was all but certain:
According to internal polling by the super PAC, President Trump’s approval rating climbed to 44 percent in the first week of February, compared to 53 percent who disapprove. That mirrors Trump’s improving position in public polls.
In November, the same survey found his approval rating at 40 percent, with 54 percent disapproving.
The group’s survey also showed the Democratic Party’s generic ballot advantage had shrunk, with 46 percent preferring Democrats to 42 percent for Republicans.
How bad is that? It’s actually worse than public polling for Democrats. The RealClearPolitics average for the last two-plus weeks has Republicans trailing by 6.7 points, but even that puts the GOP in position to maintain its majority, thanks to the manner in which polling tends to reflect the urban core more than the full breadth of districts. A four-point spread found in PUSA’s internal polling might put the GOP in position for a net pickup rather than loss.
Priorities USA has begun to tell Democrats that they’d better start coming up with a more coherent message on economics. Why? The perception of prosperity has increased significantly over the last couple of months, and that spells bad news for Democrats insisting that everything is terrible. They aren’t the only org polling on these issues, either. Morning Consult reported earlier today that Trump has started seeing some gains in approval ratings, thanks in large part to economic news:
After losing voter support in every state during his first nine months in office, President Donald Trump is beginning the second year of his term with his popularity on the upswing.
That’s according to Morning Consult data drawing on surveys with more than 800,000 voters across all 50 states from from Jan. 20, 2017, to Jan. 29, 2018. …
Some experts suggest Trump’s improved standing with the public, and Republican voters in particular, was partly due to rosy economic indicators during this period — from stock market gains to strong employment figures — and Republican lawmakers’ overhaul of the country’s tax code, despite the public’s mixed response to certain parts of the legislation.
The impact appears to be strongest in states where Democrats had hoped to compete:
Trump has improved on his standing in Nevada (+7 percentage points) and Arizona (+3 points), two states Senate Democrats consider ripe targets. In January, Nevada voters were split on Trump’s job performance ahead of Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s re-election run; in nearby Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is hoping to flip the seat left vacant by retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, Trump is 4 points away from pulling even.
The president also remains popular in West Virginia and North Dakota, with a strong majority of voters approving of his job performance there. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have spent much of this election cycle touting their willingness to cross the aisle to work with Trump and earn results for their constituents.
And CNBC emphasizes that the economy has given voters optimism in recent polling, although it may not yet have floated Trump’s numbers upward a commensurate amount. Competency counts more on pocketbook issues than does likeability:
While it may seem like it a lot of the time, presidential campaigns are not literally popularity contests. The candidate most voters find personally more likable does not always win elections, according to many scholarly studies on the subject.
Those same studies show that voters usually choose the candidate who looks and sounds the most competent to them on major issues. So, personality and personal delivery are still crucial, but likability is still not as important as at least a perceived position on the issues.
These economic polls show that the American people seem to be coming to terms with the fact that they may not like Trump personally, but they do like his track record on the most crucial issue: the economy. This is literally the “competency over likability” winning formula.
CNBC also suggests that the Democrats’ decision to bet on 2018 being a referendum on Trump’s personality is looking like a very, very bad decision:
That’s what makes this a double whammy for the Democrats. They can’t counterattack these economic developments and perceptions simply by continuing their attacks on Trump. It’s not Trump the voters are increasingly supporting or even focusing on, it’s his policies. …
What is new is that the voters are showing more than ever that they don’t need to like a president or a political party to support their perceived success. That means the Democrats may be concentrating their fire on the wrong target. Trump has endured maximum character assassination for years. But if his policies are soaring in popularity, it’s going to be very hard to use him as a proxy to defeat his party in the midterms.
Perhaps it’s better to say this: One party may have demonstrated competence and seriousness issues in governance in 2017, but the other party is showing it doesn’t take anything seriously in 2018, especially economic reality. If all they can talk about is Trump’s behavior, they’ll be doing it from the back benches until at least 2020.