Aaron Blake makes a nice catch on an overlooked Pew survey published last week, one which offers Democrats a warning about overplaying the Trump hand. The survey results offered some reasons for optimism for both parties heading into the midterms, but also a big red flag to Democrats arguing for a return of House control to Nancy Pelosi & Co. Trump may be unpopular, but that doesn’t mean that voters want an endless parade of investigations into him:
Yes, there are those polls showing three-quarters of Democrats favor impeaching Trump and removing him from office. But a Pew Research Center poll released in recent days provided a more nuanced, and perhaps more telling, window into just how many Democrats want to take down Trump at all costs.
And the answer is: perhaps not as many as you’d think.
The poll asked voters about what people wanted to see if Democrats took control of Congress. Specifically, it asked them how much focus they would like to see on investigating the Trump administration.
In total, 58 percent of all voters said they were at least “somewhat” concerned Democrats would focus too much on probing the administration. And the number is actually substantial among Democrats themselves: 40 percent.
There’s a delicate balance that has to be found between posing as a responsible governing party and taking advantage of the anti-Trump passions of the activist base. This poll strongly suggests that this balance has thus far eluded Democratic leadership. It doesn’t help to have members of the same House calling for public harassment of Trump officials, which is why Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer rushed to rebuke Maxine Waters publicly for her remarks. If the GOP hasn’t published a “Maxine Waters could chair a committee” video ad by Friday, someone needs to get canned for malpractice.
That’s not the only warning signal from the Pew poll. While Democrats hold large leads on some issues, they’re not the ones that usually drive midterm elections:
Midterm elections — to the extent that they aren’t referendums on the president — are usually driven by economic issues. On that score, Republicans have significant leads. None of the issues on which Democrats lead have any significant economic import except perhaps health care — and massive leads on that issue didn’t help them in House races over the last four election cycles. The thin Republican lead on taxes might be a particular problem for Democrats, who have been using the “crumbs” argument for months and who have at times explicitly said they would raise taxes once back in the majority.
That might be why Democrats lost a thin lead on the economy that they held before the tax cuts package passed:
Democrats lead on several issues; GOP leads on economy. With the public’s views of the economy becoming more positive, the Republican Party holds a 45%-36% lead on dealing with the economy. Last October, the two parties were rated about even for handling the economy (38% Republican Party, 41% Democratic Party). The GOP once again has a significant lead on handling terrorism (43% to 32%); neither party had an advantage on terrorism in October.
If the midterms become a referendum on Trump, Republicans might have a tough time. However, it may not be as bad as most assumed:
Trump’s overall job approval has changed little over the course of this year. Currently, 40% approve of his job performance, while 54% disapprove. His approval rating was 39% in May, 39% in March and 37% in January.
It’s not dropping in the Pew series, despite his many tangles with the media, Democrats, and even other Republicans. His job approval is about the same as his approval numbers in 2016, when he won the election and Republicans maintained control of both chambers of Congress. That doesn’t mean they can automatically do it again, but Pew notes that the generic congressional ballot question results aren’t showing a blue wave:
At this stage of the midterm elections cycle, Democrats hold an edge in voting intentions. Nearly half of registered voters (48%) say, if the election were held today, they would support the Democratic candidate, or lean Democratic, while 43% plan to support the Republican Party’s candidate.
There are stark demographic differences in preferences on the generic ballot for Congress. By 54% to 38%, women say they plan to back the Democratic candidate in their district over the Republican candidate. By contrast, 49% of men plan to support the GOP candidate, compared with 43% who back the Democratic Party’s nominee. The Democratic Party has wide advantages over the GOP among black (77%-16%) and Hispanic (63%-30%) voters. Whites express more support for the Republican: About half (51%) favor the Republican in their district, while 41% say they plan to support the Democrat.
Those are actually better numbers for the GOP than they got in 2016, especially among those minority communities. A five-point Democratic lead suggests a status-quo outcome, although the Republican margin of control is thin enough that it wouldn’t take much to tip it over.
At least for now, these results don’t look bad for Republicans. A lot can happen between now and the midterms, but having Democrats call for open harassment against Republicans isn’t going to be a good look for a midterm turnout model that would shift control of the House.