Blue wave stall? Marist shows Dems lead plunging on generic Congressional ballot

Over the last month or so, predictions have abounded of a blue wave that would return control of the House to Democrats. Fueled in part by their harsh rhetoric on the tax reform bill and the included repeal of the ObamaCare mandate as legislation that will literally kill people, polling spiked sharply upward in generic Congressional ballot choices. Combined with some special-election results — perhaps most especially in Wisconsin this week — the picture looked bleak for the GOP.

Now that the tax reform bill has begun to take effect, suddenly the gloom is dissipating. A new Marist poll shows the Democratic lead down to six points, and it’s not the only series showing improvements either:

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that when voters were asked which party’s candidate they’d more likely vote for in their district, 46 percent of registered voters said Democrats, while 40 percent went with Republicans. Nine percent are undecided.

That shows a sizable decline from December polling, which found Democrats leading by 13 points on generic ballot polling.

Thursday’s poll found more welcome news for Republicans among registered voters who identify as Independents.

Among those voters, Republicans led by 2 points, with 38 percent of those voters saying they’d vote for the GOP candidate, while 36 percent said the Democratic candidate. In December, polling found that Democrats were leading among Independent voters by 11 points.

Bear in mind, too, that Democrats’ actual performance in Congressional cycles underperforms this metric. Republicans would certainly prefer to lead, but even trailing by a few points usually puts them in position to hold their serve. Six points would still signal a tough fight, but perhaps not enough momentum for Democrats to take back seats in districts where they’ve lost touch with voters.

The RCP average, notes The Hill, still showed Democrats up by 10.5 points at the time they wrote the article. However, it’s now down to 9.1 points as Marist and other poll changes begin to get calculated into the mix. Even Quinnipiac, which had an outlier D+17 one week ago, shows a six-point decline in that position to D+11. The Economist/YouGov gap has narrowed from D+9 before the tax bill passed to D+6 this week.

The problem for Democrats is that they’ve just assumed that Trump’s unpopularity relieves them of the need to connect with voters outside their base. Their snobbery around the real benefits emerging from the tax reform bill may well doom them in the midterms, I argue in my column today at The Week — and that will only get worse:

Rather than adjusting to the reality of these tax cuts, Democrats have tried telling taxpayers that they can’t believe their own eyes — or bank accounts — when it comes to finding benefit in these developments. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called an additional $2,000 in bonuses “pathetic … crumbs” last week, a little over six years after calling a $40 uptick every two weeks from the 2011 budget compromise “a victory for the American people.” For those who see $2,000 as a windfall, the “crumbs” remark sounds awful, a form of snobbery that will only play well among the Beltway elite.

Bear in mind that in most cases, American workers have yet to see anyimpact from tax reform. The bonuses are in the near future, as are the implementations of new withholding tables at most U.S. employers. And yet a new Survey Monkey poll shows a significant improvement in polling for the tax reform bill, rising from 37 percent approval in that series in mid-December to 46 percent this week. Overall consumer confidence “rose significantly in January after remaining flat for most of 2017,” The New York Times reports.

Imagine what will happen when the impact of the tax cuts actually hits American paychecks. The cognitive dissonance between Democratic hyperbole and personal voter experience will be massive. And in a country where “it’s the economy, stupid” still acts as one of the best predictive models for voter behavior, that dissonance will get felt in the same places where Democrats have been on the retreat: the middle-class, middle-America districts that have gone red for nearly a decade at all levels of electoral politics. That would leave Democrats with the same coastal-urban enclave footprint they have now.

And out of power, too. Trump may have some negative impact on turnout, but a booming economy will have a stronger impact, especially if its benefits finally reach the middle-America voters that took a chance on Trump in 2016. It’s still a long way out and many things can happen, but predictions of a “blue wave” are highly premature.