Axios: "Big warning" that Senate Democrats running into a midterm buzzsaw

Probably, although this indirect polling argument from Axios might not be the best evidence of it. Partnering with Survey Monkey, Axios polled ten states where Donald Trump won in 2016 to get a lay of the land for upcoming re-election bids by Senate Democrats. They found five states in which Trump’s approval rating widely exceeded that of the Democratic incumbents, positing that Republicans have excellent pickup opportunities there:

Why it matters: Democrats are defending 10 Senate seats in states Trump won in 2016. In six of those states Trump’s approval is higher than 50% (compared to 43% nationally). These numbers underscore how hard it will be for Democrats to pick up the two seats needed to win the majority despite Trump’s troubles.

The most vulnerable senators are Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Each of their approval ratings is either under 50% or just above it, while Trump’s is well above that in all three states.

The least vulnerable senators are Bill Nelson of Florida, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Trump’s approval is at just 46% in Florida and Pennsylvania and 54% in Ohio.

Axios has an easy-to-comprehend chart showing the comparison of the approval ratings, so be sure to check that out for a handy guide to their argument. It’s an intriguing presentation, but it’s probably not as meaningful as it looks, mainly because most of these races don’t have a Republican candidate, and the generic-opponent results look different than the gaps in approval rating. And where there is a known opponent, the races don’t line up along approval ratings either. Alexi McCammond notes this herself in the “go deeper” section, pointing out that Heidi Heitkamp trails a generic Republican in the poll by only two points, despite Trump having a 13-point advantage over her in approval ratings and his 36-point win over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Approval ratings turn out to be less than reliable indicators of electoral success, as Trump proved in 2016 by winning with perhaps the lowest such rating of any successful candidate. Barack Obama was mired in the low 40s for much of 2011 and 2012 too, but still managed to rally against Mitt Romney for a narrow re-election win. Comparing a president’s approval rating to a senator’s might even be less reliable, although presidential approval ratings in midterm elections are an undeniable factor, and might play hard against Republicans in House races.

The larger problem for Democrats is the wide imbalance they face in this election — in the Senate, anyway. They have to defend 26 seats to nine now for Republicans, counting two special elections in Minnesota and Mississippi. Ten of those seats are in states Trump won in 2016, and there has always been the expectation that some or many of those will flip. That’s why it’s very unlikely that Democrats can win back control of the Senate in this cycle, save for some disastrous development from Trump. It also presents a big logistics problem for the DSCC, which has outraised the NRSC for this cycle but not by a lot, which means they won’t have a lot of resources for every single seat they’re defending, let alone the pickups they hope to get in Arizona and Nevada.

However, that situation has been well known since the 2016 election. The Axios polls don’t really add much to our knowledge, except the approval ratings that turned out to be a poor indicator over the past few years. Democrats still have a big problem, but we should wait for the challengers to be nominated and head-to-head polling to take place before Republicans start popping corks or Democrats start pouring the hemlock.

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