For the first time in at least two years, a major pollster has Democrats trailing in the midterms — at least for a day. When last we looked at the Reuters tracking poll, Democrats’ lead in the generic congressional ballot question had dwindled down to a single point. Yesterday, their five-day rolling average finally crossed the red Rubicon, as this graphic from polling editor Chris Kahn demonstrates, following up with another look at the same data today:
Say good-bye to the D-advantage in the generic ballot. Our latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that registered voters as likely to support Republicans as Democrats. @ReutersPolitics https://t.co/0ZIVVs6Zqc pic.twitter.com/rLIHL7jPRl
— Chris Kahn (@Cmkahn) May 21, 2018
About that vanishing D-lead: over the past few days we've seen a drop in support for D-candidates among D voters and an increase in support for R-candidates among R and I voters. https://t.co/Pp4lVdlVcK @ReutersPolitics pic.twitter.com/JiTluIFJZs
— Chris Kahn (@Cmkahn) May 22, 2018
Not just “as likely,” but slightly more likely, 38.1% to 36.7%. According to RealClearPolitics aggregation, it would be the first time that any pollster has reported a Republican lead in the generic ballot since Trump took office. That distinction may have to wait, however; Reuters usually reports their results on a weekly basis, and their next reporting period wraps up today. The numbers might tick around back to the Democrats depending on survey results, but it won’t be by much.
Even if this holds, it will be an outlier, at least for now. However, Republican momentum has begun expressing itself in other ways, enough to move the Cook Political Report to change direction. David Wasserman noted the trend in moving four battleground House seats in the GOP’s direction:
After a rough start to year, House Republicans are suddenly feeling less pessimistic about their fall prospects. At the “macro” level, robust economic data and positive developments on the Korean peninsula have helped lift President Trump’s approval rating to 42 percent , his best mark in over a year. Concurrently, Democrats’ lead over Republicans on FiveThirtyEight’s generic congressional ballot average has ebbed from 12 points in January to just five points today.
Republicans have also received small doses of good news at the “micro,” race-by-race level. After a winter dominated by a new, unfriendly map in Pennsylvania and a special election loss, May has been kinder to the GOP: Democrats have had sub-optimal primary outcomes in Pennsylvania’s 1st CD and Nebraska’s 2nd CD, with more possible. And since Speaker Paul Ryan announced his exit on April 11, 40 days have passed without a GOP retirement.
However, it’s also important to remember that voter intensity matters just as much as presidential approval and the generic ballot margin, and Republicans still can’t point to hard election data that proves their base has suddenly closed the “intensity gap” in the last few months. It was just four weeks ago that Arizona Democrat Hiral Tipirneni came within five points of winning a district Trump won by 21 points in 2016.
That’s not entirely correct. The results in Ohio’s gubernatorial primaries provided a solid indicator that GOP enthusiasm in battleground states might have been underestimated. Both parties had wide-open primaries to replace retiring governor John Kasich, and both had high-profile contests involving well-known contenders. Republicans drew almost 160,000 more voters to the polls than Democrats in a state Barack Obama won twice before Trump enthusiasm took it back from Hillary Clinton. It’s not entirely conclusive, but it’s certainly evidence of an enthusiasm gap in the GOP’s favor.
Even more interesting in Wasserman’s report are the location of two seats moving back to the GOP — both in California, and both widely expected to be lost, at least until now. Ed Royce retired from a northern Orange County district where demographics have changed significantly since he first won office in 1993, and Darrell Issa barely eked by in 2016 for those and other reasons. However, California’s top-two primary system may backfire on Democrats who are running too many credible candidates in each district, resulting in considerable infighting between various Democratic constituencies. It’s possible in both districts that the top two finishers will be Republicans, even though both districts are at the very least competitive.
After more than two years of hearing nothing but “Republican civil war” coverage, it appears that the GOP is more cohesive and more enthusiastic than previously reported. It seems to be Democrats who are chewing each other up and burning opportunities.