NBC poll: Dems have big midterm advantage -- but for how long?

If every dark cloud has a silver lining, Republicans might like the latest polling in the NBC/Wall Street Journal series. However, it might depend on just how much dark they can take. Yesterday’s results show Democrats leading the generic ballot by a dozen points among registered voters, a sharp increase in the gap and their biggest lead in the series since December:

Six weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats hold a 12-point lead in congressional preference among registered voters, with nearly six-in-ten saying they’d like to see significant change in the direction President Donald Trump has been leading the country, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The results suggest a political environment where Democrats have the clear advantage in their pursuit to win back control of Congress in November.

“Americans are hitting the brake in a midterm, and trying to send the signal that they’re not satisfied,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollsters at Hart Research Associates.

The framing of this around registered voters seems a little odd this close to the election. Normally we’d see reporting on likely voters … and in fact, the NBC/WSJ does apply a LV model to its data. That results in an eight-point Democratic lead — a substantial gap, but one that falls more within the recent norm of other polling. It’s almost identical to the RealClearPolitics aggregate average of a 7.8-point lead for Democrats. Readers have to get eight paragraphs into NBC’s report to discover that, though.

However, give NBC credit for not burying this point. Their headline notes that GOP enthusiasm is beginning to rise:

Still, the same poll shows that Republican enthusiasm about the upcoming election has increased, drawing nearly even with Democrats; that GOP attacks on immigration and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi are potent in individual races; and that nearly 70 percent of voters are satisfied with the economy.

This raises some interesting questions. Does this new GOTV impulse come across the board? Or does this new enthusiasm come in places where Democrats hoped to compete? Which demos are seeing the biggest boost in enthusiasm? With a LV sample of under 600 respondents, this poll probably can’t answer those questions.

They matter, though, because of the structural issues with generic-ballot polling. Democrats have a natural lead in these because they tend to oversample urban and first-ring suburban voters, and tend to undersample where control of the House is won or lost. If Republicans end up within five points or fewer of Democrats, they’re likely to make it very tough for Pelosi to take back the gavel. They trailed in this polling series by three points in October 2014, for instance, and had a very good night in the November elections anyway.

Anyway, if one’s inclined to look for a silver lining, that’s … about it. Well, that and the response to socialism, which might still end up biting Democrats on Election Day:

Socialism is less popular than the Republican Party, Donald Trump, and even the news media. Capitalism is more popular than Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. If that’s the only real silver lining in this poll, I’ll take it.

Addendum: If you’re more in the mood for dark clouds, however, I’ll leave you with this reminder: voters have already started casting ballots in some states, Minnesota included. If the enthusiasm gap really is starting to close, the momentum might be coming a little too late.