If you trust the July 9-11 Fox News poll and the July 15-18 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey — and I have no reason not to — the GOP still looks headed for a difficult election and the likely loss of the House.
No, President Donald Trump’s voters are not fleeing him, and his personal poll numbers have not cratered even after his behavior at the NATO summit in Belgium and his Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin. So, maybe he really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. But that says something about Trump’s supporters, not the overall electorate.
Unfortunately for Republicans, the combination of national and state polling continues to show the party’s vulnerability as November approaches.
The most recent Fox News poll of registered voters found Trump’s job approval at 46 percent, while the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of registered voters put his approval at 45 percent. Both numbers are up a point or two but generally within the low- to mid-40s range where they have been for most of this year. Trump, of course, drew 46.1 percent of the popular vote in 2016.
Fox showed Democrats with an overall 8-point advantage on the congressional generic ballot, while NBC News/Wall Street Journal put their advantage at 6 points.
Both surveys are well within the midrange of recent national surveys and approaching the +10 to +12 range Democrats probably need to flip the House.
The president’s standing among independent voters is of particular concern to Republican strategists. (I wrote about why in a May 30 column.)
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey showed Trump’s job rating among independents at 36 percent approve/58 percent disapprove, while Fox News found it at 40 percent approve/48 percent disapprove.
In both surveys, the president’s standing among independents was worse than among all voters.
In the congressional generic ballot, Fox News found independents now preferring Democrats by 13 points, 32 percent to 19 percent, while the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey showed them backing a Democratic Congress by more than 20 points.
Two years ago
Both numbers stand in sharp contrast to the 2016 national House exit poll, which found independent voters went Republican by 6 points, 51 percent to 45 percent.
The most recent Fox News and NBC News/Wall Street Journal surveys give us some other interesting numbers to chew on, especially in light of the 2016 national House exit poll.
That poll showed whites voted Republican by 22 points (60 percent to 38 percent) in 2016. But the most recent Fox News survey showed the GOP’s generic ballot advantage among white voters this year is down to single digits, 49 percent to 41 percent.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found whites preferring the GOP by a nearly identical 9 points, 50 percent to 41 percent.
Older voters could be crucial in November, since they tend to turn out in high numbers.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed voters 65 and older giving Trump a job rating of 44 percent approve/55 percent disapprove and preferring a Democratic Congress by 11 points (52 percent to 41 percent).
In contrast, the 2016 House exit poll found voters 65 and older backed the GOP by 8 points, 53 percent to 45 percent, in that election.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found key demographic groups — younger voters (ages 18-29), independents, suburban voters and white women — all looking very likely to perform the way they did in 2006, a Democratic wave year.
Keeping the base
To be sure, Trump remains strong among his core constituencies — white men, white men without a college degree, self-identified Republicans and rural voters, for example — but none of those groups are normally considered swing voters, though a strong turnout by those groups would obviously benefit the president.
A handful of state and district polls over the last month also showed surprising Democratic strength in the Senate races in West Virginia and Tennessee, California’s 48th District, North Carolina’s 9th District and even West Virginia’s 3rd District.
Clearly, the political landscape remains dangerous for the GOP, though Democrats can’t claim victory yet. This cake is not yet baked.
So far, there is no evidence of wholesale defections from Trump among those who voted for him in 2016.
The president has generally played to his base, and most true-blue Trump loyalists are so invested in him that they would not even consider voting Democratic in the fall.
But Trump has done nothing to improve his standing with voters who supported Hillary Clinton and progressive Democrats who couldn’t make themselves vote for her.
At the same time, the president’s policies on trade, his incomprehensible delay in blaming Putin for interfering in the 2016 election, his positions on guns and immigration, and his insensitive comments about race may eventually cost him some support among those who voted for him (even if they are not yet ready to bolt Trump now).
But Democrats don’t need the votes of Trump loyalists to ride a political wave into the House. They merely need to turn out Democrats and win independents by a substantial margin.
Any additional leakage of GOP voters to the Democrats in November — or a drop in Republican turnout for the midterms — would make the wave bigger.
Events could change the election’s trajectory, of course, and the president is likely to have a few ups and a few downs between now and November.
But it’s more likely that the daily dose of chaos from the White House that surely will continue to Election Day will produce more fatigue with the White House on the right and in the center than on the left, where enthusiasm remains high.
The column appeared originally in Roll Call on July 24, 2018.