A new poll from the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of voters say they’ll consider their midterm vote as a proxy vote either for Donald Trump (26 percent) or against him (34 percent). That makes him a bigger factor in the midterms than any president in more than three decades, according to Pew. At comparable points in other recent midterm cycles, roughly half of respondents said the same thing about Barack Obama and George W. Bush, with the president’s influence peaking at 53 percent in 2006—the year Democrats routed Republicans to recapture the Senate and the House.
Republicans are probably not excited to see the new numbers, but Trump might be. The president has plans to hit the campaign trail hard in the coming weeks. He was in Minnesota on Wednesday to stump for a handful of Republican candidates. On Saturday, he’s scheduled to head to Nevada to headline a fundraiser for Sen. Dean Heller. Then he’s off to South Carolina on Monday to hold a rally for Gov. Henry McMaster, on to North Dakota two days after that to tout Rep. Kevin Cramer’s bid for Senate, and then will head to Wisconsin the following day for a joint fundraiser with the Republican National Committee.
Trump’s inability to cede the spotlight suggests the 2018 midterms will be even more of a referendum on the president than previous ones have been. And it’s rarely a question of if a president’s party will lose seats in an off-year election, but instead a question of how many. The party that controls the White House has lost House seats in 35 out of the 38 midterms dating back to the end of the Civil War, and Senate seats in 19 out of 26 elections since we began directly electing of senators in 1913. The most recent exception in both chambers came in 2002, when the GOP capitalized on post-9/11 patriotism to win eight seats in the House and two in the Senate. The exception before that came in 1998, when Republicans ran hard on impeachment and still lost 5 seats in the House.
What does 2018 portend?
Well, 61 percent of likely Democratic voters say they see their vote as a vote against the president, which bodes well for the party to re-take the House. When Republicans won control in 2010, 54 percent of Republicans said the same thing about Obama, and a whopping 65 percent of Democrats said the same about Bush in 2006.
But this year seems unique in that Democrats aren’t the only ones being motivating by Trump. Currently, 52 percent of Republicans see their vote as being for the president—a majority unseen in the previous three midterms. Only 35 percent and 43 percent of Democrats said the same about Obama in 2014 and 2010, and just 33 percent of Republicans said so about Bush in 2006.
It’s a similar story in the enthusiasm department. Slightly more than half of Americans—51 percent—said they are “more enthusiastic about voting than usual,” the highest share Pew has seen in 20 years of asking that question. Democrats, though, had only a relatively narrow edge over Republicans, 55 percent to 50 percent. Contrast that with 2006, when Democrats and Republicans were both upset at Bush: 47 percent of Democrats that summer said they were more fired up than usual, while just 30 percent said the same thing. Likewise, ahead of the Tea Party-fueled GOP wave election of 2010, Republicans enjoyed a 13-point enthusiasm edge of their own.
There’s still roughly four and a half months until Election Day, and a lot can change. We don’t yet know how the debate over Trump’s deeply unpopular actions at the U.S. border will affect voters, and what crises might manifest in the next five months. Whatever happens, it’ll be about Trump.