The Slatest

Polls Show Democrats Hold Edge Ahead of Midterms but Lead Has Narrowed

Supporters of President Donald Trump look on before he arrives for a campaign rally at Southport High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 2, 2018.
Supporters of President Donald Trump look on before he arrives for a campaign rally at Southport High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 2, 2018.

Democrats continue to have an advantage over Republicans in the generic question about preferences for the House race, but it seems the GOP base is newly energized. Registered voters prefer Democratic candidates over Republicans for the House of Representatives by 50-43 percent, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. The final national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before Tuesday’s midterm elections also shows Democrats with a seven-point edge over Republicans.

Even though the polls show a significant advantage for Democrats, that number has been on the decline. In October, for example, the NBC/WSJ poll showed Democrats had a nine-point edge. In the Post/ABC poll, the narrowing is even more dramatic as Democrats were leading by 11 points last month and 14 points in August. That narrowing is also evident among likely voters. A key sign that Republicans have been making gains is the way in which the Democratic edge among independent voters has narrowed, from 14 percent last month to nine percent in the latest NBC/WSJ poll.

The national number of course doesn’t really matter that much since the important thing is how the election goes in lots of contested districts where polls have shown tight races. But the narrowing lead for Democrats does suggest that President Donald Trump’s base has been newly energized thanks to good economic numbers and a new focus on immigration and border security. “There has been some method to his madness,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the NBC/WSJ survey with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart. “The base is coming home.”

This midterm election presents an interesting dynamic because congressional elections usually amount to a referendum on the president and opinions on the economy and this year there is a stark contrast between the two. The Post explains:

All midterm elections are a referendum on the incumbent president, and Trump has made this election about himself more than most presidents have, insisting in his campaign rallies that voters should approach the election as if he is on the ballot. But elections also tend to reflect views of the economy, and Tuesday’s provides a test of the tension between perceptions of the president and perceptions of the economy. Rarely has there been as great a distance between views about the economy and a president’s ratings as there is this year.

Another thing the polls all agree on is the high level of interest in the race, which is unusual for a midterm election. Among all registered voters, 70 percent say they are highly interested in the election, which is similar to the levels seen in October 2016. “There have never been midterm numbers that look like this,” McInturff said.