Politico’s chief polling analyst Steven Shepard says Republicans “avoided disaster” in last week’s two special elections, and while they won, the dynamics of the races bode well for Democrats in the upcoming midterms.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Shepard said that President Donald Trump appears to be dragging GOP performance in a number of 2017 elections.
“On balance, Donald Trump is more unpopular than he’s popular,” said Shepard. “And on balance, he’s also changing the dynamic politically when it comes to which districts are really in play between the two parties.”
Shepard said polling data has shown that partisans are very predictable in sizing up political preferences. Roughly 90% of Democrats disapprove of Trump, while 80-85% of Republicans support him. Independent voters – who voted for Trump in 2016 – are the key to how many Congressional districts may be in play in 2018.
“Some of them [Independents] have lost their patience with him [Trump] and his approval ratings are underwater, meaning more disapprove than approve, but you still do get about 20% of that share of the electorate that’s undecided on what they think about Donald Trump’s presidency so far. And those are the folks to watch as we move, they’re willing to give him enough of a chance that we could get to the 2018 midterms with those people still hanging in the balance,” Shepard said.
Still, elections come down to a binary choice in many instances and depending on the strength of the two major party candidates, some districts that Democrats may think are competitive today may not be next year.
“That’s precisely what happened in Georgia this past week,” said Shepard. “You had a lot of Republican voters who didn’t participate in the first round of voting back in April in the initial vote and then were inundated with television advertising, with phone calls, with knocks on their door, with mailers to their houses to come out and vote in the runoff this past week. And for a lot of these Republicans who maybe were lukewarm about the president and his job performance, ultimately they were faced with a binary choice. And that’s why Republican Karen Handel, who trailed in the polls for most of the campaign, ended up pulling it out on Election Day, because they came out and they made a binary choice to stick with their party.”
Despite no special election victories so far this year, the electoral climate is looking favorable for Democrats, he said. With gaps closing in traditional large margin districts for the GOP, Shepard said there are many consistently competitive Congressional districts that may be more fertile for Democratic gains. The Georgia special election, in which more than $40 million was spent, is an illustration.
“This tells us that there are some voters who are used to voting for Republican members of Congress who actually voted for the Democrat here. It might not be enough in this particular district, which has been Republican for a long time, but if you’re in a more marginal district and you’re a Republican member in a wealthy affluent suburb where they’re used to voting for Republicans but Donald Trump turns them off a little bit, you might be a little worried that the race was this close,” he said.
“These national Republican groups, they’re going to have a lot of money to spend in 2018, but not the amount of money that they had to spend for this one race. There’s 435 House races on the ballot in November 2018, not just one or two, as there were this past Tuesday,” he added.
Watch Shepard’s full interview below and read his daily analysis here.