Tuesday night’s election results in seven states have sparked a lot of chatter about what they signify for the midterms. But these are only primaries, and most are in deeply red or blue states: Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Maryland, and New York. To get a clearer picture of this year’s terrain, you’re better off looking at the general electorate, both nationally and in competitive states.
In the past two weeks, several pollsters have done just that. They’ve found two signs of trouble for the GOP. First, President Trump’s approval numbers are soft. They’re not just low in comparison to other presidents at this stage. They also disguise misgivings among his approvers. Trump’s base is weaker than it looks. Second, he’s a drag on his party. He makes the Republican disadvantage on the congressional ballot much worse.
In a Suffolk University/USA Today poll taken from June 13 to 18, Trump’s approval rating among registered voters stands at 43 percent. His disapproval rating is 51 percent. His favorable rating is about the same: 40 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable. These are bad numbers for a recently elected president, particularly in a good economy. Even so, they mask the gravity of his party’s predicament.
On the poll’s congressional ballot question—“Which party’s candidate are you more likely to vote for in your congressional district?”—the GOP trails by just six points, 45 percent to 39 percent. But when the question is framed around Trump—“Do you want to elect a Congress that mostly cooperates with President Trump, or one that mostly stands up to President Trump?”—the gap more than triples. Fifty-five percent of voters choose a Congress that stands up to Trump. Only 34 percent choose a Congress that cooperates with Trump. A six-point deficit becomes a 21-point deficit.
In a YouGov/Economist survey conducted from June 17 to 19, Trump has an approval rating of 41 percent and a disapproval rating of 48 percent. That seven-point deficit mirrors the GOP’s deficit in the poll’s congressional ballot. If the election were held today, 44 percent of respondents say they’d vote Democratic, while 37 percent say they’d vote Republican.
When the question is reframed around Trump, the gap doubles. The YouGov questionnaire asks respondents whether they want this year’s congressional candidates to be “more or less like Donald Trump.” Forty-six percent say they want candidates less like Trump. Only 32 percent say they want candidates more like him. That’s well below his 41 percent approval rating.
Trump blames Democrats for obstructing legislation, but Americans aren’t buying it. In the YouGov poll, a 41 percent plurality says Congress has accomplished less than usual (only 8 percent say Congress has accomplished more than usual), and these disappointed respondents blame congressional Republicans rather than Democrats, 45 percent to 19 percent.
In a Quinnipiac poll conducted from June 14 to 17, Trump’s job rating stands at 42 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval. But when voters are asked whether they’re “proud to have Donald Trump as president” or “embarrassed to have Donald Trump as president,” only 31 percent say they’re proud. That’s 11 points below his approval rating. By contrast, 49 percent of voters—nearly all of those who disapprove of the president—say he’s embarrassing.
The Quinnipiac survey asks voters whether they’d prefer to see Republicans or Democrats win control of the House and Senate. Democrats lead by small margins: 49 percent to 44 percent in the Senate, and 49 percent to 43 percent in the House. But when the same respondents are asked to choose candidates based on affiliation with Trump, the gap balloons. The survey asks whether you’d be more or less likely to vote for a House or Senate candidate who “strongly embraces President Trump and his policies.” Forty-three percent say they’d be less likely; only 29 percent say they’d be more likely. That 14-point spread is more than twice the size of the GOP’s deficit when Trump isn’t mentioned.
Three Marist/NBC polls, taken between June 17 and June 22, examine key states: Florida, Ohio, and Arizona. In each state, Trump’s job approval is net negative. And in each state, the percentage of respondents who say he deserves to be re-elected is lower still. In Arizona and Ohio, Trump’s job approval deficit is eight points. But when respondents are asked whether Trump “deserves to be re-elected” or whether it’s “time to give a new person a chance,” Ohioans choose a new person by a 25-point margin, and Arizonans choose a new person by a 26-point margin. In Florida, Trump’s job approval deficit is only three points, but his “deserves to be re-elected” deficit is 20 points.
The state polls, like the national polls, expose Trump as an albatross. Marist asks voters in all three states about their “preference for the outcome of this November’s congressional elections.” In each state, by a margin of 3 to 4 points, voters say they prefer “a Congress controlled by Democrats” to “a Congress controlled by Republicans.” But when the question is reformulated as a referendum on Trump, the gap widens. The surveys ask: “Will your vote for Congress in November 2018 be a vote to send a message that we need more Democrats to be a check and balance to Donald Trump [or] more Republicans who will help Donald Trump pass his agenda?” In Ohio and Arizona, voters choose Democrats by a 16-point margin. In Florida, they choose Democrats by a nine-point margin.
These surveys bode ill for Trump and the GOP. They suggest that his base is well below his approval rating, that many of his nominal supporters can be picked off, and that the more he makes himself the focus of the midterms—which he works to do, congenitally, every day—the more he hurts his party. He turns a narrow popular-vote deficit into a landslide. Maybe these polls are misleading, as early polls were in 2016. Or maybe voters have had time to see what kind of president he is, and they don’t like it.