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Why Is The Most Vulnerable GOP Senator Not Dean Heller?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song: End credits from “The Simpsons” (Renaissance version)

Poll of the week

Jeff Flake is still in big trouble.

The latest survey from Democratic pollster GBA Strategies gives Kelli Ward (Flake’s opponent in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary) a 58 percent to 31 percent advantage over Flake. It’s the third poll released during the last month showing Ward with at least a 15-point lead. The same survey has potential Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema in front of Flake, 47 percent to 40 percent, in the general election.

Flake’s difficulties aren’t surprising, but how quickly he’s become (perhaps) the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2018 is. That title was supposed to belong to Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — Nevada is a bluer state than Arizona, and Heller already has a well-known declared Democratic opponent in Rep. Jacky Rosen.

So why is Flake’s future looking so much more uncertain than Heller’s? The difference appears to be how Flake and Heller have managed their relationships with President Trump. Flake has written a book slamming Trump. That, along with other anti-Trump actions, has motivated the president to all but endorse Ward. Heller, on the other hand, has been more cooperative with the White House, even if he has sometimes done so reluctantly. Heller also said — after a long period of not saying — that he voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Flake didn’t.

So, Trump hasn’t made a move toward backing a Republican challenge against Heller. As a result, Heller has a lead in most primary polls against Republican Danny Tarkanian, and Heller is holding his own in the few general election surveys that have been released.

The lesson here seems to be that even while Trump is unpopular overall, he is still well-liked by the Republican base — Republican lawmakers cross him at their own peril.

Other polling nuggets:

  • Murphy leads in New Jersey — Usually, the New Jersey governor’s race is a marquee matchup in the year after the presidential election. Not this year. Democrat Phil Murphy holds a 58 percent to 33 percent lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll. Guadagno is being hurt by her association with unpopular Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Polls of New Jersey’s governor race this far out are sometimes off, but there would have to be an unprecedented change in the race for it to become competitive. Since 1981, the difference between the poll closest to this point in the campaign from Rutgers (through 1993) or Quinnipiac (since 1997) and the eventual election result has never been more than 12 points.
  • Cops and professors divide us — The Pew Research Center asked Democrats and Republicans to rate a bunch of different groups and professions on a scale from zero to 100, where zero represents the most negative rating and 100 is the most positive. Partisans from both sides liked teachers and the military but disliked each other (Democrats disliked Republicans, and vice versa). The two professions they disagreed about most were the police, whom Republicans on average rated an 84 and Democrats a 62, and college professors, whom Democrats on average rated a 71 and Republicans just a 46. Not surprising, but still a sign of the times.
  • Bernie leads, though not with African-Americans — A Zogby Analytics poll published this week puts Bernie Sanders ahead of the very preliminary 2020 pack with 28 percent in a hypothetical Democratic primary. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Zogby, the poll generally matches previous surveys of the early 2020 field. Notably, former Vice President Joe Biden is in second overall, with 17 percent, but among black voters, he is ahead of Sanders, 31 percent to 19 percent. This suggests that Sanders still has some work to do among a key Democratic constituency.
  • Jews don’t like Trump — A new survey from the American Jewish Committee finds that Trump’s favorable rating among Jewish Americans is just 21 percent; 77 percent of respondents saw him unfavorably. Indeed, Trump lost the Jewish vote by a significant margin in 2016. But the Jewish vote isn’t monolithic. Trump’s favorable rating among Orthodox Jews is 71 percent, while it’s just 11 percent among Reform Jews.

Trump’s job approval ratings

Trump’s approval rating is 38.5 percent. His disapproval rating is 55.6 percent. Last week, those ratings were 38.4 percent and 56.4 percent, respectively. Why has Trump’s disapproval rating improved? As always, it could just be noise. It’s also possible that some Americans who disapproved of Trump are now unsure as the media focus has shifted away from Trump to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The generic ballot

Democrats hold a 45.5 percent to 36.0 percent lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. That’s little different from the 46.1 percent to 36.7 percent advantage they had last week.


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Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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