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The Latest Senate Polls Show Some Good News For Democrats

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

In recent days, we’ve seen a number of surveys of high-profile Senate contests. On the whole, the polls indicate Democrats have a real chance of picking up some seats in battleground states. Some of this is thanks to former Vice President Joe Biden’s sizable lead over President Trump (9.5 points), as the current national environment is very favorable to Democrats.

But remember many races could still go either way. And the good news for Republicans is that they’re favored to pick up a Democratic-held seat in Alabama and probably don’t have to worry too much about losing Kentucky. With the GOP holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate,1 Democrats still have to pick up three seats and the vice presidency, or at least four seats without the vice presidency, to take control of the chamber.

Let’s start with the Republican-held seats. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona has long been endangered, and three new surveys confirm she’s in real trouble. Last week, Democratic pollster Civiqs released a poll that found Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, leading McSally 51 percent to 42 percent. Two additional polls dropped on Thursday: The New York Times/Siena College gave Kelly a 9-point edge, 47 percent to 38 percent, and Redfield & Wilton Strategies found him ahead by 15 points, 49 percent to 34 percent. Kelly has tended to attract slightly more support than Biden in Arizona — though they were about the same in the Times/Siena poll — and that’s an especially good sign for Kelly as Biden has led by a small margin there.

In North Carolina, five new polls show Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in a tight race with former Democratic state Sen. Cal Cunningham. The New York Times/Siena College survey of the race gave Cunningham a slim edge, 42 percent to 39 percent, which echoed another poll released this week — Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling had Cunningham up 44 percent to 40 percent. (Both leads were inside the polls’ margin of error.) And a Fox News poll released Thursday evening put Cunningham ahead by 2 points, 39 percent to 37 percent. However, an OAN/Gravis Marketing poll released last Friday found Tillis with 46 percent support, ahead by 1 point. And a Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll released Thursday morning gave Cunningham a 9-point advantage, 45 percent to 36 percent. Still, considering Biden is only leading Trump by 3 points in our North Carolina polling average, this race is likely to be very close in November.

Meanwhile, two recent polls in Georgia suggest that Democrats have a chance of capturing a Peach State seat. A Fox News survey found Republican Sen. David Perdue ahead by just 3 points over Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, 45 percent to 42 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey gave Ossoff a 1-point lead, 45 percent to 44 percent. Remember, though, that in Georgia a Senate candidate must win an outright majority or the race will go to a runoff, so there’s definitely a possibility that neither Perdue nor Ossoff win a majority (there’s also a Libertarian candidate running). No news on the state’s other Senate seat, which is a special election with a jungle primary that will also take place this November, though that contest will likely go to a January runoff.

In Kentucky, though, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be heavily favored against whomever the Democrats choose (the results of Kentucky’s Democratic primary won’t be known until next week.) A Civiqs survey from the week of June 13 found McConnell led Democratic state Rep. Charles Booker by 14 points, 52 percent to 38 percent, and former fighter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate Amy McGrath by 20 points, 53 percent to 33 percent. The poll also found Trump ahead of Biden by 20 points, so the president’s big advantage should help McConnell down-ballot.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones playing defense. Democrats also have to defend a couple of seats in states that Trump carried in 2016 — most notably Alabama. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones has long been seen as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent up in 2020, but on Monday, his campaign released an internal poll from May that had him down just 3 points, 44 percent to 47 percent, against former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, who is seen as the favorite over former Senator and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the July GOP primary runoff.

Of course, this was an internal poll, so take it with a grain of salt, and a mid-June poll from GOP pollster Cygnal painted a much different picture. It put Tuberville ahead of Jones by 14 points, 50 percent to 36 percent, and Sessions ahead by 10 points, 45 percent to 35 percent. The Jones campaign is arguing that Jones’s lead could have grown since their poll, especially since Biden’s standing has improved in Alabama, but in all likelihood, Jones is still a serious underdog. After all, Trump still leads Biden by 15 points in our polling average and is likely to win Alabama by the double-digits in November.

Finally, we also have five fresh surveys from Michigan, where Democratic Sen. Gary Peters faces Republican John James, an Army veteran. James lost the state’s 2018 Senate race, but still performed fairly well in a Democratic-leaning environment. Yet the numbers now mostly augur well for Peters. Thursday’s New York Times/Siena College poll put Peters ahead by 10 points, 41 percent to 31 percent while Redfield & Wilton Strategies had him up by 18 points, 50 percent to 32 percent. And Peters also had double-digit leads in two polls conducted on behalf of right-leaning sponsors: The conservative Restoration PAC and GOP pollster Hodas & Associates put a poll out on Thursday that had Peters ahead by 13 points, 51 percent to 38 percent, while a survey released last week by TIPP on behalf of conservative outlet American Greatness found Peters up by 12 points, 47 percent to 35 percent. Plus, Marketing Resource Group also released a poll last week that found Peters ahead by 6 points, albeit only 36 percent to 30 percent, with 14 percent preferring “someone else” and 18 percent undecided. Bottom line: Peters seems to be cruising toward reelection, buoyed by the fact that Biden leads Trump by about 11 points in our Michigan polling average.

It’s too early to say that Democrats can take back the Senate, but if the national environment remains this favorable for Democrats, they’ll certainly stand a pretty good chance of regaining control in November.

Other polling bites

  • A new survey from Morning Consult found that 80 percent of Americans believe it’s “very” or “somewhat” likely that a second wave of coronavirus cases will hit in the next year. Respondents were split as to whether the country could handle the public health impact of a second wave — 42 percent said yes, 45 percent no. But only 33 percent agreed that the country was ready to handle the economic impacts of a second wave, while 53 percent disagreed.
  • A new poll from Axios/Ipsos suggests that comfort with getting a haircut might signal how safe the public feels about coronavirus cases in their state. In states where the number of new cases decreased from June 9 to 16, the share of respondents getting their hair cut increased from 10 percent to 19 percent, but in states where there was at least a 50 percent increase in new cases, the share of respondents who visited a hair salon fell from 19 percent to 13 percent. States with small increases in cases saw the share visiting a hair salon stay at 18 percent.
  • A record-high share of Americans — 40 percent — view the death penalty as “morally wrong,” according to a new poll from Gallup. Fifty-four percent still said it was morally acceptable, but that’s the lowest share since the pollster first asked this question in 2001. The drop in support was driven largely by liberals and moderates, who expressed new lows in approval — 37 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
  • NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism was once pretty unpopular, but as support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased in recent weeks, fewer Americans think these protests are unacceptable. A new survey from YouGov found that 51 percent now support sports leagues substituting the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in place of athletes’ names on the back of jerseys. Only 35 percent opposed the idea, but there was a sizable partisan gap: 73 percent of Democrats approved of this compared to just 22 percent of Republicans.
  • Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 9 in 10 Americans think it should be illegal for employers to fire or refuse to hire individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the poll found that most respondents think people who are transgender or are lesbian, gay or bisexual face widespread discrimination — 79 percent and 74 percent, respectively.
  • The Senate has been unable to pass a police reform bill, but majorities of Democratic and Republican voters back reforms like banning chokeholds, training police on de-escalation, creating a national database of police disciplinary records and banning or increasing regulations on no-knock warrants, according to a new survey from Morning Consult. Asked about specific reform plans from House Democrats and Senate Republicans, 48 percent of respondents felt the Democratic plan — which bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants — appropriately addressed police reform, while only 33 percent said the same for the GOP proposal (which discourages the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, but doesn’t ban them outright).

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 40.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 55.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -14.6 points). At this time last week, 41.2 percent approved and 55.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -14.0 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.7 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 8.1 percentage points (48.7 percent to 40.6 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.9 points (48.6 percent to 40.7 percent). At this time last month, voters also preferred Democrats by 8.0 points (48.2 percent to 40.2 percent).

Footnotes

  1. Including independent Sens. Angus King and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with the Democrats.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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