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There’s No Reason To Think Republicans Will Be In Better Shape A Year From Now

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song: “Every Time I Turn Around” from the television show “Punky Brewster.”

Poll(s) of the week

We’ve been telling you to pay attention to the generic congressional ballot for a while now. Well, Tuesday’s results showed why.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll and a separate CNN survey released this week both found Democrats leading Republicans by 11 percentage points on the generic ballot. That’s a big lead — the type of lead that results in wave elections like Tuesday’s. It’s also just a hair larger than the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight average of generic ballot polls.

But the really bad news for Republicans: There’s a good chance they won’t be able to eat too much into that lead by the 2018 midterms.

The generic congressional ballot, even more than a year before a midterm, has historically been quite predictive of what will eventually occur in the following year. It was predictive in April, and it’s even more predictive now. You can see this phenomenon in the chart below. The chart shows the margin by which the presidential party leads on the generic ballot in an average of polls in October1 a year before the midterm compared with the national House margin in the midterm election. Every midterm cycle since 1938 is included, with the exception of 1942 and 1990, for which we don’t have polling at this point in the cycle.

The generic ballot polls a year from the election and the eventual House results are strongly correlated (+0.90). Importantly, past elections suggest that any big movement on the generic ballot from this point to the midterm tends to go against the president’s party.2 That movement explains why the Democrats lost ground in 2010 and 2014 in the generic ballot polls when they controlled the White House, while they maintained their lead in 2006 when Republicans held the White House. (With a similar set of data, I used the generic ballot to forecast Democratic problems early on in the 2010 cycle.)

Indeed, recent election outcomes show that Republicans should be worried about what the generic ballot is showing. The results in Tuesday’s gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey were called perfectly by the generic ballot once we control for the partisan lean of each state. The special election results this year have also been in line with a big Democratic lead on the generic ballot.

Still, we are a year from the midterms. The generic ballot estimate at this point, while good, has not been a perfect predictor of the following year’s House results even after controlling for which party holds the presidency. Given these occasional past errors, it is certainly plausible that Republicans could keep the actual deficit in their national House margin down to just a few percentage points instead of the 8 or 9 points they’re down now. Losing by only a few points nationally would likely be enough for them to hold onto the House.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to think that Republicans will be in any better shape nationally a year from now. The Democratic lead on the generic ballot has about doubled since April, which is as far back as the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker goes.

That’s in line with both historical trends of support for the president’s party declining the closer we get to a midterm and a president whose low job approval rating is wearing on his party.

The bottom line is that although Republicans may see the national environment improve, there’s no reason to think it will. That’s bad news for them heading into 2018.

Other polling nuggets

  • Just 21 percent of Americans told Gallup they are satisfied with the way things are going in this country. That’s down from 28 percent in October 2016, just before Trump’s election. It’s also lower compared with this point in President Obama’s first term.
  • The vast majority of Americans (65 percent) believe that Trump has not accomplished very much or even anything at all as president, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. Just 35 percent say he’s accomplished a great deal or good amount.
  • Foreign policy experts are far more suspecting of direct democracy than the general public. According to a 12-country Pew Research Center poll that included the U.S., a median 68 percent of all adults in these countries but only 37 percent of foreign policy experts believe direct democracy is a very good or somewhat good way of governing “our country.” On the other hand, 72 percent of foreign policy experts think representative democracy is a very good way of governing “our country,” as compared to just 37 percent of the general public.
  • The Pew Research Center also found that 50 percent of Americans, a 16-year high, say there are plenty of jobs available in their communities. However, 49 percent of Americans also say their family income relative to the cost of living is falling behind.
  • A clear majority of Hillary Clinton voters, 69 percent, say men have it easier than women in the country these days, according to a YouGov poll. Some 24 say there is no difference between the sexes, while 7 percent say women have it easier. Trump supporters see things differently, with 63 percent saying there is no difference, 19 percent saying women have it easier and 18 percent saying men do.
  • Blacks who live in the 11 states that formerly made up the Confederacy were far more likely than whites to want monuments or memorials to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War to be moved. In a poll conducted by Winthrop University, 67 percent of blacks wanted them moved to a museum or removed completely, while 19 percent of whites felt the same way.
  • The percentage of Americans who think North Korea is willing to follow through on a threat to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. is up to 65 percent in a Pew Research Center survey. Back in 2013, only 47 percent of Americans felt that way. Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans feel it’s equally as likely now, while back in 2013 Republicans were 18 points more likely to think North Korea would use a nuclear weapon on the U.S.
  • A new Morning Consult poll shows that a generic Democrat would beat Trump in a 2020 presidential matchup 46 percent to 36 percent. In a February 2010 Gallup survey, Obama beat a generic Republican 44 percent to 42 percent.
  • Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leads potential 2018 Arizona Senate opponent Republican Kelli Ward 34 percent to 27 percent in a HighGround poll. That’s up from a 1-point advantage for Sinema in August.
  • Although radio stations may begin playing Christmas jingles and tunes now, only 18 percent of Americans said in a YouGov poll that it is most acceptable to start listening to them before Thanksgiving.

Trump’s job approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is holding fairly steady at 37.7 percent, while his disapproval rating is 56.6 percent. Last week, Trump’s approval rating was 38.0 percent to a disapproval rating of 56.4 percent.


  1. Most polls available the year before the midterm election are from October, given that the off-year election takes place in early November.

  2. One exception is the 2002 cycle, when President George W. Bush’s approval rating was in the 60s at the time of the midterms. President Trump’s approval rating is below 40 percent, on the other hand. It should also be noted that there tends to be a regression to the mean in early estimates. The Democrats’ lead isn’t large enough now for that to be a big factor.

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