Coming on the heels of the loss of Luther Strange’s Alabama
Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones, there is more bad news for Republicans. A poll
that measures the generic approval of the two parties now shows Republicans
with a 14-point deficit. The Monmouth
University poll is the latest sign that a Democrat
wave is building for 2018.
Other surveys of generic ballot preferences over the past
few months have yielded similar results with some surveys showing Democrat
support at or above 50 percent. A FiveThirtyEight
roundup of generic ballot polls showed that Democrats lead by 11 points on
In the past, generic ballot polling has been a leading
indicator of performance in midterm elections. In 2010, Republicans held a 10-point
lead in generic ballot polling just prior to their takeover of the House of
Representatives. The pattern repeated in 2014 when Republicans were favored by
points. In contrast, Democrats lead by 12
points prior to the wave election of 2008.
The generic ballot is not a fait accompli. Democrats still
have to recruit candidates and mount successful campaigns to unseat
Republicans, but the polling does represent a disadvantage for the GOP. Republicans
may be able to stem the tide by acting now to shore up approval.
The problem for Republicans is that there are very few
avenues toward better approval ratings in the 11 months left before the
election. The GOP has not been able to pass any significant legislation in
spite of holding both houses of Congress and the presidency.
The party is currently pinning its hopes on tax reform, but
voters disapprove of the bill by almost a two-to-one
margin. The situation is reminiscent of Democrats ramming through the
unpopular Affordable Care Act in the hopes that it would become more popular
after it passed. Ironically, after costing the Democrats both houses of
Congress and the White House, Obamacare did become more popular. In the summer
of 2017, Obamacare
was more popular than failed Republican attempts to repeal it.
The average loss of congressional seats by a president with
an approval rating below is 50 percent is 36
seats. If Republicans don’t do much better than average next year, the
Democrats will take control of the House.
While many economic indicators are good, unforced errors and
distractions by the president are hurting the GOP. If President Trump’s
behavior could be moderated, say by locking him out of Twitter, the party would
A second hint for Republicans is that the nation at large
and the Republican base are very different. Candidates and policies that please
the base, Roy
Moore for example, are often unpopular with the rest of the country. The
GOP should consider moderate and independent voters when nominating candidates
this spring. It should also sell it policies to public before enacting them so
it isn’t placed in the position of voting for unpopular bills as was the case
with both tax reform and health care reform.
Polling shows that Republicans are in danger of repeating
history. There may still be time to avert an electoral disaster in 2018, but
time is running out. Republicans have to act now to reverse their sagging
approval rating, but many have not even acknowledged that there is a problem.