The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The anti-Trump backlash is gathering force. These new polls confirm it.

As Congress abdicates its role, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says voters must take up the role of checking President Trump. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

The anti-Trump backlash is about to collide violently with the GOP’s structural, counter-majoritarian advantages in this election — and the winner of the clash will decide whether President Trump will be subjected to genuine oversight or will effectively be given even freer rein to unleash more corruption and more authoritarianism, while expanding his cruel, ethnonationalist and plutocratic agenda.

Three new polls this morning confirm that this anti-Trump backlash is running strong, with less than two months to go until the midterm elections:

  • A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Democrats have opened up a 14-point lead in the battle for the House, 52-38. Voters want Congress to be more of a check on Trump by 58 percent to 27 percent.
  • A new CNN poll finds that Americans approve of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by 50-38, a new high in CNN polling. By 61-33, Americans say it is examining a “serious matter that should be fully investigated,” as opposed to the “witch hunt” that Trump rage-tweeted about again this morning.
  • A new NPR-Marist poll finds that Democrats lead by 12 points in the battle for the House, 50-38. Trump’s approval is at 39-52, making this the fifth recent poll to put Trump below 40 percent.

Crucially, these polls all dovetail with the basic story we’ve seen throughout this cycle, which is that Trump has provoked a backlash among minorities, young people and college-educated and suburban whites, especially women — and even seemingly among independents — that has powered Democratic victories in unlikely places. The new polling finds the backlash is running strong among these groups right now:

  • The Quinnipiac poll finds Democrats leading in the generic ballot matchup by 20 points among women, by 15 points among independents, by nine points among college-educated whites (sometimes a Republican leaning group) and by enormous margins among young people, blacks and Hispanics.
  • In the Quinnipiac poll, 62 percent of women want Congress to be a check on Trump, 60 percent of independents want this, and 57 percent of college-educated whites want this.
  • The CNN poll finds that women approve of the Mueller investigation by 10 points, that independents approve of it by 14 points and that college-educated whites approve of it by 23 points.
  • The CNN poll also finds that women think the probe is a serious matter by 67-26, independents think this by 63-29, and college-educated whites think this by 66-31.
  • The Marist poll finds Democrats leading in the generic ballot match-up by 57-29 among women, by 43-36 among independents, and by 57-36 among college educated whites.

While Democrats are favored to win the House, we still don’t know whether this lead will hold until Election Day, or whether the Democratic edge will be able to overcome the GOP’s built-in advantages. (Right now, Democrats lead by nearly 10 points in the averages.) The GOP structural edge is rooted in geography, incumbency and gerrymandering, and while these advantages are fading for a host of reasons, most analysts think Democrats still must win the House popular vote by around six or seven points to win the lower chamber. Hence the coming collision noted above.

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Trump’s attacks and lies are failing

What is remarkable about the current moment is the degree to which Trump’s attacks on our institutions appear to be failing, both as a self-defensive tool and perhaps even as a midterm strategy.

For over a year now, Trump has waged a full-scale assault on the mechanisms of accountability arrayed around him. He has savaged the Mueller probe and law enforcement as riddled with corruption and as orchestrating an illegitimate Deep State conspiracy against his presidency. He has attacked the news media as the “enemy of the people,” by which he means Trump and Republican voters, characterizing the free press as part of of that conspiracy against his presidency and his supporters.

But today’s new polling confirms that these things are not working with the broader electorate. There is broad and growing support for the Mueller investigation. And the Quinnipiac poll shows Americans trust the news media more than Trump to tell them the truth by 54-30, and 69 percent say the media constitutes an important part of democracy. Support for our institutions appears to be holding.

The stakes in this election

Despite this widespread desire for a check on Trump, congressional Republicans both have abdicated on their own oversight role on virtually every front and have actively conspired with Trump’s efforts to harass and undermine the independent investigation that Trump plainly believes cannot legitimately be applied to him. Republicans have openly acknowledged that a Democratic House would supply the oversight they refuse to conduct themselves, and they have explicitly stated that if Trump’s efforts to derail the Mueller probe fail, their majority must be maintained as Trump’s last line of defense. Numerous GOP incumbents have aligned themselves with Trump’s nativism and xenophobic demagoguery.

Republicans have made the stakes in this election perfectly plain. If Republicans retain control of Congress, it means zero effort to force transparency around Trump’s finances to get a real handle on his self-dealing, and a free hand to keep harassing the Mueller investigation. Those things would surely embolden Trump’s corruption and make it more likely that he’d move more aggressively to constrain the Mueller probe himself. It would also mean little to no oversight of Trump’s various governing fiascoes going forward, and an emboldened GOP drive to repeal Obamacare and possibly to target Social Security and Medicare as well.

If Democrats win one or both chambers, it means an end to those Mueller harassment efforts and an effort at real transparency on Trump’s self-dealing and finances, including their possible intersection with the Russia investigation. It could mean an attempt at genuine oversight on things such as Trump’s immigration policies and his sabotage of Obamacare, both of whose rationales are steeped in bad faith and are crying out for scrutiny. It would hopefully supply leverage to mitigate some of the damage being done by Trump’s ethno-nationalist agenda and to block any further GOP efforts to gut the safety net to fund more tax cuts for the rich.

The gamble that Trump and Republicans are making is that the promise to protect Trump from oversight and accountability will energize Republican voters, even as the full embrace of Trump’s ethno-nationalism does the same, while peeling off independents and white GOP-leaning voters who may be turned off by Trump’s conduct but side with him against immigration. But if today’s polling is any indication, all this continues to fuel the backlash that threatens to swamp that theoretical GOP-aligned electorate. The question is whether the GOP’s structural and counter-majoritarian bulwarks can withstand it.