Politicians and pundits favor wave/tsunami midterm metaphors these days but, perhaps, we should talk about the swing, the pendulum. The Post-Schar School poll of voters in 69 battleground House races shows a 19-point swing for Democrats — from +15 for Republicans in 2016 to +4 for Democrats this year:
Of the 69 districts included in the survey, 63 are held by Republicans and just six are held by Democrats. [President] Trump carried 48 of these districts and Hillary Clinton won the other 21. In the districts won by Trump, likely voters are split 48 percent for the Democratic candidate and 47 percent for the Republican. In the districts won by Clinton, Democrats enjoy a clear advantage, 53 percent to 43 percent.
Voters’ preferences amount to a referendum on President Trump. “In the survey, 91 percent of those who approve of the president’s performance also are supporting the GOP candidate in their district. Meanwhile, 88 percent of those who disapprove of Trump’s performance are backing the Democratic candidate.”
The pendulum has swung some 19 points, in large part, because women have abandoned the Republican Party. “Women are driving Democratic support in the battleground districts, favoring the party’s candidates by 54 percent to 40 percent. . . . White women with college degrees back the Democratic candidate in their districts by 62 percent to 35 percent. White women without college degrees tilt toward the Republicans running in their districts by 49 percent to 45 percent.” By comparison, white women with college degrees — nationally, not simply in battleground states — favored Clinton (51 percent to 44 percent) in 2016.
In general, college-educated white voters have had it with Trump and his party. In 2016, Trump won these voters nationally 49 percent to 45 percent. His party now trails 55 percent to 42 percent in battleground House races.
Contrary to the latest collective wisdom that the confirmation fight over Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh has energized Republicans, “among those who cite judicial nominations as extremely important, 50 percent are backing the Democrat in their district and 47 percent are backing the Republican.”
The poll is noteworthy in a number of respects.
First, Republicans believe Kavanaugh is a winning issue for them but, overall, it favors Democrats slightly in competitive House races and may well make the Republican Party’s problem with women even more acute. It is difficult to remember given their ongoing temper-tantrum, but Republicans won with Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Can the GOP keep voters irate about a victory for four weeks? Just as likely, if Trump keeps insulting female victims, mocking the survivors who protested and rolling out his male-grievance routine, he will wind up widening the gender gap and crank up the enthusiasm among women.
Second, battleground House seats are heavily concentrated in states where there is not a competitive Senate race. (California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York contribute 21.) It is inaccurate to say the national scene favors Republicans. Remember, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin were all won by Trump and are no longer even doable for Republicans — they’re now either likely or safely Democratic. Moreover, there are five House battleground seats in Florida, which Trump carried in 2016. Recent polls have Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) slightly ahead. Likewise, three battleground seats are in Arizona, which Trump also carried, and there, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is narrowly ahead in the race to replace outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake. In sum, where Democrats have a lot of House opportunities, they are running very well in Senate races. States that are traditionally deep red and don’t have many battleground House seats — no surprise here — are trending toward Republicans (e.g., Tennessee, North Dakota, Texas). That they are competitive at all says something about the swing away from the GOP.
Third, Trump is toxic outside his narrow base. That is why he is in places such as Mississippi and Kansas. That would be like President Barack Obama going to Massachusetts to shore up a struggling Democrat. There is a price to be paid for playing almost exclusively to his rabid base.
Finally, we are not that far from where the races stood four or five months ago — a very strong possibility the Democrats take the House and despite a map with a disproportionate number of red-state Democratic incumbents, and a slight chance to take the Senate. For all the hubbub inside the Beltway, out in the country, what has characterized the environment is consistency: An unpopular president dragging his party down among women and college-educated voters, with a favorable Senate map for Republicans a lot less favorable than it should be and less than it was in 2016. Count me skeptical that the political landscape will shift that dramatically in 4 weeks.