The 2018 elections are underway after Texas’s party primaries Tuesday. In a midterm election year that’s attracted a lot of speculation about where Congress is headed, Texas took the place of the Iowa caucuses: watched closely for any sign of where the year is headed.
That turned out to be a bit disappointing. The Democrats saw a big gain in turnout over 2014, but Republicans still cast more votes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R), running in a noncompetitive primary, earned more votes himself than were cast in the Democratic primary in the state. This probably doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it’s not what a lot of Democrats were hoping to see.
But there was good news for the party that came out Wednesday. In two separate polls, one from Quinnipiac University and one from Monmouth University, the Democrats had significant leads on the generic congressional ballot — a poll question asking people whether they plan to vote for the Democrat or the Republican in their House district. In January, Monmouth gave the Democrats a two-point lead; it’s now nine points. Quinnipiac’s new poll gave the Democrats a 10-point lead, lower than other recent polls from the pollsters but hardly bad news.
RealClearPolitics compiles a running daily average of the generic ballot margin. In December, there was a lot of discussion of the sizable lead the Democrats enjoyed which, in January, became talk of how the margin was narrowing. Now it’s widening again, making up nearly half of what was lost from the December peak. The Democratic advantage now stands at 9.1 points.
What caused that reversal? Well, it’s worth looking at it next to President Trump’s job approval. On net, more people disapprove of Trump than approve. That margin has shrunk and risen along with the generic congressional ballot, particularly since the beginning of the year.
How people view Trump seems as though it influences how they plan to vote in congressional elections. This isn’t a new discovery, by any stretch. There’s a known correlation between presidential approval and how the president’s party fares in midterm elections. (In 2010, Gallup found that presidents with approval under 50 percent saw their parties lose 36 seats on average in the House since 1946.)
What’s interesting about the current generic ballot and Trump approval averages is that they’re almost precisely in line with where both of those margins have been since the beginning of July. Since then, the average daily average (if that makes sense) in Trump’s approval rating has been that he’s disapproved of by a 16.1-point margin, just above the 15.7-point split in the average now. The average margin in generic ballot? Nine-point-one points.
The last time the Democrats retook the House in a midterm election was 2006, when they picked up 31 seats, effectively flipping the seat count between the parties. Going into Election Day that year, the generic ballot had the Democrats up by 14 points. That was probably more than was needed; most observers think that a six- to eight-point advantage for the Democrats in November will give the party control of the House.
Maybe they pick up some seats in Texas. The trend, though, suggests that they’ll pick up seats elsewhere, too — enough to regain control of the House.