Polls have not been kind to Congressional Republicans recently. Across 15 polls spanning the month of December, Democrats led the generic Congressional ballot—which asks respondents whether they’d vote for a Republican or Democrat congressional candidate next year, without giving the names of specific candidates—in all of them, by double digits in nine of them, and by 15 points of more in three of them.
As a point of reference, Democrats led the generic ballot by 11.5 percent in 2006, when a wave flipped 31 GOP-held seats and flipped the House to Democratic control, and Republicans led by 9.4 points in 2010, the year of 63-seat tsunami. Democrats’ lead in December was significantly larger than either of those years.
Democrats need to swing 24 seats in order to flip the House and there are 23 Republicans in the House currently representing districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. And then there are these stats, helpfully reported by Vox’s Andrew Prokop:
[I]n addition to the 23 Republican-held districts Clinton won, there are:
- 30 Republican-held seats with a PVI of Republican+5 or below (essentially, the next plausible batch of targets in a pro-Democratic year)
- 31 Republican-held seats with a PVI of Republican+6 to Republican+8 (seats that could potentially be endangered in a really big wave)
- 30 Republican-held seats with a PVI of Republican+9 to Republican+10 (seats that would probably only be vulnerable to a tsunami-like wave, or in case of scandal)
Again, the magic number for Democrats is 24. So if there is a big wave in their favor, they’ll certainly have far more possibilities than that among these various groupings of seats.
The eye-popping poll numbers had Democrats thinking well beyond the magic number.
“You hear the party talking about 40 seats now,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin said on CNN’s Inside Politics. “It’s a long way until next year’s election, but you have people who are typically sober looking at a heck of a year next year in the House.”
Then tax reform happened. And suddenly Democrats’ comfortable double digit lead evaporated, replaced by leads hovering around the 5-point mark. Take the latest CNN poll as an example of the trend. The poll found that Democrats held a 49-to-44 percent lead over Republican, which “represents a large shift from CNN polls conducted in the past three months, in which Democrats held double-digit advantages over the Republicans.”
Just as important, the poll found a significant shift among independent voters. Previously those voters broke heavily in Democrats’ favor, but the latest poll found “independents have grown more positive toward Donald Trump, and now split almost evenly on the generic ballot: 45% for the Republican in their district to 42% for the Democrat.”
For Republicans, that still leaves a significant gap left to make up before Election Day, but strong job growth, economic optimism and a relative lack of foreign entanglements should create positive momentum. And then of course there’s the bumbling Democrats, who, as Edward Morrissey writes for The Week, are busy trying to find a way to screw this up for themselves:
Rather than adjusting to the reality of these tax cuts, Democrats have tried telling taxpayers that they can’t believe their own eyes — or bank accounts — when it comes to finding benefit in these developments. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called an additional $2,000 in bonuses “pathetic … crumbs” last week, a little over six years after calling a $40 uptick every two weeks from the 2011 budget compromise “a victory for the American people.” For those who see $2,000 as a windfall, the “crumbs” remark sounds awful, a form of snobbery that will only play well among the Beltway elite. …
Imagine what will happen when the impact of the tax cuts actually hits American paychecks. The cognitive dissonance between Democratic hyperbole and personal voter experience will be massive. And in a country where “it’s the economy, stupid” still acts as one of the best predictive models for voter behavior, that dissonance will get felt in the same places where Democrats have been on the retreat: the middle-class, middle-America districts that have gone red for nearly a decade at all levels of electoral politics. That would leave Democrats with the same coastal-urban enclave footprint they have now.
Democrats are notorious for letting their arrogance get in the way of a surefire political win, and their snobbishness from being in touch with average Americans. If anything, the election of President Trump—which Democrats seem to believe alleviates the need for any attempt to broaden their base of support—is worsening these tendencies.
The fact remains that Republicans are still not polling where they need to be. But there’s a long time to go between now and Election Day and positive reforms like the tax bill have the power to erase the gap.
Photo credit: House GOP Leader