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 average.
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 about five 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 easiest way for Republicans to stop their falling approval is to rein in President Trump, although this is easier said than done. The same Monmouth poll shows Trump at 32 percent approval with 56 percent disapproving. This is close to, but slightly below, the average of polling on FiveThirtyEight.
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 undoubtedly benefit.
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.
Originally published on The Resurgent