Within the past month, there has been a dramatic change in which of the two major parties is positioned for success in the 2018 midterm elections. As President Trump has worked to negotiate denuclearization with Iran and North Korea, with varying degrees of success, and unemployment has dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, the Republicans have swiftly improved their numbers on two key measures: the job approval of President Trump and the generic vote for Congress.
In terms of job approval, the Real Clear Politics average has narrowed to minus 8.9 points for President Trump, with approximately 44 percent of voters approving of the job he is doing. In particular, the most recent poll used in Real Clear Politics calculation, the latest from Rasmussen Reports, finds that 49 percent of voters approve of the job President Trump is doing, which happens to be a full 3 percent higher than the 46 percent of the vote he garnered in 2016.
More troubling for Democratic fortunes in 2018, however, is the latest generic ballot for Congress polling data which, according to the Real Clear Politics average, indicates that voters favor Democrats over Republicans nationally by just 4 points. Just six months ago, the Democrats led by a full 13 points in the general congressional vote.
The party out of power has traditionally scored substantial gains in midterm elections, and the Democrats remain in one of the strongest positions they have had in years. The Democrats only need a net gain of 24 seats for control of the House, which based on previous years, should be an easy task. In order to understand the implications of the recent tightening of the generic ballot average, however, it is important to review the trends that metric followed in the midterm years of 1994 and 2010.
In the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994, the Republicans were the party out of power, managing to flip 54 seats in the House and achieve majority leadership for the first time since the Truman administration. In March 1994, the Gallup generic ballot tracker favored the Republicans by a slim margin, but within a few months in June 1994, Gallup polling favored the Republicans by 6 points at 50 percent to 44 percent.
Despite this, the Republicans steadily made ground in the six months leading up to the 1994 midterm elections, all the while promoting their set of alternative policies, famously titled the “Contract with America,” and eventually winning the actual vote by 7 points nationally. Thus, while the minority party would suffer setbacks and trail in the generic ballot from time to time, a persuasive plan for governing, focused on detailed and moderate policy ideas, compelled voters to flip the House by a landslide.
In the six months leading up to the 2010 midterm elections, we observed a similar trend in which the party in power, the Democrats, held a slim lead of 1 point in late May in the Real Clear Politics average, but the minority party would effectively stem the tide and reclaim a lead by July, which the Republicans held through Election Day.
Once again, it is important to point out that the Republicans were only as successful as they were in 2010, flipping 63 seats, because they presented a compelling and effective alternative to Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership at that time. The Republicans clearly articulated to voters what they intended to accomplish.
As such, the stakes could not be higher for the Democrats this year. They have a tremendous opportunity to cultivate a “blue wave” nationwide, but run the risk of squandering it if they cannot unite behind a moderate platform that is inclusive and will bring voters of all backgrounders back into the party, rather than simply pandering to the loudest voices and most mobilized factions in 2018.
Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”