Have President Biden and Democratic members of Congress been handed two big political gifts during this midterm election year in the form of the leaked Supreme Court draft decision rescinding abortion rights and the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas?
I found that argument pretty compelling when the news broke about the likelihood of the Court overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling – at least in terms of igniting some enthusiasm among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters and therefore greater turnout from groups who’ve had little to cheer for many months. And I can see where the outrage understandably sparked by the more recent gun violence (and especially the Uvalde massacre of grade schoolers) might produce the same effect given Republicans’ strong opposition to significant new gun control measures.
There’s certainly enough time between now and the fall for abortion and gun violence to help prevent major Democratic losses – or for Republicans to mess up royally in any number of ways either on these or other issues. But for now, the consensus of the nation’s pollsters is that there’s no sign of significant voter shifts yet, and precious few signs of any voter shifts.
Some of the most revealing surveys on these scores deal with Americans’ views of the state of the nation, and whether it’s improving or worsening. When polls show the latter view dominating, that’s clearly bad for incumbents – this year meaning the Democrats, who narrowly control both the House and Senate. And that’s exactly what’s been happening since the abortion draft was reported the evening of May 2, and since the Buffalo killings took place on May 14.
According to the widely followed RealClearPolitics.com average of surveys gauging Americans’ views of the country’s direction, on May 3, respondents believing the country is on the “wrong track” topped numbers believing it’s on the “right track” by 33.4 percentage points. By May 14, it had grown to 41 percentage points. And as of yesterday, the wrong track’s edge had widened to 47.8 percentage points.
It could well be too early to assess Uvalde’s impact, but since that May 24 nightmare, the wrong track’s lead increased slightly from 45.6 percentage points to yesterday’s 47.8.
Another telling set of polls tries to measure what’s called the generic Congressional vote. It gauges whether respondents say they’re more likely to support a Democratic candidate for Congress all else equal (including who’s running in their own district or state), or a Republican hopeful. Here the results look better for the Democrats. On May 3, RealClearPolitics reports, its average of surveys showed the Republicans with a 4.1 percentage point edge. By May 14, however, the GOP margin had slipped to 3.9 percentage points, and by May 27 (the latest data available), that lead had been cut by more than half – to 1.9 percentage points.
Nonetheless, another polling compilation, by the website fivethirtyeight.com, shows a much more stable Republican lead. In fact, between May 3 and May 6, it remained at 2.6 percentage points, and dwindled only to 2.2 percentage points by May 30. (Just FYI, fivethirtyeight doesn’t track the country’s direction.)
Moreover, some pretty well established conventional political wisdom holds that any lead for the Republicans in such surveys is bad news for the Democrats, because Congressional races are of course held district-by-district and state-by-state, of course, and because both the Constitution’s system for apportioning representation and population trends have created a built-in Republican advantage in recent decades. So history lately teaches that unless the Democrats hold a big generic ballot lead, the November will bring them the cruelest news.
Due to the seemingly endless rush lately of headline developments like those above, and due to what seems to be the American public’s increasingly short attention span, big Republican gains in this year’s midterms may seem especially uncertain. And perhaps the abortion and especially gun control effects just need more time to develop. But the favorable numbers for the GOP on both the country’s direction and the generic ballot seem especially impressive, and encouraging offsetting public opinion trends for the Democrats on other issues that could be at least as important (e.g., inflation and immigration) are getting harder and harder to find.