Since early May, American politics has been rocked by the kinds of major shocks that I can’t recall coming so fast and furiously since at least the Nixon impeachment summer of 1974, and maybe since the spring of 1968 — when the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive led to Lyndon Johnson’s withdrawal from that year’s presidential race,and was followed by the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King and New York Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy (for starters).
The last two months of this year alone have been marked by the leaked draft and final release of the Supreme Court ruling that ended nearly fifty years of a national right to an abortion, two appalling mass shootings (one racially motivated in Buffalo, New York, and one of school children in Uvalde, Texas), and televised Congressional hearings that have bombarded the nation with reminders of both the disgraceful January 6th Capitol attack and former President Donald Trump’s reckless behavior that day.
On net, these developments would seem to damage Republicans’ chances of an midterms election landslide of epic proportions this November. As I’ve noted, even though the abortion developments could motivate heavily Republican anti-choice voters, too, the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision at least gave Democrats one reason for optimism where none could plausibly be detected – because everything we know about public opinion tells us that Americans decisively favor keeping Roe. (The same arguments hold for mass shootings, IMO, as do poll results on gun control).
But at the end of May, I reported the absence of polling evidence that the guns and abortion issues were turning the tide. Now, a month later, they — along with the January 6th Committee hearings — still haven’t shown any midterms lifesaving potential for the Democrats. In fact, some survey measures suggest that the Republican position has strengthened somewhat.
As often, my sources are the averages of poll results compiled and updated on an ongoing basis by RealClearPolitics.com. Let’s start with an important indicator of midterm outcomes – presidential popularity.
The Politico.com scoop on the Supreme Court abortion draft leak appeared the evening of May 2, so May 3 seems like the baseline to use for measuring how the aforementioned news shocks have changed midterms prospects.
On May 3, according to the RealClearPolitics average, President Biden was underwater in terms of job approval ratings by 10.5 percentage points. As of today, the share of Americans admiring his performance in the White House stood at 38.4 percent and the share giving him thumbs downs was 56.9 percent. So his net negatives have nearly doubled, to 18.5 percentage points. In addition, that gap is only slightly narrower than the record 19.5 percentage points registered just yesterday.
And worse for the President, and his party: His popularity has deteriorated both because his approval ratings are as of today (38.4 percent) just off their all-time low and the disapproval numbers (56.9 percent) are just shy of their all-time high (both also set yesterday).
Pollsters also offer respondents a “generic Congressional ballot” – asking them whether they’d be likelier to cast ballots for Democratic or Republican candidates for House and Senate whoever the specific candidates on their ballots are. Although it deals with the elections that will actually determine which party winds up with majorities on both ends of Capitol Hill, its readings need to be viewed with caution because Congressional elections aren’t national but state-by-state and district-by-district. In fact, because of the Constitution’s approach to apportioning Senate and House seats, Republicans enjoy a built-in edge here, meaning that at least when it comes to the generic ballot, Democrats need to be winning by several percentage points to justify election day optimism.
According to RealClearPolitics, they’ve made some progress since May 3, but still have a ways to go.
The day after the Supreme Court leak, Republicans led the Dems by this measure by 4.1 percentage points. By May 29, that margin had shrunk all the way down to 1.5 percentage points. But as of today, though, it’s back up to 2.2 percentage points, and has remained stable overall since June 5.
Finally, and perhaps most discouraging for the Democrats given their efforts to portray most Republicans as backers of an extremist, Trump-y “ultra MAGA” agenda, the former President continues to lead Mr. Biden in polls asking about a head-to-head match-up in 2024. The website doesn’t post averages over time – just a single average figure that shows a Trump lead of 1.8 percentage points as of today.
Changes revealed in individual surveys can be interpreted as either favorable or unfavorable to President Biden depending on your baseline starting date. Specifically, in late April (just before the Politico leak), two polls showed him leading his predecessor by one and two percentage points. So since then, the President has lost ground. But a mid-May survey reported a three percentage point Trump lead. So since then, Mr. Biden has gained ground, though he’s still behind.
What does seem fair to say, though, is that no polls report any burgeoning public disenchantment with Trump since recent events that can credibly be argued have placed him, his views on gun control, and the Supreme Court Justices he appointed, in more negative lights. And revealingly, the latest set of Biden-Trump election results, in this Emerson (Massachusetts) College survey, showed Trump with his biggest edge (five percentage points) since late March – even though it was conducted the day of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive anti-Trump testimony before the January 6th Committee, and the day after.
All of these trends could easily reverse themselves in the months remaining before November – if only because more politically charged shocks could easily be in store. In addition, voters’ views on the recent shocks could grow more intense and likelier to influence their voting. (Here’s some new evidence for that proposition.)
But what seems most striking to me at this point is how stable the polls have been despite the recent string of arguably pro-Democratic bombshells – and consequently how dim their November prospects remain.