Some encouraging signs from recent polling
According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s approval rating remains stuck at a dismal -9.2, with only 42.5 % approval. This is pretty much par for the course since March 19, 2017, day 59 of his administration, when Trump’s approval reached 42.5% and it hasn’t gone above that number since. Interestingly, despite the general chaos in his administration right now, this rating is actually relatively high for him compared to his historic ratings.
The nationwide approval ratings and Trump’s occupancy of the low 40 percents has been much talked about. What has also been talked about is the wide geographic divergence in his approval. For example, according to the tracking poll at Morning Consult, Wyoming, West Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee all give him 60% or higher approval. By contrast, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts and California all give him a 60% or higher disapproval rating. His home state New York, by the way, along with Washington state are just below that disapproval at 59%. I guess to know Trump is to… well, you know.
All this has been widely reported. What is more relevant to the 2020 election are how he is doing in the states he narrowly won in 2016. There, the story should be sobering to Trump and his supporters. In Michigan, he currently posts a 52–43 disapproval rating, almost matching Wisconsin’s 53–43. Pennsylvania is similarly negative with a 51–46 negative rating. Had Trump lost these three states in the last election, Hillary Clinton would now be President. To add to Trump’s worries, remember that the Democrats essentially swept the statewide offices in all these states.
There are some other states that Trump won that could pose a challenge to him. Arizona, for instance, where a relatively weak Democratic Senate candidate defeated a quite impressive Republican one, disapproves of Trump by 49–47%. Shockingly, Iowa disapproves of Trump by 52–44, nearly matching Michigan and Democratic-leaning Colorado. Unsurprisingly, Ohio is tied at 48, and Florida is nearly so (49–47 approval). Even North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas (where a Democrat was elected Governor), North Dakota and Utah all post approval ratings of net +5% or less. And remember, these are all states Trump won two years ago. There is no comparable state where Clinton won that Trump enjoys a net positive (or even nearly so, as in within 5 points) approval rating.
The point is that if the Democrats can simply hold onto the states Clinton won two years ago and then pick up Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — which seems pretty doable right now — they are in good shape. Unless things change dramatically, which is pretty hard to imagine right now, Trump will be playing defense in all kinds of places he should be walking away with the race, and he will have precious few opportunities for pick-ups.
While gerrymandering will still hinder Democratic efforts to maintain control of the House of Representatives and at the state level, having Trump at the top of the ticket will make it even harder for Republicans down-ballot to run away from him. As a result, his negativity should cascade downhill, hurting Republicans running even in the gerrymandered districts.
So now we come to the Senate, which has been the Republicans’ saving grace thus far. Democrats survived the 2018 election, barely, which is amazing given their terrible map. Although far from ideal, the 2020 map looks better, especially in light of the Morning Consult polling results.
If we assume that Trump’s negative rating will be a drag upon candidates down-ballot, as happened in the 2018 midterm, then there are a number of candidates for re-election who could be in trouble. Currently, the Republicans hold a 53–47 edge in the Senate when we count the two independents as Democratic votes, which makes sense since those two Senators, Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) caucus with the Democrats. As a result, if the Democrats win the White House, which seems promising, they need to win net three seats to gain control of the Senate.
Can they do it? Democrats start off with a disadvantage as Doug Jones, who won the special election in Alabama next year, is likely to be defeated. It took a miracle for him to win in the first place. It would take another for him to hold onto the seat. Otherwise, no Democrats seem endangered. As a result, Democrats really need to flip four seats in 2020.
There appear to be some opportunities. In Arizona, John McCain’s former seat will be open, and the Democrats likely have a good shot at taking that one. In Colorado, Cory Gardner is a Republican sitting in a seat in a Democratic state where Trump has a -10 disapproval rating. I would say that seat is a potential Democratic pick-up. As a result, Democrats need two more.
In Maine, Susan Collins is sitting in a seat in a clearly Democratic state where Trump has a -9 net disapproval rating. In the past, she has been able to survive by characterizing herself as independent. Based upon her recent performance, however, she will have a harder time doing so in 2020. Although she is generally well-liked in a relatively small state, she might be in trouble.
It does get harder from there. Perhaps the best Democratic opportunity might be Iowa, which has of late performed Republican, but has a surprisingly negative view of Trump. Joni Ernst is a first term Republican who won a relatively narrow race in 2014. This may be the Democrats best opportunity for their fourth seat.
Of course, a lot can change as the race goes on. The Kavanaugh hearings might have hurt a few vulnerable Democrats in 2018 like Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Donnelly (IN), but macro events might inure to the Democrats’ advantage this time. Most likely, the economy appears to be slowing, and this change will create even more drag upon Republicans. But we really don’t know what will be the final environment in 2020.
And we cannot overstate the importance of having quality candidates. Perhaps the Democrats biggest challenge here is that many of their potential Senate candidates are currently mulling over Presidential campaigns, such as John Hickenlooper, the popular outgoing Governor of Colorado, who would be a nearly unstoppable candidate for Senate there. And Republicans have at times nominated unelectable candidates, such as Roy Moore who Doug Jones defeated in Alabama. And who can forget Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) challenger in 2012, Todd Akin, who separated rape into “legitimate” or illegitimate. We can but hope for a few more candidates like that on the Republican side.
So the bottom line is cautious optimism for the Democrats. If they can take the Presidency and both Chambers of Congress, they should move quickly to undo much of the damage Trump and his cronies have caused. They should also take steps to ensure that democracy is respected and everyone is allowed to vote.
Democrats get ready
Will Rogers famously said that he was not a member of an organized political party; he was a Democrat. In this day and…
Our goal should be to have aggressive primary campaigns, but once primary season is over, we need to come together to defeat Trumpism. If much was at stake in 2018, and it was, 2020 is the opportunity to set things right.
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