Decision 2018: Reading the tea leaves/Another GOP close call

Has Donald Trump sparked a wave of Democratic enthusiasm that will extend into the 2018 midterms and beyond ? That is the question that political pundits have continuously been asking, their curiosity piqued by the consistently low approval ratings that have faced the President since his inauguration (according to RealClearPolitics, his current average disapproval rating is 54-40%).

To objectively answer this question, JMC Analytics and Polling believes that three different data sources can provide unbiased analysis: (1) partisan enthusiasm as measured by primary participation in next year’s midterms, (2) changes in party voter registration, and (3) election results taken as a whole from the seven Congressional elections scheduled this year.

Data source #1 (partisan enthusiasm) unfortunately can’t be analyzed until several state primary contests have been conducted – those contests won’t be until next spring. Data source #2 (changes in partisan voter registration) has curiously shown no perceptible increase in Democratic voter registration between last November and the present, although it’s also important to note that in the short term, voter registration figures will be distorted by the purging of inactive voters from the voter rolls – an action that typically happens AFTER the conclusion of an election cycle (to use a local example, about 45K voters were removed from the voter rolls after the fall elections).

It is the third data source (election results) that seems to indicate some (but not yet a sufficient amount of) movement towards the Democrats. First, a special election race in Kansas showed the Republican candidate running seven points BEHIND President Trump. Then a special election primary in Georgia showed Democrats getting almost exactly (from a percentage standpoint) what Hillary Clinton received in these typically Republican affluent suburbs of Atlanta- that percentage was noticeably higher than Barack Obama’s in 2012, which is why Democrats decided to target this race months ago.

In more rural Montana, a special election was held tonight, and with 99% of the vote in, the Republicans will hold this seat 50-44% in a state that voted 57-36% for Donald Trump – in other words, the Republican Congressional candidate ran seven points BEHIND the President). This Republican victory occurred despite the fact that (1) the Trump administration has been mired in recent controversy over the alleged extent of Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, and (2) there was an incident yesterday where the Republican Congressional candidate body slammed a reporter.

If there is any common theme thus far to these special elections, it’s that the Democratic House candidates have consistently been running ahead of Hillary Clinton, but not enough to capture any US House districts from the Republicans.

Republicans aren’t entirely out of the woods, however: in the April “jungle primary” in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, Republican candidates in the aggregate only received 51% of the total vote. So any movement against the Republicans since April due to recent controversies about the President could theoretically flip that race to the Democrats (the general election is on June 20) – in other words, Republicans don’t have votes to spare in this one instance.

The other reason that Republicans aren’t home free is that there are approximately 20 House Republicans sitting in districts carried by Hillary Clinton, and those Republicans won’t be facing the voters until next November. In other words, if the pattern of Democratic Congressional candidates’ running ahead of Hillary Clinton in those districts were to continue, Republicans could be facing the loss of the U.S. House in the 2018 midterm elections.

So in the short term, the only evidence (other than partisan hype) of Democratic enthusiasm is from the three midterms held so far, but it’s not yet certain that this heightened enthusiasm will translate into a Democratic wave. JMC will have a better picture after the Georgia race on June 20, and after several statewide primaries have been held next year so that he can assess whether a Democratic wave is a real possibility or merely unjustified partisan optimism.