Some Bright Spots for Republicans But Mostly for Democrats in the Latest Polling

Enthusiasm has increased on all sides

Conservatives and liberals are each taking heart from the latest NBC/WSJ poll. It’s just one poll, of course, and all the regular caveats apply. But the NBC/WSJ data does seem to fall in line in most respects with other polling and data showing a predictable sorting of the electorate by partisanship with increasing enthusiasm on all sides.

Fueled by increased enthusiasm from women, Latinos and young voters for the upcoming midterm election, Democrats hold a 9-point lead among likely voters over Republicans in congressional preference, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

But nearly two weeks before Election Day, the same poll also shows President Donald Trump at his highest job rating yet as president, as well as Republicans with their largest lead on the economy in the poll’s history.

Some on the left had hoped that Republicans would remain dispirited until election day, but it seems likely that the Kavanaugh confirmation process solidified GOP sentiment and united the right around their preferred brand of wealthy white male victimization politics. A strong economy by traditional metrics is also buoying Republican prospects and the president’s approval rating (though it is still, on average, significantly lower than President Obama’s prior to the 2010 election.)

But the challenge for Republicans is that Democrats are unprecedentedly enthusiastic for a midterm election, and that several crucial demographics are shifting hard away from Republicans, particularly women and college-educated voters.

McInturff also says that likely voter models — narrowing a poll to only the voters most likely to participate — historically have favored the Republicans in off-year and midterm elections. But in this poll, Democrats enjoy a larger lead among likely voters due to increased enthusiasm from key parts of their base.

The percentage of women, Latinos and young voters expressing high interest in the midterms — those registering either a “nine” or “10” on a 10-point scale — has increased by double digits from their average in the past NBC/WSJ polls this year.

Individual polling in the House races has shown a slight shift in the Republicans’ direction from the rout it was previously shaping up to be, but the trend is still heavily in favor of Democrats. FiveThirtyEight still gives Democrats an 85% chance of taking over the House.

And enthusiasm is particularly high among ethnic minorities and young people:

And crucially, Democrats are more likely to turn out than Republicans.

All of which means that both sides have something to cheer about. If you’re a conservative who distrusts polling because Donald Trump overperformed expectations in 2016, and who believes you hold a silent majority of the country, you probably feel confident Republicans will hold the House and significantly your lead in the Senate.

But if you’re a Democrat there is excellent reason to believe that these trends presage a blue wave in keeping with the results of special elections since Trump’s election.

It’s a safe bet that the latter is correct, but much will still depend on voter mobilization.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.