Vot­ers set to ren­der fresh ver­dict on Trump

Poll: Democrats lead­ing in House, GOP finds foot­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BALZ AND SCOTT CLE­MENT

Head­ing into Tues­day’s crit­i­cal midterm elec­tions, Democrats re­tain their ad­van­tage in the bat­tle for the House, but Repub­li­cans could be buoyed by in­creas­ingly pos­i­tive as­sess­ments of the econ­omy and by Pres­i­dent Trump’s harsh fo­cus on the is­sues of im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der se­cu­rity, ac­cord­ing to a new Wash­ing­ton Post-ABC News na­tional poll.

The poll finds that reg­is­tered vot­ers pre­fer Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the House over Repub­li­can can­di­dates by 50 per­cent to 43 per­cent. That marks a slight de­cline from last month, when Democrats led on the generic con­gres­sional bal­lot by 11 points, and a big­ger drop from Au­gust, when they en­joyed a 14-point ad­van­tage.

Democrats’ also have a 51-to44 per­cent ad­van­tage among likely vot­ers iden­ti­fied by The Post. That seven-point mar­gin, which is in line with other polls taken in the past two weeks, puts Democrats roughly within range of what they prob­a­bly will need in the over­all na­tional vote for the House to cap­ture a ma­jor­ity from the

Repub­li­cans, based on cal­cu­la­tions from pre­vi­ous midterm cam­paigns.

How­ever, there is no way to trans­late the na­tional num­bers into the dis­trict-by-dis­trict com­pe­ti­tion that will ul­ti­mately de­cide who con­trols the House in Jan­uary. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to cap­ture con­trol of the House. Pub­lic and pri­vate polls of in­di­vid­ual races con­ducted by can­di­dates, po­lit­i­cal party com­mit­tees, the me­dia and oth­ers show many con­tests still within the mar­gin of er­ror.

Repub­li­can can­di­dates in com­pet­i­tive House dis­tricts, al­most a third of which backed Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016, threaten to be dragged down by the pres­i­dent’s un­pop­u­lar­ity. Pres­i­dents with ap­proval rat­ings as low as Trump’s have gen­er­ally suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant losses in midterm elec­tions. But this pres­i­dent has shown over time that his­tor­i­cal sta­tis­ti­cal bench­marks don’t al­ways ap­ply to him.

Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing among all adults stands at 40 per­cent, hold­ing steady from a poll in early Oc­to­ber and slightly higher than his 36 per­cent rat­ing in Au­gust. Those who dis­ap­prove ac­count for 53 per­cent. Among reg­is­tered vot­ers, Trump’s ap­proval is 44 per­cent, with dis­ap­proval at 52 per­cent, the best mar­gin among this group dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

All midterm elec­tions are a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent, and Trump has made this elec­tion about him­self more than most pres­i­dents have, in­sist­ing in his cam­paign ral­lies that vot­ers should ap­proach the elec­tion as if he is on the bal­lot. But elec­tions also tend to re­flect views of the econ­omy, and Tues­day’s pro­vides a test of the ten­sion be­tween per­cep­tions of the pres­i­dent and per­cep­tions of the econ­omy. Rarely has there been as great a dis­tance be­tween views about the econ­omy and a pres­i­dent’s rat­ings as there is this year.

On Fri­day, the La­bor Depart­ment’s monthly em­ploy­ment re­port pro­duced a string of pos­i­tive num­bers: an­other month with the un­em­ploy­ment rate at 3.7 per­cent, the low­est in half a cen­tury; 250,000 jobs added to the work­force; and wages post­ing the big­gest in­crease in al­most a decade and faster than in­fla­tion.

The Post-ABC News poll was con­ducted Mon­day through Thursday, the day be­fore the em­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics were an­nounced, and records the most op­ti­mistic at­ti­tudes about the econ­omy in nearly two decades, with 65 per­cent of all Amer­i­cans rat­ing the state of the econ­omy as good or ex­cel­lent and 34 per­cent of­fer­ing a neg­a­tive as­sess­ment. The last time op­ti­mism ranked so high was in Jan­uary 2001.

Among reg­is­tered vot­ers, 71 per­cent say the econ­omy is good or ex­cel­lent, up from 60 per­cent in Au­gust. Those who give the econ­omy pos­i­tive rat­ings fa­vor Repub­li­can can­di­dates for the House by 54 to 40 per­cent, wider than the 49 to 42 per­cent mar­gin in Au­gust.

Sim­i­larly, more than 8 in 10 adults say they are ei­ther do­ing about as well fi­nan­cially as they were be­fore Trump be­came pres­i­dent (60 per­cent), or are do­ing bet­ter (25 per­cent). Just 13 per­cent say they are not as well off. That 13 per­cent fig­ure is also among the low­est in 18 years; the last time it dropped that low was in the fi­nal year of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, when a boom in tech­nol­ogy fu­eled a rising econ­omy.

Repub­li­can can­di­dates have tried to em­pha­size the econ­omy in their cam­paigns, but they have some­times been over­whelmed by pres­i­den­tial rhetoric and by sharp at­tacks by Democrats on the is­sue of health care, which have put them on the de­fen­sive.

The pres­i­dent has used the fi­nal weeks of the midterm cam­paign to ham­mer on im­mi­gra­tion more than any other is­sue. He has warned of threats to the coun­try from a car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans who are in south­ern Mex­ico and head­ing north. He has or­dered fed­eral troops to be de­ployed to the bor­der in re­sponse.

Ear­lier last week, Trump pro­moted an in­cen­di­ary video high­light­ing an un­re­pen­tant un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant who killed two law en­force­ment of­fi­cials. The video sought to make him a face of the mi­grant car­a­van, even though he is in prison, and to blame Democrats for his acts. Democrats in turn de­nounced the ad as racist.

The pres­i­dent’s fo­cus on im­mi­gra­tion ap­pears to have raised the im­por­tance of the is­sue in the minds of his party’s vot­ers ahead of Tues­day’s vot­ing. Since a PostABC News poll three weeks ago, the share of Repub­li­cans say­ing im­mi­gra­tion is “one of the most im­por­tant is­sues” in their vote has grown from 14 per­cent to 21 per­cent. The share of Democrats say­ing im­mi­gra­tion is a top is­sue has dropped from 23 per­cent to 11 per­cent.

When all vot­ers were asked which party they trust more to han­dle im­mi­gra­tion, Democrats were slightly fa­vored by 47 to 42 per­cent over Repub­li­cans. But on bor­der se­cu­rity, which has been the prin­ci­pal fo­cus of the pres­i­dent, Repub­li­cans are more trusted by 49 per­cent to 39 per­cent.

Those who rank im­mi­gra­tion as one of the most im­por­tant is­sues in the elec­tion fa­vor Repub­li­cans over Democrats by 12 points when choos­ing a generic con­gres­sional can­di­date, though the gap among this group is ten­u­ous given its large er­ror mar­gin. For those who say bor­der se­cu­rity is one of their top is­sues, Repub­li­cans lead Democrats by 42 points on the House vote.

Those groups who have shifted to­ward Repub­li­cans on the is­sues of im­mi­gra­tion since early Oc­to­ber in­clude white men with­out col­lege de­grees, vot­ers over age 65 and vot­ers who live in ru­ral ar­eas — all sta­ples of the coali­tion that elected the pres­i­dent two years ago.

Democrats hold a lead al­most as large — 39 points — among those vot­ers who rank health care as one of the sin­gle most im­por­tant is­sues. They lead by 69 points among those for whom global warm­ing is one of the most im­por­tant is­sues and by 46 points among those who say re­duc­ing di­vi­sions in the coun­try is a top is­sue.

Over­all, 17 per­cent of vot­ers con­sider health care and re­duc­ing the coun­try’s di­vi­sions as among the sin­gle most im­por­tant is­sues — about the same as the econ­omy (15 per­cent) and im­mi­gra­tion (14 per­cent). When look­ing more broadly at is­sues vot­ers say are at least “very im­por­tant,” health care the econ­omy top the list at 78 per­cent and 76 per­cent, re­spec­tively, fol­lowed by re­duc­ing po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions, im­mi­gra­tion, taxes, bor­der se­cu­rity and global warm­ing.

Pres­i­den­tial ap­proval cor­re­lates closely to how peo­ple vote and the poll un­der­scores that re­la­tion­ship, with 87 per­cent of those who ap­prove of Trump say­ing they sup­port Repub­li­cans for the House and 88 per­cent of those who dis­ap­prove say­ing they pre­fer Demo­cratic House can­di­dates.

An­other mea­sure of the po­lar­iza­tion of the elec­torate is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and vot­ing in­ten­tions. In this sur­vey, 94 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents fa­vor GOP House canand di­dates, and an iden­ti­cal per­cent­age of Democrats and Demo­cratic-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents say they fa­vor can­di­dates from their party.

Gen­der and ed­u­ca­tion con­tinue to be di­vid­ing lines in the elec­torate. On the vote for the House, men are split 47 to 46 per­cent in fa­vor of GOP can­di­dates, while women back Demo­cratic can­di­dates by 54 to 40 per­cent. White women with col­lege de­grees fa­vor Demo­cratic House can­di­dates by 16 points and white men with col­lege de­grees back the Democrats by 14 points. Among whites with­out col­lege de­grees, men fa­vor Repub­li­cans by 39 points and women by 12 points.

Young vot­ers ages 18-39, who his­tor­i­cally have turned out at much lower rates in midterm elec­tions than older vot­ers, show a wide pref­er­ence for Democrats, by 58 to 35 per­cent. Those be­tween age 40 and those over age 65 are nearly evenly di­vided.

Among those who say they are cer­tain to vote or al­ready have voted, Democrats en­joy a nine­point ad­van­tage, while those who say they prob­a­bly will vote or that the chances are “50-50” tip to­ward Repub­li­cans by four points, with 10 per­cent un­de­cided.

The Post-ABC News poll was con­ducted Oct. 29-Nov. 1 among a ran­dom na­tional sam­ple of 1,255 adults, with 65 per­cent reached on cell­phones and 35 per­cent on land­lines. Over­all re­sults have a mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror of plus or mi­nus three per­cent­age points; the er­ror mar­gin is 3.5 points among the sam­ple of 1,041 reg­is­tered vot­ers and four points among the sam­ple of 737 likely vot­ers.

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/SHUT­TER­STOCK

Laura Kelly, Demo­cratic can­di­date for Kansas gov­er­nor, ral­lies sup­port­ers at a field of­fice for Demo­cratic House can­di­date Sharice Davids in Over­land Park.

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