Vot­ers pre­fer

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SEAN SUL­LI­VAN AND EMILY GUSKIN sean.sul­li­van@wash­post.com emily.guskin@wash­post.com Scott Cle­ment con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Democrats for the House over Repub­li­cans by the widest mar­gin in over a decade, a Washington PostABC News poll says.

Vot­ers say they pre­fer Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over Repub­li­cans by the widest mar­gin in over a decade, ac­cord­ing to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll — a fresh sign of trou­ble for the GOP ma­jor­ity one year be­fore the midterm elec­tions.

But Democrats’ ef­fort to con­vert wide­spread dis­ap­proval of Pres­i­dent Trump into vic­to­ries in 2018 could be un­der­cut by lower turnout, with Repub­li­cans ex­press­ing just as much mo­ti­va­tion to vote in next year’s elec­tions.

A slim 51 per­cent ma­jor­ity of reg­is­tered vot­ers say that if the elec­tion were held to­day, they would vote for or lean to­ward the Demo­cratic can­di­date in their con­gres­sional dis­trict, while 40 per­cent say they would choose the Repub­li­can.

That’s the big­gest spread in a Post-ABC sur­vey since Oc­to­ber 2006, just weeks be­fore a midterm in which Democrats won back con­trol of the House and Se­nate amid deep dis­sat­is­fac­tion with then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and the Iraq War.

In re­cent his­tory, re­gard­less of the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, Democrats have tended to hold an ad­van­tage on this “generic bal­lot” ques­tion, which does not name spe­cific can­di­dates. On the eve of the 2014 and 2010 midterms, both ban­ner elec­tions for the GOP, Post-ABC sur­veys found Repub­li­cans trailed Democrats by three and five per­cent­age points among reg­is­tered vot­ers, re­spec­tively. Those mar­gins flipped in Repub­li­cans’ fa­vor among the smaller pop­u­la­tion of likely vot­ers who were more mo­ti­vated to turn out. The lat­est Post-ABC sur­vey does not mea­sure likely vot­ers given that the elec­tion is still a year away.

Still, an edge of 11 points, even among reg­is­tered vot­ers, is an en­cour­ag­ing sign for Democrats a year be­fore Trump’s first midterm — an elec­tion cy­cle that his­tor­i­cally has been un­kind to the sit­ting pres­i­dent’s party.

The find­ings come as con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate their brand af­ter months of in­fight­ing and a fail­ure to pro­duce any ma­jor leg­isla­tive achieve­ments de­spite con­trol­ling the House, Se­nate and White House.

This fall, they em­barked on a do-or-die push to re­write the na­tion’s tax laws, be­liev­ing that a suc­cess­ful ef­fort will give them a much-needed po­lit­i­cal boost headed into the midterm cam­paign. If they fail, many in the party fear, they could see their con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties wiped out.

The GOP is also con­tend­ing with un­wel­come dis­trac­tions, most notably an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial Rus­sian col­lu­sion with Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials that has al­ready re­sulted in crim­i­nal charges against three former cam­paign aides.

An early slate of GOP re­tire­ments also has com­pli­cated the party’s ef­fort to re­tain its House ma­jor­ity. In some key swing dis­tricts, Repub­li­cans will not carry the ad­van­tage of in­cum­bency.

The Post-ABC poll finds Repub­li­cans are more uni­fied in sup­port of their party’s con­gres­sional can­di­dates than about Trump’s job per­for­mance. While 76 per­cent of Repub­li­can-lean­ing reg­is­tered vot­ers ap­prove of Trump, a larger 88 per­cent say they would vote for the Repub­li­can House can­di­date in their dis­trict if the elec­tion were held to­day. That level of unity is on par with 90 per­cent of Demo­cratic-lean­ing vot­ers who sup­port their party’s can­di­dates.

Democrats face their own chal­lenges. They have yet to re­solve di­vi­sions stem­ming from the 2016 pri­mary be­tween sup­port­ers of lib­eral in­sur­gent Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) and es­tab­lish­ment back­ers of former sec­re­tary of state Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Those di­vi­sions have come roar­ing back to the cen­ter of the na­tional po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion in re­cent days, as former Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee in­terim chair­man Donna Brazile said in an ex­cerpt from her up­com­ing book that Clin­ton’s team had some day-to-day con­trol over the party early in the cam­paign.

While Democrats are claim­ing en­ergy and mo­men­tum in can­di­date re­cruit­ment and voter ex­cite­ment, which they at­tribute to con­cerns about Trump and his party, they have failed to flip any Repub­li­can seats in the House spe­cial elec­tions con­ducted since Trump was sworn in as pres­i­dent.

The Post-ABC poll sug­gests Democrats’ an­tipa­thy to­ward Trump has not trans­lated to greater mo­ti­va­tion to vote, with an iden­ti­cal 63 per­cent of Demo­cratic-lean­ing and Repub­li­can­lean­ing reg­is­tered vot­ers say­ing they are ab­so­lutely cer­tain to vote next year. The poll shows Democrats’ 11-point vote ad­van­tage shrink­ing to two points among peo­ple who voted in the 2014 midterm elec­tions, un­der­scor­ing one of Democrats’ main chal­lenges next year: gin­ning up enough en­thu­si­asm to pre­vent the spotty turnout of re­cent non­pres­i­den­tial years.

The new poll shows that if Democrats can over­come those ob­sta­cles, they could have a fruit­ful 2018 elec­tion. The last time the party had such a stark ad­van­tage on the generic bal­lot was in late Oc­to­ber 2006. Then, a Post-ABC poll showed Democrats lead­ing Repub­li­cans 54 per­cent to 41 per­cent among reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Con­fi­dence about both ma­jor par­ties is not run­ning high, the poll shows. Barely one-fifth of Amer­i­cans, 21 per­cent, say they have a great deal or good amount of con­fi­dence in the Repub­li­cans in Congress to make the right de­ci­sions for the coun­try’s fu­ture. Democrats fare just slightly bet­ter, with 27 per­cent say­ing they have con­fi­dence in the party, ris­ing to 34 per­cent for Trump.

Trump also re­ceives more in­tensely neg­a­tive rat­ings, with 46 per­cent ex­press­ing no con­fi­dence at all in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing, com­pared with 28 per­cent for both con­gres­sional Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

“When­ever there is a chance to do some­thing against” Trump, said Pa­trick John­son of Cen­ter Point, Ala., “I’ll be there.”

John­son, who iden­ti­fied with the Demo­cratic Party, said he ex­pects that he will vote in the midterm elec­tion.

A Repub­li­can from Clifton, N. J., who only wanted to be iden­ti­fied as JP, said he doesn’t agree with Trump on every­thing, but “if you were to give me a hun­dred ques­tions of him ver­sus an­other Demo­cratic nom­i­nee or po­ten­tial can­di­date for any of­fice, I would prob­a­bly side more with” Trump.

The Democrats have an ad­van­tage over Repub­li­cans when it comes to re­lata­bil­ity. By 46 to 37 per­cent, more say the Demo­cratic Party rep­re­sents their own per­sonal val­ues than the Repub­li­can Party. Just un­der half, 49 per­cent, say Democrats are more con­cerned with the needs of peo­ple like them; 36 per­cent say Repub­li­cans are more con­cerned.

About a month be­fore the 2006 Demo­cratic wave elec­tion, Post-ABC polling found Democrats had a larger 16-point ad­van­tage on the ques­tion of per­sonal val­ues and a 28-point edge on be­ing con­cerned with peo­ple’s needs.

House Repub­li­cans hold a 239-194 ad­van­tage over Democrats in the House, with two va­can­cies. They have been the ma­jor­ity party there since 2011.

Anti-in­cum­bent sen­ti­ment is sim­i­lar to re­cent years, with a 60 per­cent ma­jor­ity say­ing they are in­clined to look around for some­one else to vote for next year. Just over one-quar­ter, 26 per­cent, say they want to re­elect their rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Congress.

While much of the emerg­ing Demo­cratic cam­paign message has cen­tered on crit­i­cism of Trump, nearly half — 47 per­cent — of reg­is­tered vot­ers say the pres­i­dent will not be a fac­tor in their de­ci­sion at the bal­lot box if they vote next year.

Sim­i­lar shares say they are mo­ti­vated to vote for or against the pres­i­dent: 24 per­cent say one rea­son for their con­gres­sional vote will be to show sup­port for Trump, while 27 per­cent say it will be to show op­po­si­tion.

Still, vot­ers’ per­cep­tions of what their votes rep­re­sent do not al­ways cor­re­late with the mes­sag­ing strate­gies po­lit­i­cal par­ties de­ploy, and Democrats are ex­pected to con­tinue to ham­mer Trump and tether con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to his con­tro­ver­sial ac­tions.

Post-ABC polls taken just be­fore the 2010 and 2014 midterms, for ex­am­ple, showed that half or more vot­ers said then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was not go­ing to be a fac­tor in their choice. But Repub­li­cans fea­tured Obama in their at­tacks against Democrats in both elec­tion cy­cles, and exit polling found no Demo­cratic Se­nate can­di­date was able to out­per­form Obama’s ap­proval rat­ing in their state by more than nine per­cent­age points.

Asked if Democrats’ winning con­trol of Congress in next year’s elec­tions would ben­e­fit rather than hurt the coun­try, more see it as a pos­i­tive than neg­a­tive — but opin­ions are not res­o­lute.

Fewer than four in 10 adults, 37 per­cent, say that if Democrats win, the coun­try would be bet­ter off, higher than 26 per­cent who say the coun­try would be worse off. But just about as many peo­ple — 34 per­cent — say it would make no dif­fer­ence.

At­ti­tudes were sim­i­lar over the prospect of a Repub­li­can takeover just be­fore the 2010 midterms. A CNN/ORC poll in Oc­to­ber of that year found 34 per­cent say­ing the coun­try would be bet­ter off with them in power, while 28 per­cent said it would be worse, and 36 per­cent said it would make no dif­fer­ence.

The Post-ABC poll was con­ducted among a ran­dom na­tional sam­ple of 1,005 adults reached by cell and lan­d­line tele­phone Oct. 29 through Nov. 1. Over­all re­sults have a mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.5 per­cent­age points; the er­ror mar­gin is four points among the sam­ple of 884 reg­is­tered vot­ers.

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