Things seem to be going quite well across the United States. The economy is growing consistently at a very healthy rate (eat your heart out, Europe), unemployment keeps falling – it’s at record lows for African-Americans and Latinos – to levels where employers are increasingly struggling to fill vacancies, including in the booming resources regions like Texas and North Dakota. Manufacturing jobs that President Obama said were never coming back are coming back. Business confidence is the best in nearly two decades. Polling done for the website Porch shows both the blue collar and white collar workers very optimistic about the future:
And yet, for all this rolling good economic news, Republicans look like getting swamped by Democrats in the mid-term elections, likely losing control of the House and possibly even the Senate. This is not an unusual phenomenon; the party in the White House generally sheds Congressional representation in the off years. And America in 2018 is not like America in 2002, a year after 911 but months before Iraq. Still, for all that you would expect Trump’s party to be doing better than it seems to be doing. Conversely, you would expect the anti-Trump party to be doing less well, considering how far left it has been moving (so far left that even Jimmy Carter is concerned). So what gives?
It seems to me, an uneducated observer from afar, that both parties are struggling to go beyond their hard core base. People who love Trump and voted for him still love him and will still vote for him – but not many more as Trump’s approval hovers between 45 and 48 per cent and no higher – and people who love Hillary and voted for her still love her and will vote for anyone who’s not Trump. But of the two groups I think Democrats have been slightly more successful in broadening their coalition of outrage. And slightly more successful is enough. The largest section of the electorate – those who don’t vote and the swinging voters – are so turn off by the ugliness, the bitterness, and the hysterical nature of politics at the moment that they are not any more inclined to rejoin the electoral process. It’s probably some of the Democrat-leaning voters who stayed away in 2016 because the choice was so dispiriting that are now having second thoughts after two years of President Trump. It would be strange if the overwhelmingly negative coverage of Trump in the mainstream media was having no impact whatsoever on potential voters.
For the left, of course, Trump is Satan or Hitler or both. He could be healing the sick and giving every American child their own unicorn but it wouldn’t change a thing among the tens of millions Democrats who see him as any combination of an idiot, white supremacist, creep, racist, misogynist, crook and traitor. It doesn’t matter whether he is or isn’t any of these things; politics is all about perceptions and beliefs. But while Trump gets record satisfaction ratings among Republicans (I suspect that might be the case because a certain number of people generally on the right who can’t stand Trump no longer consider themselves Republicans), I’m not seeing him making much inroads amongst the undecided section of the electorate, even those who are seemingly benefiting from his policies. This might have to do with his style, which is jarring even for many of his supporters. It might be something else.
All this is taking place on the presidential level, but the elections of course are individual races in the states and the electoral districts, where Trump is not on the ballot but local Republicans, the good, the bad and the ugly, are. The fact that the Republican Congress has achieved very little in the past two years to further either the classical Republican agenda or the Trump agenda to the extent it differs makes conservatives and their allies wonder just what the heck. Sure, the tax cuts got through but both the government and the government debt keep growing at an unsustainable pace. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still the law, and the Wall is still not there. However much people might be disenchanted by the Washington Republicans, it’s difficult to see how staying at home and seeing Democrats take control of one or both chambers is going to make things better for America. But here we are.
There are still weeks to go and the polling is not as reliable a barometer of public sentiment as it used to be even ten years ago. There is no reason for anyone to get too cocky just yet, but you would have to prefer to be in Democrats’ shoes at the moment as they prepare to stick that collective shoe up Trump’s backside.