Republicans: the more popular the more in trouble?


Two sets of numbers, seemingly contradictory:

Forty-five percent of Americans now have a favorable view of the Republican Party, a nine-point gain from last September’s 36%. It is the party’s most positive image since it registered 47% in January 2011, shortly after taking control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. Forty-four percent give the Democratic Party a favorable rating.

The parity in Republicans’ and Democrats’ favorable ratings marks a change from what has generally been the case since Barack Obama’s election as president in November 2008. Republicans have usually been rated less positively than Democrats over this time, with the Republican Party’s favorability rating for the last decade averaging 39%, compared with the Democratic Party’s 44%.


Contrast with this:

Six weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats hold a 12-point lead in congressional preference among registered voters, with nearly six-in-10 saying they’d like to see significant change in the direction President Donald Trump has been leading the country, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The results suggest a political environment where Democrats have the clear advantage in their pursuit to win back control of Congress in November.


So the Republicans are now viewed more favourably than the Democrats, but are set to get trashed in mid-terms, losing the control of the Senate and possibly the House – what gives?

Of course, there is no necessary contradiction between supporting the Republican Party in general or specifically under the titular leadership of Donald Trump and thinking that the Congressional Republicans are weak and a waste of space, having been successfully pursuing neither the classical conservative or the Trumpian agendas. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see, no matter how hopeless the GOP-dominated Congress is, how the increasingly left-wing Democrats will be better for America when in control.

Another possibility is that the polls, including the NBC/WSJ one, are wrong. They have consistently shown the Democrats leading in the mid-terms, but mainstream media polls usually under-represent the Republicans. Besides, pretty much all the polls showed Hillary winning in 2016, many with near certainty. Maybe the country is full of “shy Trumpers” who deny his name three times to pollsters but pull the lever for him in the privacy of the polling booth. We will know soon enough but I would not necessarily put much money on it.

I’ve touched on the GOP’s electoral prospects a few days ago, wondering why, if the economy seems to going very well and the public and business confidence and satisfaction being up, this does not seem to be translating into support for the Republicans. Bloomberg expands on this mystery:

The Rust Belt states that provided an election night shocker two years ago — delivering the presidency to Donald Trump — could hand Democrats crucial wins in the midterm elections.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump won in 2016 by a total of less than 80,000 votes to put him over the top in the Electoral College count, are looking less like Trump country this year, as Republicans trail Democratic opponents.

The shift illustrates the year’s challenging political landscape for Republicans. Even with a booming economy and record stock market — typically benchmarks of presidential success — the party’s chances of keeping control of the U.S. House have dropped in recent weeks. Trump’s vulnerabilities even threaten the party’s prospects of holding the U.S. Senate, long considered thought safe from Democratic takeover this year.

In 2016, Republicans made major inroads in the Rust Belt and the Upper Midwest when Trump ran up larger margins among rural voters than Republican Mitt Romney had four-years earlier. Trump flipped four states in the region that backed Barack Obama for president in 2012: Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. A fifth, Minnesota, came as close to going for a GOP presidential candidate in 2016 as it had since 1984.

The stakes in those states remain high: they collectively are hosting five Senate races, as well as five House contests rated as tossups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take the House and two to win the Senate.

The search for the explanation is not easy:

John Brabender, a Republican strategist who served as a senior adviser to former Pennsylvania senator and 2016 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, said people shouldn’t be surprised that Republican candidates in Rust Belt states are struggling.

Trump only very narrowly won there and those states have been heavily Democratic in recent history. Plus, Brabender said, Trump was competing against a deeply unpopular candidate in Clinton.

“Unfortunately for Republicans this year, she’s not on the ballot,” he said. “Being pro-Trump may not equate to being pro-Republican.”

People find it easier to be motivated against than in favour. This makes the opposition Democrats’ job easier. The left in 2018 is voting against Trump by voting against the Republicans in Congress. The Republican supporters, on the other hand, are asked to vote against a more amorphous left: socialism, identity politics, open borders, #resistance, pussy hats – all the madness. Which will only get worse if the Democrats win Congress. Which in turn might give Trump a second term. Or so his supporters would hope. The problem for the GOP in 2020 will be that Trump will no longer be running against the arguably worst candidate the Democrats have fielded in a generation. But will Trump be running?