Midterm Election Briefing at Washington Foriegn Press Center By John Zogby
John Zogby, regular contributor to the Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research, recently spoke at The Washington Foreign Press Center, providing a foreign press center briefing on the 2018 midterm elections. Below are his comments as provided by the State Department.
I’m going to entitle this, “Do Not Take Your Navy Blue Crayon Out Yet and Color the Political Map Blue.” I’m not ready to make that prediction yet. And blue, of course, is Democrat.
Today – and I can only speak for today with a little more certainty – most signs do point to a very, very good Democratic year in 2018. And I think that the Democrats come into this year with several very large advantages.
First advantage for the Democrats: Historically, new presidents do lose seats in their first off-year election.
Secondly, if we just take where we are right now, there were seven House of Representatives seats that were Republican that have switched to Democrat already this year. Democrats have won seven out of eight, in fact, and even the eighth where a Democrat traditionally, in Georgia, would have no chance whatsoever, it was a very close race. And of course, the Democrats did win a special Senate election in Alabama. So that’s the second advantage, that the Democrats are winning.
The third is, if you look at California, where there were seven Republican House races and Democrats just needed to get on the ballot and be in the top two, Democrats achieved that. And so they are in a position to take over some, most, perhaps all those seven seats in California.
The fourth advantage: Democrats have many very appealing candidates that are attractive not only to Democrats but also to moderates, without alienating the base. They’ve – in addition to selecting a record number of women to be standard bearers, and not only in – for the House and the U.S. Senate, but in state legislatures as well, they’re choosing military veterans and people who can run with and appeal in a crossover way to more, shall we say, conservative or moderate voters.
The fifth advantage Democrats have is that the Obama coalition, the winning coalition, seems to be alive thus far. Translated, that means that Barack Obama won two presidential elections, putting together a coalition of young, especially young women voters, nonwhite voters, particularly – well, not only Hispanics but also huge numbers of African American voters and Asian voters. So far, we see that that Democratic base, which had been absent in 2010 and 2014, and even to some degree in 2016, appears to be alive and well and energized, at least thus far in 2018.
The sixth advantage that the Democrats have: There’s a huge gender gap, massive gender gap. And as I just mentioned, a record number of women candidates, young women candidates, and young women voters are coming out to vote, and that is a key for any Democratic victory. Add to that the Me Too movement and a sense as if the other side, Republicans should win, that it’s the end of the world as we know it – Democratic women, moderate women are coming out to vote.
And finally, in terms of a Democratic advantage, in every poll that I’ve seen thus far or done thus far, the number one issue is health care. And health care, while Republicans will cite it as an issue too for different reasons, it’s the number one issue for Democrats and it is an issue that many Democratic voters feel is under siege, and with good reason. That brings people out to vote.
Because I’m a two-handed pollster: On the other hand, the Republicans are not down and out just yet. Let’s look at some key Republican advantages coming in, and they’re not insignificant.
The first is, unemployment is at 3.8 percent. Many of us never thought we’d see that kind of number ever again. Doesn’t matter – well, it – obviously it does matter that not all those jobs are good jobs or great jobs or even full-time jobs. The bottom line is America is working again, and the best way to get a better job is to have a job. And record numbers of Americans are working. Wages are up as well, and that is significant.
Now, it all depends how you define wages, but if we use the standard metrics that we’ve always used, wages are going up pretty much every month during this year of – well, late 2017, 2018. The GDP is up. In other words, the barometric readings that we traditionally use to measure the economy, the signs are pointing up.
In addition to that, and this is significant, young people are getting jobs now. And so the 2007, 2008 recession seems to be over. Again, these may not be dream jobs that young people are getting, but they’re getting jobs and now can begin to think of a career or the next step, or for that matter, investments of some sort.
Second Republican advantage is a barometric reading that we pollsters have used that Gallup developed in the 1960s and we all use the very same question: Do you think that things in the United States are going in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track? And 38 percent say that things are headed in the right direction. Now that’s not a good number, but it was 29 and 30, and so that means that it’s gone up 10 percentage points or a third. And there’s a sense, then, at least by more Americans that things are better than they were.
The third advantage that Republicans have is that the President’s job approval rating has solidified, at least for now, in the mid-forties. About 44, 45 percent. You know if you watch the aggregators like RealClearPolitics or so on, you’ll have a range – Rasmussen is up 48, 49, 50; Gallup is down 40, 41, 42. The average is about 44, 45. And I must tell you, in all honesty, and I have – traditionally I have maintained my democratic registration, generally will vote Democrat, but as a pollster I’m more inclined to trust the Rasmussen numbers than I am the Gallup numbers, and that’s simply because I find that Gallup and Pew and a number of the other really well-known pollsters too often underrepresent Democrats in their sampling and that’s just not America. Sometimes they will come out with polls within their sample 24 percent, 28 percent Republican. That’s not the America I know. Those of you who drove out to Virginia, just go anywhere where the grass is green, people have backyards or there’s farms, you’re in Republican country and this is not a 24, 28 Republican. It’s also a nice ride, too. (Laughter.)
The President gets a 50 percent rating on handling the economy, 42 percent on handling foreign policy, and I suspect that his numbers on handling foreign policy are going to go up in terms of public perception.
The fourth Republican advantage – this one’s a little nuanced. We all use that congressional generic number: Who would you vote for today in your congressional district, the Democrat or the Republican? It’s not a meaningless number. In my history of doing this kind of work for almost 35 years now, for Democrats to pick up seats, they need to have a five-point lead in that congressional generic. That’s just the way that the districts are structured. Right now they lead by six to seven percentage points over the Republicans.
The good news is the – for the Democrats is that they lead. The not-so-good news is, that doesn’t measure quite yet into picking up 17 seats to take over the House. To give you an example, when the Republicans won a huge number of seats in 2010, 63 seats, Republicans had an 11-point lead in the polls, which is – if you factor in what the Democrats need in order to pick up seats, that’s like the Republicans leading by 16 points. And so Democrats are not quite there yet.
The fifth advantage the Republicans have, even in this milieu right now – and that’s our Foreign Press Center word of the day, milieu. I don’t often get to use that word. (Laughter.) If you look at the U.S. Senate seats that are in play – Florida, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Nevada, North Dakota, Montana – all of those right now are one or two-point seats. It’s just too close to call. One would think that is – if this is definitely going to be a big Democratic year, those would be big Democratic leads. Those are competitive.
Congress. This is another Republican advantage, believe it or not. Congress gets, right now, an average 17-point percentage positive job approval. 17 percent. Why am I calling this a Republican advantage? Because American voters don’t have faith in either party. So there is a sense out there that I want to throw the bums out, but I don’t know who the bigger bums are. And this is a deeper conversation, but right now suffice it to say neither party has captured the hearts and minds of a majority of voters at the moment.
The last advantage – are their seatbelts that you can put on? (Laughter) The Republicans have real problems to be sure, but there base is consolidating under President Trump. In fact, the most dangerous thing that any Republican can do, it appears, is to criticize his or her own president. Boy did we see that yesterday. Mark Sanford in the 1st District lost his bid to – because he didn't have Trump’s – he not only didn’t have Trump’s support, Trump actively tweeted against him. Think of the words that I’m using, actively tweeted against him. I don’t want to live in this world anymore – (laughter) – actively tweeted against him. All right. I’ll be okay.
But you also saw in Virginia – my God, that was an earthquake – Corey Stewart -- am I allowed to say this guy’s nuts? Yeah, I mean Corey Stewart – I’m not allowed to say that, and I’m not representing the U.S. State Department by using those words. But anyway, Corey Stewart who is – has really run a very disturbing campaign won by backing President Trump.
All right, where do – those are the advantages, disadvantages. Where do we stand today? The best poll that I have seen out thus far is the CBS News Battleground Tracking Poll that came out just about a week ago. And their projection as of now is that, if the election were held today, Democrats would win 219 seats. It takes 218 to get a majority in the House. Republicans would win 216 seats. Now CBS claims there’s a nine-seat plus or minus margin of error. It’s enough just simply to suggest this is just too soon and so many things can happen.
Democrats, according to this poll, as I mentioned, will be driven by healthcare. That is the number one thing by far that voters who lean Democrat say is a determining factor in their voting Democrat. By far it’s healthcare, and Republicans did not help their cause with either Democrats or with moderate voters by just the other day coming out against probably the most popular feature of Obamacare, which is coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
So what else is driving those who say that they will vote Democrat? Income inequality is the second-biggest issue. Education and teachers’ salaries are a big issue. Now, if you’re inclined to wonder, well, that’s a local issue, one of the most powerful unions and largest – among the largest unions in this country, and union means capacity to get people out to vote – are teachers’ unions. And remember, teachers have an average of 28 people that they influence every single day, which in many instances are 28 to 56 parents, and so on. So that – good jobs and then I think importantly, as I mentioned, also the Me Too movement as well is a driving force.
This is a battle not just simply between or about simple numbers, like who’s ahead and who is behind. Remember elections are a battle of intensity. The side that has the most intense support is the side that will be sure that it vote – its vote comes out. Right now, these are factors – health care, Me Too, income inequality – that could bring Democrats out.
Interestingly, and this is a troublesome sign for the Democrats in the CBS poll, when those leaning Democrat were asked, “What is motivating you more than anything else to vote Democrat. Is it because you’re voting for the Democratic Party?” 51 percent said yes. Or, “are you voting against Donald Trump?” 49 percent said they’re voting against Donald Trump. Now, in a minute, I’ll explain why that’s potentially troubling – well, I’ll tell you right now, in fact. If the economy continues to – in an upward spiral, unemployment kind of settles itself where it is right now, wages continue to go up, young people continue to get hired, that could dampen some anti-Trump feeling, that could dampen some enthusiasm for turning out to vote against Trump. Just some things to watch.
How about Republican voters? According to the CBS poll, their number-one issue is immigration. You see that some really want to resolve this issue, and right now, it’s not being resolved. Jobs and wages are another issue. When Republican-leaning voters were asked why are they voting Republican, 73 percent said they’re voting for Trump and GOP, 27 percent voting against the Democrats. Very interesting.
All right. So in conclusion, here are some things that we know today. Number one, surprise, Donald Trump is the disruptor-in-chief, and he’s unconventional, erratic, anti-elite, and frankly, that is working for him right now. The best thing that can happen to him, and I learned this – anyone ever hear the name Saul Alinsky? The famous community organizer in Chicago, who – and one of his most famous proteges was a young man named Barack Obama who was a community organizer. But Saul Alinsky, as he organized communities for change, used to relate to the principle that, when you’re the little people and you’re holding up signs and they’re anti-elite, you start to win once the elite bites back and starts attacking you. And so this is a message to your colleagues like at CNN and New York Times: Instead of whining and complaining and giving blanket 24-hour coverage to “See what he said today, see what he did today,” ignore him for a day. Ignore him for a day. But Trump is the disruptor-in-chief and it is working. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
Number two, we continue to see it: His approval ratings within his own party are high. If you look today, 87 percent of Republicans give him a positive approval rating. What’s that mean? At this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had a 79 percent rating among Democrats. The only president at this point in time in the presidency to outscore Donald Trump was George W. Bush at 95 percent, and of course, by this point in time, we had launched the war in Iraq. Ronald Reagan wasn’t this high. Jack Kennedy wasn’t this high. The GOP is the party of Trump.
So here’s what I say in conclusion: Look for the Democrats to pick up seats in November. I’m not sure yet that they pick up 17 seats to win back the House. And that’s it. Thank you.
John Zogby (@TheJohnZogby) is the founder of the Zogby Poll and Zogby companies, including John Zogby Strategies, and author of We Are Many We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in the 21st Century America.