Some of the data:
- Presidential approval remains in the low 40s and mired in negative territory. Strong disapproval is 10 to 15 points larger than strong approval in polls that ask the intensity feelings (Gallup, May 2018). Historically, low presidential approval tends, although not always, to accompany major losses for the presidential party.
- Congressional ballot question is at 7 points in the RealClearPolitics average and substantially higher in some recent polls. CNN/SSRS poll of August 12 has an 11-point spread in favor of the Democrats. Reuters/Ipsos and Quinnipiac have it at 9 points. Nate Silver’s analysis states that at least 8 points will be needed to overcome anomalies in voter distribution in House seats for the Democrats to win.
- Midterms, especially the first for a new president, tend to be restraining. Opponents are enthusiastic and supporters less impassioned than two years earlier. Ronald Reagan in 1992, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010 lost an average of 47 seats among the three of them. George W. Bush was an exception due to 9/11 making the election a referendum on fighting terrorism and national unity.
This also is an especially tough year on incumbents. The President is better at primaries
than general elections and at dividing his party than defending it, so an establishment
incumbent suffers from both being associated with a controversial president and possibly
not having his full support.
- Special elections have given Democrats only one victory. But, out of nine elections, they have benefited from a 10-point shift toward them even while losing. If that trend holds up in the midterms, they could win more than 60 competitive and near competitive seats.
- A strong economy is a Republican advantage, but as the economy has improved, voters have shifted attention to other issues, such as health care, that benefit Democrats and immigration that stirs up the base of both parties. Unfortunately for Republicans, Trump often steps on good news with controversial tweets.
- District by district analyses by Silver, Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato agree that the odds are favoring Democrats to gain at least 23 seats and possibly more. Silver puts the chance at 3 out of 4.
Many Republican supporters of the President (although few in the Republican establishment and officeholders) have taken to accept the analyses and argue losing the House will be good for the President’s re-election. He will win voter sympathy, like Bill Clinton in 1998, as the Democrats ramp up multiple investigations and impeachment.
But, the President doesn’t agree. He has committed to 40 campaign appearances this fall. He believes he can personally hold the Republican House. That’s a good call because, in fact, loss of the House will be a very negative judgement on his first two years, mostly end any legislative accomplishments, drain his political power and embolden the Republican establishment to start putting distance between him and their careers.