Back in 2021, Harry Enten of CNN noted in the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial race, how many voters disapproved of the President who were undecided in that contest. In November, Virginia voted for a Republican for Governor and gave the party back control of the state house (the Senate was not up). The same day, Republicans swept local offices across the country and gained seats in the New Jersey House (including a trucker defeating the longtime Speaker of the House).
While several months later, the President was no more popular, the type of analysis seen above was forgotten. Instead, it focused largely on Republican candidates (Oz, Masters, Walker) and how problematic they were. Questionable polls were used as evidence how high a hurdle the party had to at least retake the House.
Then came Dobbs and the summer. Dobbs supposedly changed the entire trajectory of the midterms. A number of special elections in Nebraska, Alaska, New York and Minnesota where the GOP underperformed in all but Alaska were further used as proof the GOP was suffering (never-mind, short of Nebraska, every race had major caveats and Democrats won only in races where turnout was far below midterm levels). Combined with summer polling which saw Democrats take back the lead on the generic ballot questions started popping up about whether this midterm really was going to be different?
Then we come to now. Republicans have retaken the lead on the generic ballot (at least in the RCP average) and polls in several battleground states (Senate and Governor) have shown the party actually is well positioned to flip the Senate (sorry not sorry Nate Silvers). That is just head to head match-ups.
When it comes to who voters would prefer control Congress in these states the GOP actually is ahead. Most analysis ignores this facet under the inference Trump supported nominees are particularly toxic compared to normal Republicans and that is why they are behind (except history tells us legislative control preference predates head to head results, not the other way around).
More ominously for Democrats was a Gallup poll which found Republicans actually were a larger share of voters in the country than Democrats. This has only happened twice and both times it predated a wave. Further, in survey after survey, the issue landscape favors the GOP. While abortion does generally rank as a top three to five issue and Democrats have a commanding lead on the issue, the economy and crime continually rank as the top two and Republicans dominate.
This makes sense and all points to the GOP doing well. Not even FiveThirtyEight can debate the GOP is favored in the House because of these factors. Somehow the Senate is different (don’t get me started on their models).
But, looping back to the beginning of the article, what Enten noted in 2021 is still prevalent. In both Arizona and Pennsylvania’s Senate races, contests the GOP needs to win to gain a Senate majority, Democrats narrowly leads. But, the surveys show undecided voters solidly disapprove of the President. This means they either sit out the midterms or vote against the President’s party’s candidate.
This facet, noted last year, continues to be ignored. Ditto in contests like North Carolina, where sparse polling has shown a tied race but both candidates mired in the low 40s. That would be great, except for the fact the President is well below majority approval in the state and undecided voters disapprove of the President. Yet, Democrats are debating whether to throw money into the contest.
Whether this portends a red wave, a red ripple, or Democrats defying expectations remains to be seen. But it should not be ignored. Yet, it is. What is making Democrats lead or look competitive in the Senate is based on undecided voters who majority disapprove of the President. That is not a strong basis to maintain a Senate majority or have a relevant minority in the House.