In a strong economy, independent voters count most mid-term

In a strong economy, independent voters count most mid-term
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Democrats need to flip only a couple dozen seats to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. History alone suggests they’ll win more than that. The average number of seats lost by the party controlling the White House in the first midterm election is 10 more than needed.

However, we’re not living in ordinary times. Traditional “rules” have gone out the window in the era of Donald Trump tweets.

Today, there’s argument over whether the old James Carville axiom about what drives voters — “It’s the economy, stupid” — still holds.

There’s little argument the economy is booming. The Fed’s biggest problem seems to be keeping the economy from overheating.

Unemployment has dropped to less than 4 percent. Among African-Americans and Hispanics, it’s at all-time lows. More than 3 million jobs have been created since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE took office.

GDP growth for the past quarter was over 4 percent and is on track to exceed 3 percent for the year, a level never obtained in the eight years of the Obama administration.

The NASDAQ and S&P 500 are at all-time highs. The Dow is over 26,000 and within striking distance of its high-water mark set earlier this year.

Pure data, especially stock prices, are not the best indicator of future voter behavior. It’s not the cold numerical appeal to the left side of the brain that matters in political campaigns; right-brain feeling prevails.

Yet there’s good news for Republicans. Consumer confidence is at a nearly 18-year high. Optimism among manufacturers has hit record highs, and Gallup reports that over two-thirds of Americans believe now is a good time to find a quality job. What’s truly remarkable about that is that it’s the first time the number has exceeded 50 percent since Gallup started asking the question.

Will all that good economic news overcome the historic tendency of voters to opt for “divided government” mid-term in a presidency, when one party controls both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Will the Democrats asking voters to put a “check” on President Trump, by giving them control of Congress, outweigh another historic fact — that the opposition party rarely achieves a 25-seat pickup with the economy as strong as it is today?

The answers may lie in the president’s performance and how off-year voters perceive him.

Historically, when the president’s job-approval ratings have been below water, losses of two dozen seats were the result.

One notable exception to that rule was 2014, when Democrats lost only 13 seats. That fact is offset by their monumental 63-seat loss in the previous (2010) midterm election. There simply wasn’t much lower for them to go.

Politics is always about timing. It usually takes some time for good economic news to affect ordinary daily lives and to sink into the minds of those affected.

The current and growing benefits of the Trump tax cuts and deregulation, a tax cut itself, are just beginning to benefit President Trump’s core constituency and the vital independent swing voters who will tip the scales this fall.

Some argue that the economy has far less impact on midterm elections than on presidential races. There may be some truth to that assertion, but the economy certainly has influence on presidential approval, the factor those same folks will tell you is dispositive.

President Trump’s approval ratings slowly have gained ground. Despite the typical bumps in the chart, he has managed to gain significant ground as the economy continues to grow. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) average now has him at almost 44 percent, and within 10 percent of his disapproval score, a far cry from where things were nine months ago.

However, when it comes to how he’s handling the economy, the results are much different. RCP pegs him right at 50 percent approval, but several surveys rate him higher. Harvard-Harris says he has the approval of 55 percent of those surveyed, a 10-point advantage over his disapproval, on the economy.

During good economic times, voters tend to tell pollsters that there are other issues more important to them. Surveys indicating that the economy isn’t at the top of voter concerns right now reflect that facet.

But voters typically reward incumbent parties for a thriving economy. Democratic and Republican partisans already have their minds made up. How swing-voting independents base their votes will be the deciding factor in many marginal seats.

How they think Trump and the economy are doing is crucial. How deeply they feel the growing economy benefits them will very likely decide whether the Democrats get to their winning number. For them, it really is the economy.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.