Midterm polling data favors Democrats — in moderation

Midterm polling data favors Democrats — in moderation
© Anna Moneymaker

In less than two months, Americans will go to the polls to cast their votes in the midterm elections. Headlines indicating a blue wave have run rampantly, and many Democrats are confident in their chances to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

While this year’s midterm cycle has been a particularly fraught and vexed period, the interpretations of polling data have remained largely consistent: The Democrats will likely flip enough districts to win a solid majority in the House. 

Models from the polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight go so far as to say that the Democrats have a 70 percent chance to take back the House, which would translate to a net gain of 32 seats, well above the 23 districts needed by Democrats to take control.

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To be sure, the Democratic Party must quell some of the more imperious stances that assume the Democrats will take total control of Congress in November. A lot can happen nationally in the weeks leading up to November and, more likely than not, a lot can change in individual districts.

One of the best barometers we have for predicting a blue wave is the RealClearPolitics generic congressional ballot. While constantly changing, based on the latest public polling data, the RealClear average presents a trustworthy aggregate of all the polls and gives a more precise sense of the mood of voters, instead of cherry-picking one poll.

When the Tea Party movement took hold in 2010, RealClearPolitics indicated just a two-point lead for Republicans on Sept. 23, 2010, and then the margin increased significantly over the next six weeks to a 10-point lead, on average, for Republicans by the week of the election. Republicans would go on to flip 63 House seats from Democrats.

Currently, the RealClearPolitics average shows an 7.8-point lead for Democrats, with the often accurate YouGov/Economist and Rasmussen polls showing a slightly lower 4- or 5-point lead for Democrats. There also are polls from Quinnipiac and NPR giving the Democrats a double-digit lead of 12 points to 14 points.

These are indeed rosy numbers for Democrats. However, they will likely not translate to flipping the Senate.

The FiveThirtyEight model gives Republicans a 70 percent chance to keep control of the Senate, and there is even reliable data illustrating that some incumbent Democratic senators are at risk of losing their seats.

In particular, Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPoll: Six Dems lead Trump in Florida match-ups Poll: Six Dems lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (D-Mo.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampLobbying World Pro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA On The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight MORE (D-N.D.) are all up for reelection in states that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE won in 2016. And, with their party’s platform making a pronounced shift to the left, these incumbents Democrats in red states will struggle to appeal to the more moderate swing voters needed to win.

Congressman Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements House GOP secures last-minute change to gun bill Trump tells FEMA not to send more money to California for forest fires MORE (D-Calif.), co-chairman of the House’s Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats, said in a statement last week, “For too long, Washington has taken a one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy.” Costa added that “What works for big cities doesn’t always work for rural areas,” a concept that Democrats must heed in their efforts to at least maintain their numbers in the Senate.

While there are many voters who so detest Trump that they will vote for any Democratic candidate, millions more Americans want to know what candidates stand for — not just who and what they stand against.

The challenge for Democrats now will be for moderates and progressives to come together and clearly articulate practical, achievable and effective alternatives to the Trump-Republican agenda that has been the standard in Washington for the past two years.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”