At some point Congressional Democrats have to start wondering if things could have turned out any better for them had they won the 2016 Presidential Election. I’ve already said once that it couldn’t be worse for Republicans, and except for the hundreds of judges Donald Trump is appointing all over the country, things are really going Democrats’ way. Congressional Democrats will reap the benefits of Trump’s record low approval rating and compulsive terrorizing of his own party members come the 2018 midterm elections.
When Trump said he would “drain the swamp,” I didn’t think he was talking about members of his own party. If that was his goal, it’s the only thing he’s done really well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s approval rating in Kentucky is 18 percent. He won’t be back, but a Democrat won’t take his seat either. That’s okay as long as Democrats preserve their seats most likely to switch parties (there are eight) and pick up at least three seats. The seats most likely to be within reach are in Nevada, Arizona or Texas.
The Democrats are going to gain seats in the House. Congressional minorities pick up seats when their opposition occupies the White House. 270ToWin has 14 seats as tossups, and every tossup Democrats win after the first will be a House seat gained.
While Democrats winning the 24 seats to take a House majority is a longshot, FiveThirtyEight says House Democrats have a “historically strong position.” Despite Republicans holding the incumbency advantage by holding more House seats, FiveThirtyEight pits Democrats’ chance at taking back the House majority at 50/50.
The prediction is based on the House generic ballot, where voters are asked for which party they’d vote in a House election. Democrats lead that generic ballot by seven percentage points. In 2008, when they led the generic ballot by nine points, Democrats picked up 23 House seats. When they led by 11.5 points in 2006, Democrats picked up 30 House seats.
So House Democrats have to hope Trump’s approval rating keeps decreasing, which would result in an increased margin on the generic ballot and more Democratic Representatives elected in 2018. And it’s not crazy to think Trump’s approval rating could reach the record low of 22 percent set by Harry Truman before the 2018 midterm elections.
Only George W. Bush managed to raise his net approval rating going into his first midterm election, and it took 9/11 for that to happen. The other eight newly elected Presidents of the Presidential approval rating era lost at least 17 points before their first midterm elections. So barring a terrorist attack unifying the country behind a war, Trump’s approval rating will likely continue it’s downward trend.
Trump has been shedding .038 percentage points per day since starting his Presidency with a record low 45 percent approval rating. As of this writing, there are 437 days until the 2018 midterm elections. At Trump’s current rate, his approval rating would be at least 16 points lower than his current 37 percent approval rating, setting a new record low at 21 percent.
Even with his current approval rating, Trump would hold the record low for a net approval rating of nearly -20 percent (37.1 approval rating minus 56.9 disapproval rating). The three Presidents who went into their first midterm elections with disapproval ratings at least as high as their approval ratings ended up losing the most House seats, but none of them even touch the travesty that is Trump’s net approval rating.
Barack Obama’s House Democrats lost 63 seats when his net approval rating was just -2 percent. Bill Clinton’s House Democrats lost 54 seats when Bill Clinton’s net approval rating was zero. Ronald Reagan’s House Republicans lost 27 seats when his net approval rating was -4 percent.
So while there isn’t a direct correlation between negative net approval ratings of the President and the number of House seats lost, negative net approval ratings certainly result in House seats lost. And with 60 to 80 Republican-held House seats that could be competitive in 2018, and 209 Democratic challengers for House seats raising at least $5,000 by June 30 this year compared to the 28 Republicans who did so, Democrats are in position to surprise us like Trump did in 2016. The only thing that might stop them, according to history, is a terrorist attack.
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