President Donald Trump spent his New Year’s Eve focused on the coming midterm election year, touting his administration’s accomplishments in an effort to boost congressional Republicans facing tough historic and polling trends.
“Why would smart voters want to put Democrats in Congress in 2018 Election when their policies will totally kill the great wealth created during the months since the Election,” the president, who’s spending the holidays at his Palm Beach, Florida, club, said in a Twitter message on Sunday. “People are much better off now.”
The problems facing Republicans in next year’s elections could be “enormous,” analyst Charlie Cook, whose assessment of the partisan outlook for House and Senate races is carefully watched across the political spectrum, wrote earlier this month.
“The odds of them losing the House are now at least 50-50,” Cook, editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, wrote in a blog post Dec. 19.
Trump’s own lagging poll numbers add to the headwinds faced by every president halfway through his term. A RealClearPolitics average of nine surveys between Dec. 12-29 put the president’s approval at 40 percent.
Of the 21 midterm Congressional elections held since 1934, all but three saw the party occupying the White House lose seats in the House of Representatives, according to data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
And those losses can be large. On average, the president’s party lost 27 House seats in midterm elections between 1934 and 2014, and the average first-term loss was 25 seats. In 2010, midway through President Barack Obama’s first term, Democrats lost 63 House seats.
As of today, Democrats need to win 24 additional seats to gain control of the House after the 2018 elections.
The trend in mid-term Senate elections also bodes poorly for Republicans, though that trend is less stark than for the House and could be blurred because Democrats have so many seats to defend — 26 — out of the 34 races in 2018.
In the 21 midterm elections from 1934 through 2014, the party that held the White House lost an average of four Senate seats, according to data from the American Presidency Project. The party of the president gained Senate seats in just five of those 21 elections.
A recent poll showed that heading into the 2018 mid-terms, half of registered U.S. voters would prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress. That was the biggest advantage for Democrats since 2008 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of congressional preference.
Democrats also had an early “intensity advantage” going into the midterms. Some 59 percent said they have a high level of interest in the next round of Congressional races, compared with 49 percent of Republicans, the poll showed. And those who disapproved of Trump tended to do so strongly.
More recently, an Economist/YouGov poll taken Dec. 24-26 showed Democrats up 44 percent to 36 percent in a generic Congressional vote. Democrats had a 40 percent favorability rating against 30 percent for Republicans.
Warning signs for Republicans came in November’s elections, in which Democrats won the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races and numerous down-ballot contests in what some saw as in part a referendum on Trump.
The upset victory by Doug Jones in the Alabama special U.S. Senate election in December also charged up Democratic voters. Jones was the first Democrat elected to the Senate from the deeply Republican southern state in a quarter-century. Support for his opponent, Roy Moore, slipped after he was accused of preying on teenage girls when he was in his 30s, even though the former judge had vocal backing from Trump heading into the election.
The president regularly references the stock market in his comments, and on Sunday made the impossible-to-verify claim on Twitter that “If the Dems (Crooked Hillary) got elected, your stocks would be down 50% from values on Election Day.”
Trump tested out a line at a recent fundraiser — “how’s your 401(k) doing” — in a bid to bind his presidency to the rising stock market and voters’ pocketbooks.
But only about 45 percent of private-sector workers participate in any employer-sponsored retirement plan, and the lower-income workers prominent among Trump’s political base are the least likely to hold money in such an account.
“The GOP’s best shot to hold Congress is to convince Americans that Trump’s pro-business policies and the Republican tax-cut bill are responsible for the growth seen since the election,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said in an email.
Trump’s low approval rating will help define the midterm races, which are partly “a measure of presidential popularity,” Sabato said.
“That is precisely what will give the GOP heartburn all the way through November,” he said. “Many voters will want to limit and roadblock Trump. Voting Democratic is the way to achieve that.”