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A look at the polls ahead of the 2018 midterm elections shows tighter Democratic lead

  • November 05, 2018

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Democrats have midterms momentum, but remember 2016 and don’t get comfortable, says columnist Paul Brandus.
USA TODAY

The data from the final polls on the 2018 election are rolling in, two days before ballots are cast in one of the most divisive and closely watched midterms in recent memory. 

Overall, the numbers point to the same likely outcome that polls have indicated for months: that despite a strong economy with Republicans in control of Capitol Hill and the White House, Democrats are favored on generic ballots. But the Democratic lead in a generic race has tightened over a few months ago. 

A poll from ABC News and The Washington Post released Sunday found 52 percent would choose a generic Democrat over a generic Republican for Congress, while 44 percent would choose the Republican.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found a similar result, with 50 percent of likely voters favoring a Democratically controlled Congress and 43 percent favoring a Republican one. Among all registered voters, the race tightens further, to a 6-point lead for Democrats.

As always, the election result will depend on voter turnout and both polls found high enthusiasm and interest in the election among voters.

Eighty percent told the ABC/Washington Post pollsters they are “certain to vote” or had already voted, up from 65 percent in the 2014 midterm. Among registered voters, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 70 percent are very interested in the election (rating their interest a nine or 10 on a scale from one to 10), up from a consistent 61 percent in the past three midterm elections. 

The closing numbers reflect a steady improvement for Republicans from the end of 2017, when the RealClearPolitics polling average had President Donald Trump’s party trailing Democrats by 13 points on a generic congressional ballot. Now, the average Democratic lead has been cut to 7 points. 

“It has closed. It is a more competitive race,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff told NBC News. “But for Republicans, it feels slightly short of where you’d want to be for a national election.”

The ABC/Washington Post poll found that Democrats had dropped sharply among demographic groups they are counting on for support. While the last two of their polls found women favoring Democrats by margins of more than 20 percent, that lead has dropped to 14 points in the most recent survey. And the poll found a huge slide in support for Democrats among independent female voters, from a 33-point edge in October to a two-point lead now. 

The Republican edge among white men without a college education increased from 27 points in October to 39 points. 

The data indicates that voters feel better about the state of the country and the economy than they did in 2017. At the end of last year, only 29 percent of respondents to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said the country was headed in the right direction. That number has climbed to 38 percent, above the 37 percent when Trump took office and the 32 percent at this point in the Obama administration. 

The ABC/Washington Post poll found that 65 percent had a positive view of the economy, up from 51 percent just prior to Trump’s inauguration. That the highest level for the poll since reaching a mark of 70 percent in January 2001.

Trump’s approval rating was at 46 percent in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll with 52 percent of respondents expressing disapproval. Former President Barack Obama was at 47 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval in the same poll at this point in his presidency. Although the president is not on the ballot, 31 percent said they plan to cast their vote to signal support for Trump, while 38 percent their vote will be cast to signal their opposition. 

The ABC/Washington Post was not quite as positive for Trump. Only 40 percent of respondents to that poll gave Trump’s job performance a thumbs up, while 53 percent said they disapproved. 

The ABC/Washington Post poll was conducted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 with a margin of error of +/-3 percent. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted Nov. 1-3 with a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent for registered voters and +/-3.53 percent for likely voters. 

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President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, left, during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Lewis Center, Ohio. John Minchillo, APPresident Donald Trump, right, greets Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., during a rally, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Matt Rourke, AP

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