This is the polling equivalent of the moment in “Jaws” when Roy Scheider is chumming the water and the shark finally breaks the surface, giving him his first look at the scale of what he’s dealing with.
Democrats are going to need a bigger boat.
I know Joe Biden doesn’t drink but he should consider starting. Hoo boy.
Technically, ABC/WaPo has had at least one poll in its history that looked worse for Democrats than this one does. That came in 2010, the year of the red tsunami, when they found Republicans ahead 53/40 on the generic ballot. But that poll was conducted late in the cycle, in early September 2010 when voters were beginning to make up their minds about the midterms. And that was a poll of likely voters, reflecting the growing probability that GOP turnout in November would be much higher than that of Democrats.
Today’s poll comes a full year out from Election Day. And it’s a poll of registered voters, a group that normally skews more Democratic. (The September 2010 ABC/WaPo poll had Republicans up just two points among RVs.) At this stage of the 2010 cycle, most pollsters either had Democrats ahead on the generic ballot or Republicans on top by four points or so. And in 2014, which brought more big gains for Republicans in Congress, the party never touched +10 on the generic ballot in any public poll.
Bottom line: A red wave of this magnitude has never been observed this far out from a coming election. And ABC/WaPo’s new numbers aren’t a crazy outlier either. Recently Emerson had the GOP up seven points on the generic ballot while USA Today saw Republicans ahead by eight.
But it gets worse for Dems. The GOP may lead by 10 nationally but that national number includes many overwhelmingly blue districts, of course. What happens when you focus only on purple Senate battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin)? Big yikes:
Sub-40 approval ratings for Biden overall and on the two key issues equals a *23-point* Republican advantage on the generic ballot in swing states. Ad remember that the shining lesson from last November is that pollsters tend to underestimate support for GOP candidates, probably because a meaningful share of righties in the U.S. now refuse to answer the phone when a pollster calls. It’s conceivable that the gory numbers in this survey are underestimating the extent of the Republican lead.
But wait. It still gets worse for Biden:
Look at that margin in the suburbs. That’s the stuff Democratic nightmares are made of, especially after watching Glenn Youngkin flip Virginia. (Nearly 50 percent of suburban voters “strongly” disapprove of Biden’s job performance.) The margin among Latinos is also anemic by Democratic standards. Josh Kraushaar points out that they took 69 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2018 midterms. They’re fully 20 points off the pace today among a demographic they depend on heavily.
Is there any good news for Dems? Sort of:
Voters like the White House’s two infrastructure bills. They just don’t like them enough to spare them from an unholy beating on the generic ballot or Biden from a 41 percent approval rating. (Independents solidly support both bills yet just 35 percent approve of Biden.) In fact, the perception of Biden as a failure has taken root to such a degree that only 35 percent of Americans say he’s accomplished “a good amount” even though he passed a massive COVID relief bill this spring and just notched a bipartisan win on roads-and-bridges infrastructure. Maybe that number will tick up if/when he gets the Build Back Better reconciliation through, but I wouldn’t count on it. Fully 59 percent in the ABC/WaPo poll say they’re concerned Biden will do too much to expand government, up six points since April. Another $1.75 trillion in spending could make the Democratic electoral predicament worse.
Biden’s basic problem is that the things voters expected him to accomplish were (1) getting COVID under control, (2) stabilizing the economy, and (3) restoring a sense of “normalcy” post-Trump to American politics, not launching some Great-Society-style suite of welfare initiatives. He’s 0 for 3 at the moment. If I’m right, passing Build Back Better won’t help.
His chief (only?) asset at this point is time. Barring the appearance of a new variant, it’s a cinch that we’ll be in a better place with respect to COVID next November than we were this November. The global economy also has a year to sort out its supply-chain problems, which should ease inflation. If the virus is in steady retreat next summer and the economy is booming, with tons of new hires, Democrats can hold down their losses next fall. But realistically, that’s the best-case scenario for them — a red wave, not a red tsunami. The dynamics in midterm elections that favor the out-party coupled with the Dems’ bare majorities in Congress make it impossible to imagine that the House won’t flip and difficult to imagine that the Senate won’t. The only thing that could plausibly avert that would be some major new crisis fueling a rally-around-the-flag bounce to Biden’s job approval.
Or, perhaps, SCOTUS tossing Roe into the trash, galvanizing liberals nationally.
One more data point for you, this time in honor of Glenn Youngkin:
School closures were a huge issue in Virginia but might not have the same salience nationally. Just a quarter of Americans think their local district has been too strict with COVID protocols. On the other hand, with 81 percent believing parents should have “some” influence over their child’s curriculum, there won’t be a Democrat within 100 miles of a competitive state or district next fall willing to echo Terry McAuliffe’s infamous debate line, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” As such, the GOP may struggle to nationalize the education issue — but unless inflation and COVID abate, it won’t matter. Next November will either be a red wave or, if this polling holds, a red wedding.