Wasted Democratic Advantage?

Well, the 2018 midterms are in two weeks! I am sure all of you are inundated with phone calls, snail mail, emails, social media posts and TV blather about what will happen. As of a few weeks ago, many analyses argued that the Democrats would take control of the House, Senate, and state and local governments in a ‘blue wave’ similar to the massive 2010 Tea Party wins.

Journalist Piers Morgan offers a different perspective. His analysis is brief and well-argued. Furthermore, he leans left, so you can rest assured it is not a hit piece from the opposition.

Mr. Morgan asserts that the constant efforts of the Democrats and their allies to destroy President Trump and the Republicans have largely failed:

“The US mainstream media has become the boy who cried wolf. Their constant collective outrage over every tiny thing that Trump says, tweets or does- much of it driven by commercial self-interest- has had the inevitable effect of diluting the impact of that outrage…..I look at the Democrats today and see a Party that’s learned absolutely nothing about how to beat Trump.”

Outrage is healthy and needed when appropriate. We all can agree that Mr. Trump is a highly controversial figure who does some outrageous stuff. However, his opponents failed to realize the law of diminishing returns. The outrage tactic was very effective at first. But after almost two years of the same outrage, the boy can no longer cry wolf.

Furthermore, the media has to realize how much it used Mr. Trump for its own benefit. Claiming the moral high ground while simultaneously making money off someone who, in your definition, is vile and disgusting, is not persuasive or consistent. Many Americans have realized this.

Mr. Morgan contends that recent events, such as Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the floundering Russian collusion investigation and the migrant caravan heading to the USA, will only strengthen Mr. Trump and his allies. Mr. Morgan is afraid that the Republicans will hold on to both chambers of the Congress and that Democrats have squandered their chances.

I agree that the Republicans have recovered and are in a much better position than a few weeks ago, but I believe that they should still be very worried. For good or ill, a president’s approval rating greatly affects how their party does in the midterms.

It is true that according to one poll, Mr. Trump’s approval rating is higher than President Obama’s at the same point in their presidencies. But one poll is not enough to make an informed opinion.

Thanks to the great analysis from the fivethirtyeight.com website, I will compare Mr. Trump’s average approval rating with several previous presidents at this point, 642 days into the presidency. Then, I will compare which party gained seats in that year’s midterms.

In October 2010, President Obama’s approval rating was 47.1%. The Republicans gained 6 Senators, 63 Representatives and 6 Governorships.

In October 2002, President Bush Jr.’s approval rating was 61.5%. The Republicans managed to gain 8 Representatives and 1 Senator, while only losing 1 Governorship. The fact that the ruling party did so well is likely attributable to a “rally ‘round the flag” effect after 9/11.

In October 1994, President Clinton’s approval rating was 46.6%. The Republicans gained 54 Representatives, 9 Senators and 11 Governorships. This was the year of the “Republican Revolution.”

In October 1990, President Bush Sr.’s approval rating was 52.5%. The Democrats gained 7 Representatives, 1 Senator and both Republicans and Democrats lost 1 Governorship to other parties.

In October 1982, President Reagan’s approval rating was 42%. The Democrats gained 26 Representatives, 1 Senator and 7 Governorships.

Going back to President Truman, the general pattern holds: the higher the president’s approval rating, the better his party does in the midterms. Mr. Trump’s approval rating is not great overall. It is very possible that he will continue to rise slowly in the polls while the Republican party loses badly in the midterms.

This was the case with Mr. Obama. He was a very popular president who was elected twice, yet the Democrats lost seats at every level of government in both the 2012 and 2016 midterms. When he was on the ticket, the Democrats did well. When he was not, the Democrats suffered.

Combining Mr. Morgan’s analysis, fivethirtyeight’s data and historical trends, we see a controversial president whose approval rating is respectable compared to other presidents, but probably not enough to save his party from defeat in two weeks.

It will be interesting to see how the midterms play out. Perhaps the general patterns we have observed will not come true- Mr. Trump is a highly unusual president, and his party could buck a few more trends this November.

Originally published at theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com on October 23, 2018.