GOP heading for midterm wipeout as 'blue wave' scenario gives Democrats a 12-point generic ballot lead: NBC-WSJ poll

Key Points
  • The new NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey, taken six weeks before Americans head to the polls, shows Democrats leading Republicans by 52 percent to 40 percent for control of Congress.
  • If it holds, that 12 percentage point margin would suggest a "blue wave" large enough to switch control of not just the House but also the Senate.
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Congressional Republicans are facing a mid-term election wipeout fueled by voter resistance to President Donald Trump, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey, six weeks before Americans head to the polls, shows Democrats leading Republicans by 52 percent to 40 percent for control of Congress. If it holds, that 12 percentage point margin would suggest a "blue wave" large enough to switch control of not just the House but also the Senate.

"The results could not be clearer about making a change in direction from Trump's policies," explained Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who helps conduct the NBC/WSJ survey. "Once again, Americans are hitting the brakes in a mid-term."

In each of the last three off-year elections — 2006, 2010 and 2014 — voters have flipped control of one or both houses of Congress away from the incumbent president's party. This year, the provocative behavior some voters accepted from Candidate Trump in 2016 has overshadowed everything else, including falling unemployment, surging growth and rising stock values.

"Donald Trump's presidency has been about one thing: Donald Trump," said Peter Hart, McInturff's Democratic counterpart on the survey. "He makes himself bigger than the economy. In 2018, he has become Typhoid Trump, infecting most GOP candidates he supports."

What makes that conclusion all the more striking is that Trump's job approval rating, now 44 percent, has inched five points higher since January. But 52 percent disapprove, and loyalty to Trump among his core supporters — white men without college degrees, rural residents, those aged 50-64 — is not lifting GOP candidates, as voters focus on their November choices.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, September 20, 2018. 
Mike Segar | Reuters

The pollsters' so-called "generic ballot" pitting the two parties for the House illustrates the GOP predicament most broadly. In 1994, before seizing control of both the House and Senate from Democrats, Republicans led on that question by four percentage points; in 2006, before Democrats seized them back, they led by 10 points.

Their 12-point national lead today includes a margin of 30 points in House districts Democrats already hold. That means some of those anti-Trump votes will merely translate into larger victories for Democratic incumbents without producing any of the 23 additional seats the party needs to make Nancy Pelosi speaker again.

But the best evidence of vulnerability for Trump and his party lies in the seats Republicans already hold. The survey shows Republicans leading by only a single percentage point in those districts.

Overall, a 42 percent plurality of voters say they want to place a check on President Trump, compared to 31 percent who aim to help him achieve his objectives. Even in Republican-held districts, 38 percent want a check on their party's president.

Moreover, Democrats have generated wide advantages among key swing groups within the electorate. The poll shows them leading by 31 percentage points among independents, 33 points among moderates and 12 points among white women.

Among white college graduates, a group Republicans carried by nine points in 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans now trail by 15 points. Among white women without college degrees, a group Republicans carried by 10 points in 2014, Republicans now trail by five points.

"The Republican coalition is, at the moment, unhinged," said McInturff, the Republican pollster. The party's erosion among women voters heightens the potential risk for Republicans in the ongoing furor over sexual assault allegations against Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh.

The telephone survey of 900 registered voters was conducted September 16-19. It carries a margin for error of 3.27 percentage points.

It doesn't preclude the chance that Republicans will rebound to some degree by Election Day. If history is a guide, the Democrats' generic ballot advantage may narrow somewhat. That would improve chances for Republicans to hold their two seat advantage in the Senate. The outcome there rests with battles in Trump-friendly states.

Democrats still voice greater interest in the election than Republicans, a harbinger of superior motivation to turn out. But that Democratic edge is smaller than earlier in the year. Two strongly Democratic groups— Latino voters and those under 35 — are showing unusually low interest in the election.

But the electoral landscape remains "very precarious" for the GOP, McInturff concluded: "The ways in which you can create a Congressional Republican majority are hard to see."

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Key Points
  • Earlier this year, Republicans felt growing encouragement. The strong economy helped lift Trump's approval ratings into the low- to mid-40s and narrowed the Democratic advantage in the national surveys.
  • But now Trump's unpopularity provides Democrats a path to victory for both chambers.