WASHINGTON – The political landscape for the midterm elections favors Democrats in general and women candidates in particular, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, raising the prospect of significant perils for President Trump with the next Congress.
At the traditional Labor Day start of the campaign’s fall sprint, those surveyed said by 50 percent-39 percent that they were more likely to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district, not the Republican one. That double-digit advantage, if it holds, would probably enable Democrats to win control of the House, giving them the power to launch investigations and even consider impeachment of the president.
“I feel that the good people need to have their voices heard in this election,” said Erica May, 34, a political independent and stay-at-home mom from Hood River, Oregon, who was among those polled. Trump “has made it OK to say and do things that were generally felt to be inappropriate or immoral or just rude.”
Both supporters and opponents of Trump called the stakes in November higher than usual.
If the GOP loses power, Gregory Bailey, 58, a Republican from Oklahoma City, warned in a follow-up interview, “The Democrats are just going to stifle getting any positive legislation through by wasting their time trying to impeach Trump.”
Analysts calculate that Democrats need an advantage nationally of about eight percentage points to flip at least the 23 House seats that would bring a majority, David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said. The 11-point edge in the new poll may understate the risk for Republicans because undecided voters – 10 percent in this survey – historically and in special elections this year have broken against the party in power.
By 58 percent to 34 percent, those surveyed said they wanted to elect a Congress that mostly stands up to Trump rather than one that mostly cooperates with him.
The president’s job-approval rating was 40 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove. Those who “strongly disapprove” of how Trump is handling his job hit the highest level of his presidency in the USA TODAY poll, at 44 percent. That’s more than double the 19 percent who said they “strongly approve.”
The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken by landline and cell phone Aug. 23-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Women candidates shatter records
The number of women candidates on the ballot are shattering records, statistics maintained by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University show. An unprecedented number of women already have been nominated for the House, for the Senate, for governorships and for state legislatures.
“This year we’re not just breaking records; we’re blowing through them,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the center. In House races, 226 women have won nominations so far, dwarfing the previous record total of 167 women in 2016. Another 251 women are seeking nominations in states that haven’t yet held their primaries.
Opposition to Trump has prompted some women who had never run before to seek office, and they have been more successful than in the past in winning nominations. Fifty percent of the Democratic nominations for the House in open seats, those without an incumbent running, have been won by women, Wasserman said. When at least one man and one woman were seeking the nomination in those contests, women have won 69 percent of the time, a success rate he called “breathtaking.”
“The 2018 midterm elections could be described in one word: R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. He said the #MeToo movement and alarm about Trump’s record and rhetoric have contributed to the sharp rise in women running.
Female candidates are finding friendly terrain.
In the new poll, three of four voters said they had no preference between voting for a male or female candidate for Congress. But those who did have a preference said they would rather vote for a woman than a man, 16 percent to 7 percent. The sentiment is not bipartisan, however, and the female candidates nominated this year have been disproportionately Democrats.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, one in three, 29 percent, preferred to vote for a woman, just 5 percent for a man.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, 10 percent preferred to vote for a man, just 3 percent for a woman.
There’s a gender gap and a generation gap on the issue as well: 21 percent of women but just 9 percent of men would prefer to vote for a female candidate. Those 18 to 24 years old would prefer a female candidate over a male by 24 percent to 7 percent. But those 65 and older would narrowly prefer a male candidate, 11 percent to 9 percent.
Why the preference?
By far the reason most often named by those who prefer a female candidate is the belief that she is “more likely to care about the issues that matter most to me.” Women also were seen as “more likely to shake things up in Washington.”
“As of right now, it’s primarily dominated by males,” said Benjamin Jones, 21, an independent from Queens, N.Y. “It’s good to have a change, get a different perspective.”
By far the reason most often named by those who prefer a male candidate is the belief that men are “less emotional” and that they are “better leaders.”
Diversity on the ballot
Muslim Americans are seeking elective office this year in the largest numbers since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001. They include two Democratic nominees now favored to become the first female Muslims in the House, from Minnesota and Michigan. In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist is the first openly trans person to win a major party nomination for governor.
The USA TODAY/Suffolk survey found little open bias against African American and female candidates; just 1 percent and 2 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t vote for a qualified candidate who was black or female. But 18 percent said they wouldn’t vote for a qualified congressional candidate who was Muslim, and 20 percent wouldn’t vote for a qualified candidate who was transgender.
Mitchell Palm, 31, a Republican from Hollywood, Calif., who works in marketing, said he couldn’t vote for a Muslim. “I’m not a big fan after 9/11, personally,” he said. He said his Catholic upbringing would make it reluctant for him to vote for a trans person. “I wouldn’t want anyone confused about their sexual orientation running part of our government.”
Bonni Davis, 61, a Democrat and an attorney from New York City, said a candidate’s religion and sexual orientation was irrelevant to her vote. “I don’t care what anybody is as long as they represent my values,” she said.
A handful of issues were dominant on voters’ minds.
Asked to name the most important issue that would affect their vote for Congress, 15 percent cited immigration and border security; 10 percent health care; 10 percent the economy and jobs. No other issue broke into double digits, including issues that routinely command headlines.
Seven percent, a majority of them Democrats, cited impeachment as the most important issue. Less than 1 percent — just four people of the 1,000 surveyed — named the Supreme Court despite the current debate over confirmation of Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
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