Report: Key House races hinge on voters’ opinions of Trump

New poll numbers might bolster predictions of a blue wave in Congress in the midterm elections. A newly released report from the Monmouth University Polling Institute shows not a lot of daylight between Representatives in reliably Republican districts and their Democratic challengers. Its Director Patrick Murray sat down with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: Patrick, you did what looks like an analysis of polls in eight districts that routinely vote Republican by double digits. Is that right, and what did you find?

Murray: Yes, so we took a look over the summer at eight different congressional districts that are both suburban, rural. They all vote Republican, though, and it includes a couple in New Jersey — New Jersey 3rd and New Jersey 11 were part of this analysis that we did. We found the race there basically tied, and that’s over the summer.

Aron: Where?

Murray: Across the board. I mean, some races the Democrats doing a little better, some races the Republican’s doing slightly better. But when you consider that you would expect an average of a double digit margin for the Republicans there, and in the summer, we’re finding that overall the Democrats have basically evened the playing field before we start the fall campaign. That says a lot about, you know, what problems the Republicans are in nationally, as well as here in the state of New Jersey.

Aron: What does it say about Democratic intensity?

Murray: So far, we’ve seen a higher level of interest among Democratic voters and including independents who are voting for Democrats. We see a bigger gap between people who strongly disapprove of Donald Trump versus those who strongly approve of Donald Trump in these districts, even though overall Donald Trump has a slight positive rating across the board. It’s the people who have a strong opinion of Donald Trump in these districts tend to be more negative about him than positive.

Aron: What does the analysis say about whether the election hinges on Trump? Whether it’s a referendum on Trump?

Murray: Well, there’s no question that the election is a referendum on Trump, or else these races would not be close. Because we are looking at races, when we ask voters in these eight districts about the individual candidates, they really don’t have a strong opinion about those candidates unless there’s an incumbent in the race. Right now, the playing field is all about Trump, and basically the mood of the country driven by that. Now, that’s not to say that every one of these Republicans is going to lose, because now voters are going to start turning their attention to the actual candidates and decide whether the Republican candidate, the quality of the Republican candidate, outweighs their feelings about Donald Trump in the country as a whole, and the Republican Party as a whole. So we’ll see how that is, but the real thing that we’re finding here is that the fact that any of these Republicans are in trouble right now says a lot about the mood of the country.

Aron: What does it say about the likelihood of the House flipping Republican to Democrat?

Murray: It says that Democrats are going to pick up seats, but we don’t know yet whether they’re going to be enough seats to win this election. Because right now it’s on the precipice, and it can go either way.

Aron: Does it say that in the two New Jersey races that are included, the 3rd District and the 11th District, that those generally Republican seats are in trouble?

Murray: Yeah, I think so. One thing that we’re seeing is that there is stronger mood for the Democrat in the 11th District — we had Mikie Sherrill ahead in the poll that we did there. In the 3rd District, where Tom MacArthur is battling to hold onto his seat, we have basically a tied race with Andy Kim there. And one of the reasons is because there’s difference in enthusiasm. The 3rd District probably has the largest number of Trump supporters — core Trump supporters — of any district in New Jersey. But, they’re being offset by Democratic enthusiasm in the western part of that district — in the Burlington County part of that district. So, Tom MacArthur has to really excite these Trump supporters to say, “It’s important to come out and vote for me as a surrogate for Trump,” but that’s part of the reason why the Democrats are coming out to vote against him, because they see him as a surrogate for Trump. So, he’s got to kind of distance himself and make Andy Kim kind of a candidate that you really don’t feel you can support or identify with.