Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, writes here about research that suggests midterm elections this year will be more heavily weighted than ever by voters’ evaluation of the president. The question: Do Arkansas Democrats dare rely on Trump’s low rating among voters? It is Arkansas, after all.
“In no previous election,” Gary Jacobson, a University of California political scientist who crunched the numbers, tells me, “has the linkage between opinions of the president and how people are likely to vote been as strong as this time.” Jacobson’s research goes back to the 1930s, before which there was no polling and therefore no ability to compare.
Jacobson, who presented his findings to the American Political Science Association recently and provided me with updated data, found in 93.1 percent of cases this year, voters’ approval or disapproval of the president is correlated with their planned votes for or against the president’s party in House races. That’s an all-time high. It averaged 86 percent in recent elections, 74 percent in the 1980s and 1990s
And it’s more than a casual correlation. Using regression analysis, Jacobson determined that for every percentage point movement in Trump’s job approval rating, support for Republican House candidates in the midterm elections move by 0.75 percentage points — the highest effect ever seen. For Barack Obama, it was 0.50 percentage points. For George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, closer to 0.25 percentage points. There isn’t as much data about Senate voting, but the relationship has been virtually identical.
The difference between Republican and Democratic evaluation of the president is greater than ever (78 points) and party loyalty is greater than ever (90 percent). But there are swing voters.
None of this guarantees a Democratic wave. Gerrymandering and super majorities in urban districts skew the results. Though Democrats lead by 9 points on a generic House ballot, Democrats would need to get from 53 to 55 percent of the vote to pick up two dozen House seats. The Senate possibilities are even worse.
Republicans in competitive races are in a bind. Among independent voters they need to win, Trump is a pariah. But among the Republican voters they need to turn out in high numbers, Trump has 78 percent approval.
Which brings us to the 2nd Congressional District where Democrat Clarke Tucker has an uphill but not impossible race with Republican Rep. French Hill. Tucker has avoided Trump specifically, fearing backlash in the suburban counties where he needs to make some inroads.
For his part, Hill has adopted the path of going after Tucker’s strength — Pulaski County and its heavy black vote. Hill is not going to make many inroads there, but even decreasing Democratic-leaning fervor is a win for him. Thus the sudden injection of the great statuary issue out of the blue by Republican politicians. Every news story about changing out the Arkansas statues in the U.S. Capitol parrots the irrelevant fact that one of the statues to be replaced, that of former Gov. and Sen. James Clarke in the U.S. Capitol is the great-great-great-grandfather of Clarke Tucker. James Clarke was a white supremacist. It is not coincidental that this issue is suddenly commanding Republican-inspired headlines. Nice, too, that Hill could be cited for staff work — that’s what congressional staffs do — to help get a century-delayed recognition for Leroy Johnston, black victim of the Elaine race riot. See preceding post. Another of life’s little coincidences: a distant relative of Johnston is a young black man, Kyle Miller, who was hired after Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst booted the previous head of the Delta Cultural Center and he, too, has been singing Hill’s praises. Coincidentally, shortly after she took office, Hurst started talking up the removal of the Clarke statue. Coincidentally, she’d just lost a bitter race for state House against Tucker.
Tucker has emphasized Hill’s vote to kill the Affordable Care Act and gut coverage for pre-existing conditions, among other things. It’s a good issue. But Hill has hung with Trump on many bad ideas — not to mention he’s never yet been made to explain about the documents he was slipped by Russians working to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Would it increase MAGA fervor for Tucker to link Hill with Trump more? Or might Arkansas be home to the supposedly significant group of suburban voters, women particularly, for whom the irrational, dishonest misogynist is a decided negative? MIght they swing toward the moderate candidacy that Tucker offers?
Relevant factor: By every poll I’ve seen, Trump fervor remains high in Arkansas. Challengers Chintan Desai, Josh Mahony and Hayden Shamel haven’t been shy in denouncing the leadership in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Districts. But, given the differing demographics, they have less to lose.
You know what Trump says about Southerners: “Dumb.”