NDN Blog

Analysis: Control Of The Senate Is Now A Toss-Up, With Democrats Perhaps Slightly Favored

This is the third piece in NDN's weekly Thursday polling round-up. You can find the previous two weeks' pieces here and here.

In our polling round-ups over the past two weeks, we've discussed how the Presidential race remains remarkably consistent with the large advantages that the Democrats held in 2018, with the race continuing to see a 5-9 point lead for the Dems in our three preferred polling aggregates: Biden-Trump head to head, Trump approval rating, and Congressional generic ballot. 

However, a major new development in the past month has been a significant tightening of the race for the Senate majority, to the point where today Democrats probably are very slight favorites to win at least 50 seats. To get to 50 (a majority assuming Biden wins the presidency), Democrats have to win four of the following battleground states: Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, two Georgia seats, and Alabama (Dems currently have 47 seats, so they need 3 new seats plus Alabama/a 4th state - so 4 of these battlegrounds). Importantly, two of these seats - Colorado and Arizona - look very close to locks for Democrats, as the polling averages there currently have Dems up high single digits (8 in Arizona, where there has been high quality polling, and 17.7 in Colorado, where the polling has been relatively low quality however).

As a result, the majority will likely come down to whether Democrats can win two seats from Maine, North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, Georgia (two races), and Alabama - and right now Democrats are competitive in most of these states. Firstly, Dems likely have slight leads in both North Carolina and Maine. North Carolina has had several quality polls and they currently have Cal Cunningham up 0.3 points over incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis. Importantly, Tillis has consistently had his approval rating in the high 30s, and in the head to head polling he is averaging just 40.7% support. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins in Maine has seen a dramatic decline in her approval rating from over 50% approval in 2018 to the mid-30s now. Maine has had very little head to head polling, but one high quality poll from PPP had her trailing by 4 to Sara Gideon.

Secondly, Dems are very close (although probably slight underdogs) in Montana and Iowa. The entry of Gov. Bullock into the Montana race has made it very competitive, with a recent (although quite low quality) poll from the University of Montana giving Bullock a 7 point lead. Bullock is almost certainly not leading by that type of margin (if at all), but the race is one that Democrats have a good at chance at winning. And in Iowa, incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst has also seen her approval rating drop quite significantly over the past year, and a new PPP poll found her leading by only 1 point to one of her potential Democratic challengers. Just like in Montana, Democrats are probably slight underdogs to win in Iowa, but they have made the race competitive nonetheless (and that is likely all they need to do in these two races to have a very good chance at winning the majority).

Finally, Democrats are long shots in both Georgia races and especially the Alabama race, but they could still make the Georgia races competitive and regardless, Dems don't need to be close in these states to still win the majority.

As always, below you can find a detailed aggregate of the most important polling data (in our view) for understanding where the 2020 election currently stands. 

Links: 12345678910111213, 14, 15, 16

Much More Economic Support Is Needed To Prevent A Lost Decade

Over the past few weeks, we've begun to receive data on the state of the economy during the coronavirus crisis, and the numbers are even worse than expected. First quarter GDP fell by 4.8% on an annualized basis, the second worse quarterly decline since 1982 (only Q4 2008 was worse at -8.4%), and economists now project that Q2 GDP will decline by over 25%, by far the largest quarterly decline since the Second World War (the current worst decline is -10% in Q1 1958). Furthermore, over 30 million people have filed jobless claims over the past month and a half, and economists forecast that this Friday's employment report for April will show the unemployment rate hitting 15%. 

But perhaps the most worrying economic data is the CBO's newly released projection of unemployment - they forecast the jobless rate to average 10.1% in 2021, meaning that a v-shaped recovery doesn't occur and people continue to remain unemployed for an extended period of time, similar to the slow recovery seen in 2009-2011. This type of lost decade, with elevated unemployment and weak wage growth for years, is not inevitable however, and Congress and the Administration should do everything in their power to boost growth right now. In particular, there are four areas where a surge in new spending could make a real difference in boosting the recovery - significantly increasing funds for the PPP small business fund and making those funds more widely available; boosting spending on direct relief programs including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, and TANF; sending out another round of $1,200 cash payments and making those payments monthly; and developing a massive loan program for state and local governments so that they don't cut budgets and lay off workers. The point is to boost spending in the economy as much as possible and, given historically low interest rates, the federal government shouldn't worry about taking on large deficits to do it.

Unfortunately, and reminiscent of their blanket opposition to the 2009 stimulus as well, Congressional Republicans have recently come out in opposition to this type of urgently-needed economic support package. Last month, McConnell infamously came out against aid to state and local governments as "blue state bailouts", even though this would help all states and clearly the dire straits of these states is a result of coronavirus, not profligate spending by certain states. Furthermore, Republicans opposed hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding for hospitals and testing, state and local governments, and relief programs such as food stamps in the latest relief package negotiations with Democrats, and only backed down in return for no money for state and local governments. This should not be a partisan issue - every additional dollar spent now will mean fewer unemployed Americans in a year's time, and it is our hope that Congress will come together to pass this type of legislation in coming weeks.

Tests for Me, Not for Thee

Last week, the White House made a significant attempt to portray “normalcy” - we saw meetings in the Oval Office in close quarters with no social distancing and no masks; the Vice President began official travel again, still with no mask; and the White House press briefing returned, again with no masks.  It was a show, a very purposeful show, of our return to before, of opening up. 

To make all of this happen, with the COVID infection rate in the US remaining the highest of any major developed country in the world per capita (and not falling), the White House created a regime of ubiquitous, rapid testing for the President and Vice President and anyone they come in contact with. The problem with this story, of course, is that this type of testing regime is something that the President has explicitly said he is not attempting to provide for the people of the United States.  If this is what it takes to “re-open,” and we know that the American people don’t have it and won’t at best have it for many months, why is the President working so hard to undermine and end the stay-at-home policies which have worked to slow the virus?  As Simon said in this Washington Post story from over the weekend, the President did more last week to show us how far we are from returning to normal than how close it all is. 

As we’ve been writing for months now, once the virus started spreading here in the US (which we now know was in mid to late January), the President had two choices - mandatory stay at home orders, and/or an aggressive testing/tracing/isolation regime like the one South Korea implemented immediately.  Today, he has still chosen to do neither, and as the President has essentially ended the national stay at home period, it is imperative that Congress force the President to adopt a national testing/tracing/isolation system.  Without such a national system, it is going to be very hard to slow the current far too rapid spread of COVID and give people confidence that their government is doing everything it can to keep them safe in this period before a vaccine comes. If these two things aren't the case, we will have enormous trouble beginning the recovery that the President so desperately wants. 

From the very beginning, the President’s response to COVID has been outside of science and reason, and full of magical and wishful thinking. Not surprisingly, it just hasn’t worked. Poll after poll show the President’s approval rating plummeting now, frontline governors 20-30 points more popular than him, and broad majority support for more aggressive measures to attack the virus.  What remains so difficult to understand is why the President refuses to do what he knows needs to be done - which is why, now that Congress has begun to return, winning Phase II of our nation’s response to COVID should be the highest priority for both Speaker Pelosi and Senator McConnell.  If the President refuses to fight the battle against COVID, they must, along with the nation’s governors, take the lead.  

Analysis: The 2020 Election Is Shaping Up To Be A Lot More Like 2018 Than 2016

This is the second piece in NDN's weekly Thursday polling round-up. You can find last week's piece here.

NDN's central belief surrounding the 2020 election is that the race currently resembles the Democrats' significant victory in the 2018 midterms far more than it does Trump's win in 2016. Looking at our three preferred polling aggregates* - Trump approval among likely/registered voters (from FiveThirtyEight), Biden-Trump head to head (from Real Clear Politics), and the Congressional generic ballot (from FiveThirtyEight) - we can see this divergence clearly. First, the polling data underlying the current race looks very similar to that on election day in November 2018. On November 6th, 2018, Trump had a net approval rate of -9.6 among likely/registered voters and the Congressional generic ballot favored Democrats by 8.7 percentage points. Similarly, Trump's net approval today is -10 and the Congressional generic favors Dems by 7.7 points.

By contrast, the data we see today looks markedly different from what we had available in November 2016. On November 8th, 2016, Clinton led Trump head-to-head by 3.2 percentage points and the Congressional generic ballot favored Democrats by just 1.2 points. Meanwhile, Biden today leads Trump head-to-head by 6.3 points and Democrats lead Republicans by 8.7 points in the generic ballot. As we can see, the 2020 approval and generic ballot numbers are only 0.4 points and 1 point different from those same numbers in 2018, whereas the 2020 head-to-head and generic ballot numbers are 3.1 and 6.5 points different (in the Democrats' favor) from those same numbers in 2016. While there is still plenty of time for the 2020 race to see significant changes, right now the Democrats are keeping their 2018 advantages while Trump is not keeping his 2016 ones.

Below you can find a detailed aggregate of the most important polling data (in our view) for understanding where the 2020 election currently stands. 

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Finally, there are two other important data points that we believe point towards 2020 being a substantively different election than 2016: how voters who dislike both major candidates vote and how unified the Democratic party becomes behind its candidate. In both instances, it is clear that Biden has substantial upside compared to Clinton. First, on voters who have unfavorable opinions of both major candidates. According to data from CNN, voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton in 2016 supported Trump by a 17 point margin. Right now, however, voters who dislike both Trump and Biden are supporting Biden by 50-60 points. This matters because Trump's favorability is so consistently low (it has remained at around 40-44% for his entire presidency) that he has to win voters who have unfavorable views of him to win the election. He did this in 2016, but isn't doing it right now.

Second, on party unity behind the Democratic candidate. In 2016, Clinton ended her primary campaign in May 2016 with strong unfavorables among Sanders supporters according to YouGov data - she had a net -16 favorability rating among them and 37% of those voters had a very unfavorable view of her. By contrast, Biden ended his primary campaign in April 2018 with much stronger numbers among Sanders supporters - he had a net -1 favorability rating among them and 23% had a very unfavorable opinion of him. This is also important because a major problem for Clinton in 2016 was her difficulty in uniting the more progressive wings of the party around her, while Biden starts the general election in much better shape among Sanders' supporters than Clinton did.

* Note that we can only make comparisons between elections using aggregates that were used in both elections being compared. For example, the generic ballot was used in both 2016 and 2018 so we can use that to compare the elections, but head-to-head polling was not used in 2018 so we cannot use that metric to compare 2016 and 2018.

On COVID, What's Next for the US, Trump and the 2020 Election

Phase I of America’s response to COVID is coming to an end, and there is little question that it has been a disaster for the country and increasingly for the Republican Party.  The numbers are staggering - 50,000 lives lost, depression level unemployment numbers, and historic levels of debt.  As we wrote in our new Thursday poll roundup, recent polling has begun to once again show broad dissatisfaction with the President and his Party - if the election were held today, Democrats would almost certainly win both the White House and the Senate. A new New York Times story confirms that the GOP establishment is increasingly worried about this very thing this fall. 

All of this takes us to the question that is likely more than any other going to define the 2020 election - why has America’s response to COVID been so ineffective, and will Trump learn from his extraordinary missteps and course correct?

There are two principle ways that a nation can fight a pandemic like COVID-19: mandatory stay at home policies to slow the spread of the virus and a national testing/tracing/isolation program that allows things to stand backup.  Remarkably, five months after the US first learned of COVID, the President has chosen to do neither of these things.  He has refused to stand up a national testing/tracing regime and, through his recent embrace of the very unpopular “Liberate!” movement, has actually worked to undermine the stay at home orders which have done so much to slow the spread of the virus after it was allowed to run wildly across the country due to his early inaction. That the President chose to essentially call an end to the national stay at home efforts, ones he didn’t call for and wasn’t enforcing, prior to establishing a plan for Phase II - standing up the country - remains one of the most reckless things that our very reckless President has ever done. 

America now has no plan for what happens next; we have no Phase II.  In fact, the President has repeatedly said that it isn’t his job to manage this and instead that it is up to the states.  But do we leave it to the states to repel foreign armies, defeat terrorism, counter cyber threats from abroad, hunt down serial killers, respond to extreme weather events, or even, let’s say, fashion an economic response to COVID-19? No, of course we don’t leave it to the states to fight such extraordinary battles on their own; and nor did we fund or design our public health system to do so in a case of a pandemic.  There is no way forward here without the President and his team leading us.  Or perhaps Congress forcing him to do so if he continues to refuse to do what’s necessary now.

Let’s talk for a bit about what a national Phase II plan could look like.  It can and should include:

1) A national testing/tracing/isolation plan

2) A permanent fix to the medical supply chain

3) A national approach to social distancing and masking at work and in public spaces

4) Clear rules regarding international and domestic travel and foreign entrants into the US

5) Immunity certification, if immunity in fact exists

6) Creative solutions to giving our young people and students something to do this summer and potentially this fall

7/ A plan to ensure the 2020 elections take place without challenge

8) Safe harbor liability protections for entities which adhere to agreed-upon national guidelines

What we have to do before standing up the country in the next few weeks and months is incredible - hundreds of thousands of tracers have to be hired, hundreds of millions of tests produced, an entire type of testing not even approved yet by the FDA - antibody testing - has to be launched, rules regarding travel have to be established, decisions about coming testing and isolation regimes being mandatory or voluntary have to be debated and settled on...

It is hard to see how all of this will be established across the US as quickly as we need without Congress starting to get involved and helping to lead and fund Phase II.  The urgency of a true national response is perhaps best understood using an example.  Let's say that in a few weeks I travel from DC to Boston for a meeting.  While there I test positive for COVID.  What happens next? Am I quarantined in Boston? If so, where? If a hotel, who pays? We know that the MA-based tracers would work to establish my contacts locally, but how will my tracing down here in DC/MD/VA happen? Who is responsible for that, and how are these efforts coordinated? Let’s assume I took a plane to Boston.  Everyone who was on that plane will have to be traced and tested.  But they have now scattered to 10 other states - who does this work and coordinates it all?

The point of this example is that there is no possibility that the US can stand itself back up as we all envision without the federal government playing a leading role.  If it doesn’t, then we may not be able to travel inside the US (let alone outside) until we have a vaccine.  For why would Massachusetts, now without community transmission, accept any traveler from parts of the US where the virus is still live and spreading? Or is the idea that MA would essentially set up a border, and test everyone who comes into the state? To enable travel, even potentially across state lines for a daily commute, the public must have confidence that we have a way of effectively and rapidly isolating new infections, and removing those people from society - a confusing, erratic, and inefficient state by state regime isn’t going to cut it, and nor should the American people accept it - we are one nation, and should act like one. 

What is worrisome about where the President’s head is at right now is that in a recent press briefing he weighed in on all this, and endorsed the idea of internal borders.  It was a bit shocking at the time, but it is pragmatic recognition that if he does not set up a single national system then we will break into parts, separate regions or states, for what could be two years. 

Okay, you get it.  Phase II is going to be hard, really hard, and we are way behind where we should be.  Important pieces of the plan are months away from being ready and critical debates haven’t even begun.  And we have to get it right to stand our society and economy back up.  The President’s current approach, like his approach to Phase I, is profoundly stupid and unserious.  Congress needs to step in now, and work to forge a cogent and effective plan for Phase II.  It should consult with the nation’s governors, particularly from the most impacted states, and lead where the President refuses to. 

This has been a terrible few months for this great nation.  But in order to make sure this tragedy doesn’t become something which damages the nation beyond repair, our leaders must come together in the coming days around a single national approach to Phase II of our response to COVID - living with it and returning to work in the months before we have a vaccine.   

Analysis: Democrats Begin The 2020 Election Where They Left Off In 2018

This piece is a live document that is updated with the latest polling data and analysis every Thursday.

As we enter the 2020 general election campaign in earnest this summer, NDN will be providing our latest thoughts on the structure of the race and how we believe the election will unfold. It is our belief that the central theme of this election will be continuity with the 2018 midterms that saw Democrats win the House by a historic 8.6 percentage point margin in the popular vote. That is to say, the struggles that Trump faced in winning suburban, college-educated voters in 2018 have continued in 2020, and if the election were held today the President would likely lose by a fairly wide margin. 

In particular, we like to focus on three major polling aggregates to measure the Presidential race: Trump and Biden head-to-head, Trump's approval rating among likely/registered voters, and the Dem-GOP generic Congressional ballot. As you can see in the chart below, each of these measures points to a similar "structure" of the election that currently favors the Democrats by about 6-9 points (and very similar to Dem's 8.6 margin in 2018) - Biden leads head-to-head by 5.9 points on average, Trump's net approval rating is -8.6 points, and the Congressional generic favors Dems by 7.6 points.

Furthermore, the gap between the national popular vote and vote shares in the battleground states that cost Clinton the election in 2016 doesn't seem to have expanded since 2016, which given Democrats' increased strength nationally means that they start the 2020 campaign with a fairly large lead. On aggregate, Biden leads Trump in Michigan by 5.5, Pennsylvania by 4.6, Wisconsin by 2.7, Arizona by 4.4, and Florida by 3.4. This battleground strength also carries over to the Senate battleground states (although polling outside of the AZ Senate race has been relatively minimal) - Kelly and Hickenlooper have wide leads in Arizona and Colorado, while Cunningham and Gideon likely have small leads in North Carolina and Maine.

Finally, it is important to note that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting major recession that the US will continue to face over the summer will likely have large, but still uncertain, effects on the 2020 election. Trump briefly saw a small "rally around the flag" boost to his approval rating (it hit a high of net -3.9 on March 28th), but this effect both didn't seem to affect his head-to-head numbers against Biden and has since then completely eroded. It could be the case that the public's quickly souring opinion of the President's coronavirus response could see his numbers fall to all-time lows, or the hyper-partisan nature of the current era could cause his numbers to stay in the narrow band that they've been in since 2017. We don't really know at this point, but either scenario means that Trump has a lot of work to do if he wants to win a second term.

Below you can find an aggregate of the most important polling data (in our view) for understanding where the 2020 election currently stands. 

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

US Not Ready to Open, Trump's Poll Numbers Continue to Slide

Monday 4/20 Notes On 2020 - While polling remains bouncy right now, Trump’s bump is largely gone and things have reverted back to about where they were prior to the COVID crisis - Democrats with a 6-9 point structural advantage, similar to where things stood in 2018.  Consider how similar these spreads/margins are:

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Yes, we have a long way to go in this challenging year. But in the coming months, one can easily imagine Biden gaining 1-3 more points from consolidating the party behind him and winning the nomination, and Trump losing a few as the costs and pain of his mismanagement of COVID become more evident.  That movement would put us closer to the 2018 vote numbers than we are today, and would put the White House and Senate in Democratic hands.

America Still Needs A COVID Plan - Given the structure of this race right now, it is very hard to understand what President Trump is choosing to do on COVID. The data is pretty clear that the American people believe he blew the early response to COVID, and do not support a fast re-opening.  Stay at home efforts are very popular, as are the front line governors who’ve made the tough calls for their residents.  So, from a political and public health standpoint, his attacks on both seem stupid and misguided. Trump’s only shot to win in 2020 at this point is to successfully manage this next phase of our response to COVID - the re-opening.  He had a second chance, a chance to rise to the moment and lead us through this terrible scourge.  But instead he seems to be retreating to a place of ideological extremism, Hannityville let’s call it, which will almost guarantee that we fail at this next critical phase of battling the virus.   

Consider all that should be in place prior to the US re-opening - a federally run testing/tracing/isolation regime with wide deployment of far more tests and tests which yield results in minutes, not days; a stronger, better equipped, and better prepared US health care system; a national approach to social distancing/masking at work and in communities; some strategy for what parents and communities are supposed to do with young people this summer and perhaps this fall; the establishment of a clear national process for certifying immunity if immunity does in fact exist; clarity on how international and domestic travel is going to work; and a plan to ensure our election takes place thiis November as is Constitutionally required, free from foreign interference and virus proofed. At this point, the President doesn’t seem to be committed to doing any of these things; in fact, his central strategy now seems to be focused on undermining the popular state and local stay at home regimes which have successfully slowed the spread of the virus. 

Throughout this COVID crisis, the President has repeatedly expressed what can generously be described as magical thinking - the virus would just go away, it wouldn’t come here, we have millions of tests, etc.  In what may be a looming tragedy for the country, this past week he seems to have once again chosen magical thinking - Liberate!/Open - over sound science and experience from what has worked in other nations.  What remains remarkable about it all is that he is not just acting outside science and reason, he is acting outside of polling too - which is why 2020 is shaping up to be a very bad year both for the United States and for what’s left of the Republican Party. 

Invite: Wed, June 10th, 2pm ET - With Dems Things Get Better Presentation

Please join NDN on Wednesday, June 10th at 2pm ET for our regular showing of our "With Dems, Things Get Better" webinar.  This new recurring webinar marks the debut of a new initiative here at NDN, “The Asymmetry Project.”  This project builds on a body of our work over the past few years, and makes the argument that one of the defining political developments of our time is just how different the two American political parties are, and have become.

This webinar will take place on Zoom, you can register for the event here

"With Dems Things Get Better" is a data rich dive into what has happened in America since the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 and a new age of globalization began. We ook at the performance of the two parties during this time – the 16 years of Obama and Clinton, the 15 plus years of the Bushes and Trump.  What the data shows is that America has prospered and made progress when Democrats have been in power, and fallen behind, again and again, when Republicans have held the White House.  We then spend time discussing what this all means for the coming recovery, policy making more broadly in the years ahead and in the short term, the 2020 election itself. 

We hope you can join us!  And do invite others - all are welcome.

Analysis - 2020 Battlefield Favors Joe Biden and the Democrats

With the general election seven months away, and the field set, let’s look at where things stand.  With the caveat that we are likely to see a lot of volatility this year, the current landscape clearly favors Joe Biden and the Democrats.  All of the following polls are from this week and our expectation is that Biden gains a few points in the coming days with Sanders getting out. All of the aggregates are from this morning.

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Note the consistent 6-9 margin for Biden and the Democrats, suggesting that this is where the race is sitting today.  Trump trails in FL and WI, two must-win states for him.  It isn’t a pretty picture for him or the Republicans.

The Senate picture is also not going the GOP’s way right now.  Though the polling is now a few weeks old, there are public polls showing Democratic challengers beating incumbent GOPers in AZ, CO, ME, and NC.  Governor Bullock enters his race in Montana tied

If the election were held today, Joe Biden would handily beat Donald Trump, and the Senate would likely flip from GOP to Democratic.  We have a long way to go to the election of course, but right now the landscape very much favors the Democrats. 

Another Republican Recession, Landscape Still Leans Blue

As we’ve written to you before, we aren’t going to be paying too much attention to polling these next few weeks for it will no doubt be very volatile and noisy. Trump does appear to have gotten a small bump in recent days, though the fundamental structure of the race hasn’t changed - he’s minus 4.5 in 538’s job approval tracker, down 9 to Biden in new Fox News polling, and the Congressional Generic remains at -7.4 for the GOP.  The national landscape still favors the Dems. 

We are doubtful that Trump is in for any kind of sustained bump.  Regardless of Trump’s daily pressers, the cold hard truth is that the President failed to take action against COVID-19 when he should have; is playing a dangerous and sadistic game with the states; and his plan is still inadequate for what’s needed today.  The numbers that Americans will be focusing on in the coming months won’t be his daily TV ratings or job approval but COVID infection and death rates, the amount of equipment moved to the health care front lines, unemployment and uninsured rates, and GDP growth.  If these measures are good, he will have a good election.  If they aren’t, he won’t. 

That Trump is the third consecutive GOP President to see a recession and exploding deficits on their watch speaks to something we’ve been exploring in recent years - that the two parties just aren’t the same and aren’t mirrors of one another.  Since this new age of globalization began in the late 1980s, Democratic Presidents have produced growth, jobs, rising wages, and lower annual deficits.  The two Bush Presidents and Trump will have produced recessions and hard times, and W Bush and Trump will have overseen two of the worst economic moments in American history.  That Democrats keep getting the big things right in this new age, and the Republicans so disastrously wrong, simply must be a more significant area of debate and discussion in the months ahead. 

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