We’ve been talking for months about the persistent gap between the two key numbers for the midterms: President Biden’s job approval and the performance of Democrats in the generic congressional ballot.
In late July, for example, Biden’s average approval hit a truly dismal 35.4 percent in our average of polls, while Democrats were riding at 43 percent on the question of which party voters generally preferred to control Congress. A delta of this size looked like a political impossibility because of the (very unhealthy) degree to which American politics is personified in our presidents. In our idolatrous politics, presidents and, now, former presidents are the golden calves.
Presidential approval and the generic ballot are the most reliable predictors of midterm performance, and the two are closely correlated. At this point in most midterm cycles, an unpopular president and his unpopular party are underwater with voters and heading for a very predictable thumping. But that wasn’t holding … until now.
Biden’s droopy numbers were mostly a result of disaffection among Democrats. But after a series of moves designed to suck up to his base, particularly framing the midterms as part of his ongoing micturating contest with Donald Trump, Biden has brought a bunch of Democrats home. But these were mostly not persuadable voters. We know that because Biden’s job approval is up more than 7 points since late July while Democrats generically have improved by less than half as much.
Certainly there’s a case to be made about base turnout for Biden’s dramatics, but only a little. The original delta tells us that Democrats were not having trouble disambiguating their president from their party. Biden has succeeded in turning these midterms into a choice between him and Trump. Unfortunately for the party in power, the current president is only slightly more popular than the twice-impeached, aspiring authoritarian who preceded him.
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Biden job performance
Average approval: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.3 percent
Net score: -10.7 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.8 points
Change from one month ago: ↑ 5.1 points
[Average includes: NYT/Siena: 42% approve-53% disapprove; Grinnell College/Selzer: 40% approve-52% disapprove; NBC News: 45% approve-52% disapprove; Fox News: 43% approve-56% disapprove; ABC/Washington Post: 39% approve-53% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve-56% disapprove; Marquette Law School: 45% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson College: 45% approve-49% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 45.9 percent
Republicans: 44.3 percent
Net advantage: Democratic Party +1.6 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 1.4 points
Change from one month ago: Democratic Party ↑ 0.3 points
[Average includes: NYT/Siena: 46% Democrat, 44% Republican; ABC/Washington Post: 46% Democrat, 51% Republican; Emerson: 45% Democrat, 45% Republican; NBC News: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 44% Democrat, 41% Republican; Grinnell College/Selzer: 46% Democrat, 42% Republican;Wall Street Journal: 47% Democrat, 44% Republican; Marquette Law School: 47% Democrat, 41% Republican]
TIME OUT: OUT OF BOUNDS BILL
New York Times: “A bottle of Screaming Eagle cabernet sauvignon: $3,495. Nineteen shots of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac: $4,525. Rib-eye steaks, seafood platters, bottles of Voss water: $1,014. Total bill: $17,748. With tip, more than $20,000. For many diners, that would seem an outlandish amount to spend on a meal, even for a large group. For athletes in the National Football League, it’s a decades-old ritual known as the rookie dinner — an exorbitant meal that new players are expected to finance for their teammates. … The dinners’ defenders are quick to define them outside the realm of hazing or harassment. … The league probably won’t intervene to put a stop to rookie dinners, Will Leitch added. ‘The N.F.L.’s only real priorities, as we’ve seen pretty clearly in the age of Roger Goodell, are to maximize revenue and minimize public controversy.’”
ARIZONA INDEPENDENTS SPURN STRUGGLING MASTERS
New York Times: “Skepticism from voters in the political center is emerging as a stubborn problem for Blake Masters as he tries to win what has become an underdog race against Senator Mark Kelly, a moderate Democrat who leads in the polls of one of the country’s most important midterm contests. … Independents and voters unaffiliated with either major party matter more in Arizona than in nearly any other battleground state. After roughly tripling in number over the past three decades to 1.4 million, they have helped push the state from reliably red to tossup, and now make up about a third of the voting population. And with early voting beginning in two weeks, it is among this critical electoral bloc that Mr. Masters appears to be struggling the most. … In nearly a dozen interviews in Phoenix and Tucson… most independent voters expressed views of Mr. Masters as inauthentic, slippery on the issues and not truly dedicated to Arizona.”
Abbott, O’Rourke to clash in governor’s debate: Dallas Morning News: “The debate Friday between Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke has political intrigue and the potential for gripping drama. … Friday’s debate in the Rio Grande Valley will be different from what Abbott and O’Rourke have faced in the past. … O’Rourke, a former congressman, has to adjust his arguments to fit the role of Texas’ top executive, which is unlike the Senate post he sought four years ago or the presidency. … The Friday debate in Edinburg will be broadcast by Nexstar Media Group and televised in English and Spanish in every media market in the state. . In a nutshell, Abbott will attack O’Rourke on issues including border security, energy policy, policing and the policies of President Joe Biden, while O’Rourke will hammer the governor for failing to fix the power grid, as well as signing the state’s abortion ban and being unwilling to push policies that curb gun violence.”
Oz gains on Fetterman with law-and-order attacks: NBC News: “[John] Fetterman’s GOP opponent in November, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, casts him as soft on crime, pointing to how he has championed clemency for the Hortons and others convicted of similar felonies. Pardons and commutations have soared since Fetterman took office in 2019, consistent with his progressive philosophy on criminal justice reform. … Oz and the outside groups supporting him have spent millions of dollars to hammer home the issue. Since Aug. 1, Republicans have outspent Democrats $24.5 million to $21.9 million on advertising in the Senate race, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. … Recent polls have shown Fetterman’s once-wide lead is now shrinking. Several Republican strategists who spoke to NBC News attributed the narrowing margin to Oz’s focus on crime — and not his campaign’s relentless attacks on Fetterman’s reluctance to debate as he recovers from a stroke.”
Likely voters give boost to Republicans: New York Times: “Mr. Biden’s approval ratings haven’t increased this month, and Republicans appear to have made some modest gains in a handful of key Senate races, like Wisconsin’s. The so-called generic ballot polls, which ask whether voters prefer Democrats or Republicans, haven’t really changed quite yet. … But this weekend, two polls showed Republicans with a lead among likely voters. … The difference between likely voters — the people a pollster thinks will actually go to the polls — and the broader population of adults or registered voters is always an important factor, but it’s especially important in midterm elections. The lower turnout allows the party with higher enthusiasm — usually the party out of power, in a midterm — to enjoy a more sizable turnout advantage than it could sustain in a higher-turnout presidential election.”
Pollsters fear repeat of 2020 mistakes: Politico: “Pollsters know they have a problem. But they aren’t sure they’ve fixed it in time for the November election. Since Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, pre-election polls have consistently understated support for Republican candidates, compared to the votes ultimately cast. … Some pollsters are hoping that since Trump isn’t running in the midterms, the problems of underestimating Republicans’ vote share will disappear with him. … Then came 2020 — which was worse than 2016, and for which pollsters have yet to settle on a definitive explanation of what precisely went wrong. As a result, an easy fix has proven elusive. … Another significant polling miss ‘will continue to be damaging to the reputation of polling,’ said [pollster Charles] Franklin. ‘I think that’s just obvious and undeniable.’”
Mastriano turns to “40 days of fasting and prayer” as campaign struggles—Philadelphia Inquirer
Abortion presents tricky issue for Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon—Wall Street Journal
After military service lies, GOP abandons crucial Ohio House seat—Politico
Poll: Lake, Hobbs neck and neck in Arizona governor’s race—Marist
The electoral consequences of a shrinking Senate map—Atlantic
R.I.P. Bill Plante—CBS News
WITHIN EARSHOT: GALE FORCE HUBRIS
“That’s why we’ve got to win [the midterm elections] as that hurricane bears down on Florida. We’ve got to win in the midterms.”—Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Morning Joe.
“I left the Republican party two years ago. I stayed after Trump’s win because I thought it was an aberration and that the party would ‘wise up.’ But they did not and I am now unaffiliated. It’s hard to believe the party of Reagan and the Bushes would become this looney bin. Any party that prefers Donald Trump to Liz Cheney has lost its collective mind! Keep speaking Truth, Chris.”—Michael Salardino, Pueblo, Colorado
I feel the same way about partisanship as I do about marathons: definitely not for me, but great for other folks … as long as they don’t talk about it too much.
“Will Nashville be part of your book tour?”—Jim McCann, Nashville, Tennessee
Yes! I’m heading down for an event at Vanderbilt on October. 19. If anyone is interested in hosting a book signing or get-together near campus that evening, I’m all for it! Let us know, Nashvillians.
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the stouthearted Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: BEFORE AND AFTER
We are not ashamed to admit that we are suckers for wordplay here, and the winner of last week’s cutline contest for a photo of former President Donald Trump and Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake was, ahem, on pointe … This is the last week of our September contest, so get your entries in ASAP!
“Black Swan-Lake”—Rob Fisher, Azusa, California
“Nope, still not releasing money from my PAC.”—Rich Oliver, Panama City, Florida
“Breathe in that musk, baby, breathe it in.”—Brett Houseman, Vista, California
“Mr. President, my earring is stuck in your hair!”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia
Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
A REAL HEAD SCRATCHER
NBC: “The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated guidance on head lice for the first time since 2015. … It also says no healthy child or teen should be excluded from school or allowed to miss school time because of head lice or nits. … Medical providers should educate school communities that policies that require students to be rid of lice or lice eggs before returning to school be abandoned because these policies would have negative consequences for a student’s academic progress, may violate their civil rights, and stigmatize head lice as a public health hazard. … ‘The stigma that kids hold is they sometimes, if they have a severe case of head lice and it’s not addressed, they’re bullied,’ said [Marietta] Klein.”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore contributed to this report.