New NPR Poll Shows Trump is Key Factor in Midterms : The NPR Politics Podcast According to a new survey from NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll, more than two-thirds of registered voters say their impression of President Trump will factor into their vote for Congress and nearly half of voters say their opinion of the president will make them more likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress this November. This episode: Congressional correspondent Scott Detrow, political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben and political editor Domenico Montanaro. Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org. Find and support your local public radio station at npr.org/stations.

New NPR Poll Shows Trump is Key Factor in Midterms

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SEAN: Hey, everyone. This is Sean (ph). I'm here on the Haunted Mansion ride in Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., where there are 999 happy haunts, but there is always room for one more. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

11:09 Eastern on Friday, October 26 - almost Halloween.

SEAN: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. Keep up with all of NPR's political coverage at npr.org, the NPR One app and on your local public radio station. OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Is that, like, John Lennon in the background - "Mr. Tambourine Man?"

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: What?

MONTANARO: Did you hear the tambourine shake?

DETROW: It's part of the ride.

KURTZLEBEN: Oh.

DETROW: And he was going through the ride.

MONTANARO: Oh, OK.

KURTZLEBEN: Oh.

DETROW: Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. With only a week and a half to go before the midterms, NPR, PBS and Marist are out with a new poll. And if you weren't sure already, there's no doubt about it. This election is all about President Donald Trump. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress.

KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, political reporter.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, political editor.

DETROW: Hey, everybody.

MONTANARO: Hey.

KURTZLEBEN: Hey. You got your costume picked out?

DETROW: I'm working on it. I'm working on it. More importantly, you and I are celebrating Flannel Friday.

KURTZLEBEN: It's Flannel Friday.

DETROW: Yes.

MONTANARO: It is Flannel Friday.

DETROW: Domenico didn't get the memo.

MONTANARO: I have taken the photo, though. And that will be posted to Twitter shortly.

DETROW: All right. So about a month ago, we had a poll out. We talked about it on this podcast. And it got a lot of national attention because it showed a lot of good news for Republicans. This poll - this time around, looks like Democrats are going to be the happier people reading it.

MONTANARO: Well, and it looks like, essentially, that the Kavanaugh confirmation fight and all that it did to fire up Republicans has kind of faded, to be perfectly honest. It looks like we've returned to the fundamentals, and that's something that I've been hearing from Republicans quite a bit. When you look at the landscape for the House races, for example, the vast majority of those races are being run in places that Republicans hold seats. And that has not changed.

KURTZLEBEN: You can see why the Kavanaugh controversy might not be weighing in on races if you look at specific races. For example, I was recently in Arizona. And I was walking around, asking voters about it, and I was asking the candidates about it. And voters, you know - they somewhat cared. And when they did care, they had strong opinions, but they were - their minds were made up anyway.

DETROW: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: And aside from that, the candidates themselves were pretty ginger about talking about it. They didn't seem to want to weigh in on it. And if you think about it, I mean, Democrats already had all of this anger built up, right? So if you're a Democrat, especially in a close race, why bring up a topic that has the potential to polarize, to anger so many people? If you're a Republican, likewise. You already have other things you can hammer on about. Why bring this in if it could upset people?

DETROW: Let's get to the poll and the numbers. Domenico, what are the biggest takeaways for you, looking at this poll?

MONTANARO: The big thing is that President Trump is seen as the biggest factor in people's vote. And really, the numbers are kind of remarkable, even when you put them in historical context. Two-thirds of people say that Trump is either a major or a minor factor in deciding their vote in less than two weeks on November 6. Compare that to 2014, when Republicans took back the Senate. Just 47% of Americans said that Barack Obama was a factor in their vote. That's a 20-point jump. That's a big deal. And more people this time around say that they're motivated to go vote for a Democrat because of their impressions of President Trump than in 2014 when people said that their impressions of President Obama made them want to go vote for a Republican.

DETROW: So, I mean, President Trump is campaigning, saying, vote as if I'm on the ballot. You know, this is about me - trying to get his supporters to the polls. But this result shows that this is a negative, that this is about Donald Trump. But it's mostly - more voters are saying, and that's going to make me vote for the other party.

KURTZLEBEN: It depends on who you're talking to, though, right? I mean, people in either party - Democrats and Republicans - once again, already in their corners. Trump may be affecting their vote. Often, he is - and, you know, for Democrats, makes them less likely to vote for a Republican, more likely to vote for a Democrat. For Republicans, vice versa.

Interestingly, in this poll, the independents are where you see the interesting gender gaps on this. For example, when you ask independent voters, how important is Trump to your vote, you have 50% of independent women saying he's very important, compared to 28% of independent men. That's a bigger divide than you see among Republicans or Democrats. Likewise, when they say, OK, so how is Trump going to affect your vote, 50% of independent women say, more likely to make me vote for a Democrat. Thirty-three percent of independent men say that.

So when we talk about gender divides - and this is important this year - yes, women are a driving factor. We do have the potential this year, across the board, for there to be a bigger gender gap in this year's midterm, or as big of a gender gap as we've seen in a very long time. But, that said, it's not just about gender. It's also about party. Democratic men and Democratic women alike dislike Trump and are going to vote Democrat.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, when Danielle talks about independents, they really are an important factor here, and that's because President Trump has really done very little to reach beyond the base with a lot of what he's talked about. And the gamble here among Republicans and a lot of Republicans I talked to was they said, look. Independents, young voters, Latinos - you know, they don't turn out to vote as much in a midterm year. So, you know, if the goal is to drive out the base - and this is going to be a base election, which is the gamble - then they need to fire up the Republican base with a lot of these cultural issues.

KURTZLEBEN: I have a quick question, though. I mean, when you say this is a base election, I mean, compared to presidential elections, midterm elections are always kind of base elections...

DETROW: Right.

KURTZLEBEN: ...Right? I mean, is this year that much different?

MONTANARO: So the thing is with that that's really fascinating that I think raises a lot of alarm bells for Republicans is that, yeah, usually, these midterms are base elections. But there are a lot of signs this year that there's going to be record turnout, not only in me talking to Michael McDonald - who's a turnout expert at the University of Florida who predicts, you know, the threshold for turnout to be 45% to 50%, which, for a midterm, would be the highest in 50 years - our pollsters said just looking at the interest level in our poll, it could be the highest turnout in a century for a midterm.

DETROW: And we're seeing a lot of data from early voting that indicates high turnout. And I know a lot of people are going to hear that and say, wait a second. In 2016, everyone analyzed early voting, and they analyzed it wrong. But I think one area where early voting is a good benchmark and can tell you something - and the experts who know what to look for are confirming this - is that you're seeing higher early voting than before. And you're seeing a lot of signs that more voters than the typical midterm are going to be casting ballots.

MONTANARO: Here's the difference between now and the 2016 election. The 2016 election was a choice. It was a choice between President Trump and Hillary Clinton, two historically disliked candidates. So people had to make a choice. And within that last week, there was a lot of evidence that people made the choice to go with Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton when they were sitting on the fence.

That choice doesn't exist this time. And what I would encourage people to do is look beneath the hood of the top line of the 2016 election and look at those congressional races. Democrats picked up six House seats in 2016. Democrats also picked up two Senate seats in 2016.

So the overall narrative - the idea that, you know, all the polls were wrong and, you know, Democrats were really on their back foot - is not necessarily the case below presidential level.

DETROW: Couple more questions about this poll. We talked about the Kavanaugh factor fading, but that's not to say that Republican enthusiasm has faded compared to last month, right?

MONTANARO: That's right. In fact, Republican enthusiasm is exactly the same level. And when I asked our pollsters about that, they said that that really seems to be more to do with the fact that we're in October. And the closer you get to elections, the more you wind up seeing a floor that winds up rising.

DETROW: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back to talk a little bit more about this poll and the broader political climate.

We are back. And I think one of the reasons that we weren't sure exactly what to make about the numbers last time around was that Kavanaugh had just happened. But also, the election was getting close, and Republicans were tuning in and getting enthusiastic. But Danielle, you were saying the fact is Democrats have been more than enthusiastic since the moment Donald Trump was elected president...

KURTZLEBEN: Right. I don't know if...

DETROW: ...If not on Election Day when Donald Trump was being elected president.

KURTZLEBEN: I don't know if, last January, you saw this mass of women with these pink hats on down on the Mall.

DETROW: I heard about that.

KURTZLEBEN: They were around. I don't know. But that was a sign that Democrats were at an 11 from the very start, when we were barely starting to think of midterms back in January 2017. From the moment Donald Trump was inaugurated, Democrats have been angry. And, you know, there have been activists organizing.

So when we talk about Republican enthusiasm ramping up before the election, absolutely - happens all the time. What sets this year apart is, first of all, both parties are super enthusiastic. But Democrats have been there this whole time, and Republicans have sort of caught up to them.

MONTANARO: And I think what's important about that is that beneath that top-line number of the enthusiasm are the kinds of groups and people that could turn out to vote. And what we're seeing is that independents who have been siding with Democrats on a lot of these issues are at a higher enthusiasm level than they have been in past years. Some 7 in 10 independents say that they think these elections are very important. We're seeing higher levels from voters 18 to 29. Now, they're not as high as some of these core Republican groups, but those core Republican groups are expected to be there. Latinos - you know, they're still far behind some of these other Democratic-leaning groups, but they're a little bit higher than they have been.

KURTZLEBEN: And that's one thing that I'm going to be watching very closely after election night - is especially those young voters because if I'm remembering correctly, they voted in 2014 at a rate of around - what? - like - something like 1 in 5, the youngest group of voters did. And so, you know, will they actually ramp up after, you know, plenty of them being pretty active in - especially on the Democratic side - in terms of the lead-up to this election?

DETROW: So this was a national poll. We did not go district by district, asking about specific candidates. But we did ask that general question of, would you rather vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the House? What did we find?

MONTANARO: We did. And the Democratic advantage on that question increased from six to 10 points just in the past month. And that's an important number because that double digit - what we call generic ballot gap - is a significant one. When strategists look at that, when pollsters look at that, they see that as a fundamental thing. Democrats are at 50%. Republicans are at 40%. And that really tells you the story of who has the advantage here. And, you know, again, we're not talking about the Senate and whether or not Democrats can take the Senate because it's - they're being run in such red states. But when you look at the suburbs and you look at where these House races are being run, that's where Democrats' advantage is.

DETROW: And is a week and a half to go a lot of time or no time at all for those numbers to shift much?

MONTANARO: What year are we in? I mean, you know, 2017 and 2018 have slowed the space-time continuum to a point that I don't think many of us recognize. So who knows what will happen?

KURTZLEBEN: I want to back up and look at this generic ballot issue again because one thing - once again, this is where the gender gap pops up in the biggest way among independents. So when you look at Democrats, around 9 in 10 Democratic men - 97% of Democratic women say they're going to vote Democratic. Zero percent...

MONTANARO: Zero.

KURTZLEBEN: ...Say they are going to vote Republican. I mean...

MONTANARO: Zero. Can I just tell you...

KURTZLEBEN: That doesn't pop up in polls.

MONTANARO: ...In polling - exactly. You do not see the number zero.

KURTZLEBEN: Zero - 0% of Democratic women. So that surprised me. But getting to what's important, 9 in 10 Republican men and women say, yeah, going to vote Republican. Independents - independent men prefer the Republican by two percentage points, which is to say, roughly evenly split. Independent women prefer the Democrat by 23 percentage points. So once again, when you're looking at the gender gap, that is where it's going to pop up.

MONTANARO: And look at unmarried women. Look at white college-educated women. They are really driving a lot of this election and the opposition to President Trump.

DETROW: So last question on this - what were the issues that voters seem to be most motivated by?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, the one saving grace for President Trump here is that the economy and jobs continue to rate as the top issue for people. Now, it's not a huge percentage of people, but it's the largest number of what's asked here. And when you look at - second is health care. Third is immigration.

But the divide between the parties are two completely different universes that these two parties live in. Democrats have been blanketing the airwaves with health care ads. They're running health care, health care, health care everywhere. Democrats believe that's the top issue, followed, by the way, by climate change. Republicans see jobs and the economy as top, with immigration as not too far behind, which explains President Trump's attempts at trying to rev up the base and talking about immigration and this caravan coming from Central America.

KURTZLEBEN: And by the way, when you're talking about what the parties care about, you do have some Republican voters who, of course, care about health care...

MONTANARO: Of course.

KURTZLEBEN: ...Because health care is expensive and so on. But, I mean, I was looking at some of these ads this week. And even when you look at Republicans concerned about health care and Democrats concerned about it, they're concerned about entirely different things.

MONTANARO: Frankly, I think a lot of Republicans are on their back foot when it comes to health care because you have a lot of candidates trying to sort of out-pre-existing conditions each other, right?

KURTZLEBEN: Totally.

MONTANARO: They're all talking about how they want to save parts that are popular within the ACA, which is a total flip from what we saw in 2010 and 2014.

DETROW: And we had a long conversation about that in yesterday's podcast and the Weekly Roundup, which is worth listening to. Danielle, you were in that conversation.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DETROW: And that is a wrap for today. We'll be back in your feed whenever there is political news that you need to know about. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover Congress.

KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, political reporter.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, political editor.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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