While President Trump’s approval rating continues to maintain his record highs, two new polls show a tremendous gap opening between Democrats and Republicans on the generic Congressional ballot. Quinnipiac and Kaiser both have Democrats ahead by 12 points; the Real Clear Politics poll average places Democrats ahead by 7.8 points.
This is likely enough to move the Democrats into favored position to take back the House of Representatives, and state polling shows that Democrats now have an even shot at taking the Senate as well. If Democrats were able to take the Senate, they would then be able to stymie President Trump’s most popular policy among conservatives: the nomination and confirmation of judges to the nation’s federal courts.
Why is all of this happening? Because of what I call the Balloon Theory of politics.
Think about a balloon. When you squeeze one side of the balloon, the air obviously slips to the other side of the balloon. And when you add more air to the balloon while still squeezing that side of the balloon, the other side inflates still further.
When it comes to presidential popularity, it seems there’s not a lot of movement these days. That’s not unique to President Trump. After his first year, President Obama’s job approval rating was remarkably stable, remaining generally between 46% and 49%, with the lone exception of 2014, when he saw a sustained drop in poll approval numbers. People have strong, less-than-malleable opinions about presidents.
Presidential polling, then, is the squeezed portion of the balloon: no matter how much air you add to the balloon, there’s simply not much inflation or deflation available. But that extra air — political feeling — has to go somewhere. If you dislike President Trump, you dislike President Trump and you’ll vote against him — but if you hate President Trump, you’re far more likely to go to the polls and vote for Democrats in Congress. That’s what’s happening here. While Republicans celebrate Trump’s approval ratings, and while they champion the fact that nothing seems to matter to those ratings, they’re missing the fact that what Trump does and says does have an impact on Congress.
All of which means that President Trump does matter politically — his foibles and his triumphs. Barack Obama won re-election relatively easily over Mitt Romney, but he watched his party devastated at every electoral level. President Trump could easily do the same.