New GW Politics Poll Finds Democratic Advantages

Pluses in party support, issue positions and volunteer activism held through the summer.

August 24, 2018

While Americans believe President Donald Trump may be able to sway voters using his Twitter account, a new edition of the George Washington University Politics Poll found a generally unfavorable environment for Republican candidates continues to shape the 2018 midterm elections.

The poll, conducted in late July and early August, re-interviewed a group of registered voters first surveyed in May. It found 45 percent approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing, virtually unchanged from the May survey. Moreover, those who strongly disapprove of Trump (46 percent) outnumber those who strongly approve (28 percent).

“Hope springs eternal that positive economic news will help Republican candidates. There is reason to be doubtful, however,” said John Sides, associate professor of political science and a poll co-director. “For one, seat swings are more strongly predicted by presidential approval than economic trends. In other words, to the extent that the economy matters, it is via its impact on presidential approval. The problem, though, is that Trump is much less popular than he should be given how people feel about the economy.”

Other unfavorable signs for Republican candidates: Democrats’ advantage in the generic ballot for U.S. House also remained stable. It was 44-39 in the May poll and is now 45-38.

Democrats also report more political engagement than Republicans. Democrats were more likely to report sharing political opinions on social media, signing a petition, talking to someone about how to vote, donating to candidates and going to meetings or rallies.

Several policies closely identified with the Trump administration failed to generate support from the majority of registered voters, according to the poll, including the repeal of the Obamacare mandate that individuals be insured. Other such policies include the ban on immigrants from Muslim-dominated countries, the new tax law, tariffs on steel and aluminum and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Asked about Democratic Party strategy, a fifth of self-identified Democrats (21 percent) said the party should take more liberal positions to motivate the base, while a quarter (26 percent) said it should take more moderate positions to appeal to independents and swing voters. More than a third (37 percent) said candidates should take whatever positions will help them win.

In contrast, more than half of Republicans (59 percent) said candidates should support the president’s positions in order to motivate the party’s base, while only 8 percent said they should break with the president. A fifth (21 percent) said candidates should take whatever positions would help them win.

Respondents were asked what they thought would influence voters as the campaign cycle comes toward its conclusion in November. More than half (53 percent) said Mr. Trump’s tweets and other comments about candidates would influence voters in November. Two thirds of respondents (67 percent) thought local news stories about candidates would affect midterm voters, and 58 percent said candidate television ads would be influential as well.

Only 35 percent of those surveyed thought Russian disinformation would have much influence on voters in 2018, however, a majority (53 percent) thought misinformation on social media would be influential.

While most respondents did not think Russian efforts to spread disinformation would have an influence on the midterms, they are still are not confident (63 percent) the government is protecting future elections from foreign interference, nor do they believe (78 percent not confident) social media and technology companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are doing enough to prevent interference. Between May and late July there also was a slight drop in already-low confidence in Mr. Trump himself doing enough to prevent foreign interference (from 57 percent not confident and 43 percent confident, to 61-39).

The GW Politics Poll also measured the favorability among registered voters of various specific events and policy topics in the news:

Some Health Care Provisions Popular

While the Affordable Care Act continues to be a divisive issue generally (45 percent favorable, 47 unfavorable; 42 percent support repeal), certain provisions of the law are extremely popular. Most of those surveyed (84 percent) said it is important to maintain a prohibition on charging sick people more for insurance. A large majority (86 percent) also said it is important to keep the ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Strong Opposition to Immigrant Family Separations

Public opinion on immigration topics remain mixed, but most people (62 percent) continue to favor allowing children brought into the United States illegally to stay in the country. Roughly the same proportion of the public disapproves of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents (58 percent disapprove, 34 approve), and the opposition is intense (47 percent of the public disagrees strongly with child separation; only 19 percent agrees strongly).

Divisions on Roe v. Wade and Abortion

Most people agreed abortion should be legally available in cases of rape (78 percent) and when there is a threat to the health of the mother (81 percent) or the child (64 percent). There was no scenario provided where a majority thought abortion should be illegal, although 47 percent said it should not be possible if “the woman wants it for any reason” (42 percent said it should).

Despite those dividing lines, more than half of those surveyed (57 percent) said the Supreme Court should not overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision (30 percent said it should). With confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the horizon, 53 percent of people thought it was unlikely Roe will be overturned.

Successes and Challenges in Foreign Policy

A majority (55 percent) supported Mr. Trump’s decision to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (35 percent opposed). However, people were split (47-44) on a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Views on trade policy differed depending on the nations involved. Generally, more people disapproved of the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs (49 percent oppose, 38 support). But when asked about tariffs on specific countries, 45 percent supported action against Chinese goods, while only 34 percent supported tariffs against Canada.

Other than tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, the least popular foreign policy decision polled was the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement climate accords. Half (50 percent) of respondents opposed the choice, while 38 percent supported it.

Pardons Unpopular

While conducted before former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s conviction, the poll confirmed earlier findings that most people (57 percent) would find a presidential pardon connected to Russia-investigation charges to be inappropriate.

The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Political Management and Department of Political Science. YouGov, a  leader in online polling, conducted the academic, nonpartisan research poll for GW. This poll was fielded July 23 to Aug. 9, 2018, with a sample of 2,716 registered voters (reintroduced from 3,150 who participated in the May 2018 poll) and a margin of error of ±2 percentage points. This is the second of four surveys focused on the 2018 midterm elections. The GW Politics Poll will interview the same respondents once more before the election and then after the election to track public views over the course of the campaign.


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