The primaries and general election of 2018 will be unique. They will effectively be legislators’ elections. The North Carolina ballot will look like this:*
U.S. House of Representatives
State House of Representatives
So, all of the U.S. House candidates will be running in both the primaries and general election without any statewide offices (e.g., President, Governor, U.S. Senator) above them on the ballot. The first decision voters make will be in the 13 Congressional Districts in North Carolina. How will these ballot positions affect turnout and results in these legislative races? I am not sure but examining current polling trends and past voting behavior may give us some clues.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The 2018 national generic congressional vote (“Generally speaking if there was an election for Congress today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidates from your district?” PPP). Since January 24 and through May 23, 2017, Democrats lead Republicans in all seventeen polls studied by Real Clear Politics for an RCP national average of +6.1% on May 23, 2017. Thirteen out of the seventeen polls had a spread of 5 points or higher. The Quinnipiac University poll in early May had the Democrats with a 16-point in the national generic House ballot, 58% Democratic, 38% Republican, and a 8% don’t know vote which is a low undecided vote for this early in the campaigns.
Other variables at work here are: excitement about the 2018 congressional election and the lead for Democratic over Republican candidates is 19 points (57-38).
Trump will not help Republican candidates in 2018 as his approval/disapproval rating continue to be under water and averages at 40% approve and 50% disapprove. My guess is that by 2018 his A/D rating will be about 35-55%. I believe 35% is Trump’s solid base. It will be interesting to see how many GOP congressional candidates will ask Trump to campaign with them.
After seven months of Trump’s transition and White House behavior it is also apparent that his staff problems, Senate and Congressional investigations, constant fighting with the news media and U.S. Intelligence Agencies (he can never win those two battles), are trends that may not be reversible and, indeed, may be accelerated.
(I received word from the State Board of Elections that because the Legislature just changed to partisan judicial elections “it appears these statewide judicial contents will appear on the ballot before NC Senate and NC House.” Stand by.)
I took data provided by FiveThirtyEight (May 18, 2017) that ranked North Carolina’s Members of Congress by their key votes on Trump’s positions as one indicator of how closely they might be tied to Trump in the 2018 elections. Note in the following table the “Trump Scores” for each of North Carolina’s thirteen Members of Congress. The last column lists the percentage of the Trump margin over Clinton in that Member’s CD.
NORTH CAROLINA MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: VOTING WITH TRUMP
(Rank ordered by Trump Score and Trump Vote Margin in CD)
Member of Congress R/O = Trump Score* 2016 Trump Margin (Votes with Trump) (Trump– Clinton’s Vote & R/O)
Patrick McHenry, R-10th 100.0% +24.5% (2)
Robert Pittenger, R-9th 100.0% +11.6% (8)
Ted Budd, R-13th 96.7% + 9.4% (10)
Virginia Foxx, R-5th 96.7% +17.5% (5)
George Holding, R-2nd 96.7% +9.6% (9)
Mark Meadows, R-11th 96.7% +29.4% (1)
David Rouzer, R-7th 96.6% +17.7% (4)
Mark Walker, R-6th 96.0% +14.7% (7)
Richard Hudson, R-8th 95.8% +15.0% (6)
Walter Jones, R-3rd 64.0% +23.6% (3)
George Butterfield, D-1st 13.8% -37.0%
Alma Adams, D-12th 13.3% -40.0%
David Price, D-4th 13.3% -40.0%
Richard Burr, R-NC 100.0% +3.7%
_____________________________________________________________________ *=The Trump Score according to FiveThirtyEight is a “simple percentage showing how often a senator or representative supports Trump’s positions…we add the member’s ‘yes’ votes on bills that Trump supported” and votes on bills Trump opposed and divide that number of bills the members voted on. As of May 18, 2017, votes were taken on 54 bills, resolutions and appointments. This includes votes on the AHCA and repeal of ACA.
Of the ten Member Republican North Carolina congressional delegation, nine voted with Trump more than 95% of the time, one (Walter Jones) struck a more independent course voting with Trump 64% of the time and the three Democratic congress members voted with Trump less than 14% of the time over the past four months.
If my assumptions about Trump’s current problems are correct and the predictions that I and many others foresee for the next year are accurate (e.g., no health care reform, i.e.,Trumpcare; tax reform; budget and deficit delays; foreign policy mistakes and gridlocked national government), it is most likely that North Carolina GOP congressional candidates (with Walter Jones doing his own thing) running in tandem with Trump and his record appears highly unlikely. Indeed, they may well be running independent, go-it-alone, local, personal survival campaigns.
With health care–which the Republican congressional candidates now own—and Trump’s administration as the key issues in the 2018 primaries and general election, it is also easy to see the Democratic party running a statewide campaign against the GOP congressional candidates based on their almost 100% support of Trump. My guess is Trump’s behavior will not change over the next year and the GOP candidates will be locked into at least some token, half-hearted and perhaps quiet support of his policies and behavior. We shall see.
NC STATE SENATE AND HOUSE RACES IN 2018
In the May 18, 20-21, 2017 Civitas Institute Political Parties NC poll (N=600)—the most recent statewide poll–when asked “If the election for North Carolina State Legislature were held today, would you be voting for the Republican candidate (32%), the Democratic candidate (47%), Neither one/Other/Independent (8%), or Don’t Know/Undecided/Need More Info (13%). These are the highest percentage for Democratic candidates (47%) for the State Legislature and the lowest percentage for the Republican candidates (32%) in the 34 polls conducted for Civitas since October, 2010. When “leaners” are combined with the “committed” voters on the generic ballot for the NC General Assembly, 36% say they will vote for the Republican candidates in 2018, 50% for the Democratic candidates, 5% say neither/other and 9% say they are undecided. One of the key variables in these percentages is, of course, the gerrymandered nature of the state senate and house districts which affects the vote outcome. That said, the key finding is that the Democratic percentage of 50% is the highest and the Republican percentage of 32% is the lowest in all of the 34 polls conducted for Civitas since October, 2010.
About one-third (33%) of North Carolina’s registered voters feel that things are “generally headed in the right direction” and more than half (52%) say “things have gotten off on the wrong track,” and 15% don’t know. The GOP incumbents will take the blame of those who are pessimistic about the state’s direction. The key issues in the open-end question in this poll were health care and education.
In the Elon Poll, the majority (54%) of North Carolina voters disapprove of the North Carolina General Assembly, 29% approve and 17’% aren’t sure.
Donald Trump’s approval rating is 42% (a decline of 7% since the March Civitas poll) and a disapproval rating of 53% (an increase of 7% since March, 2017). Governor Cooper’s approval rating is 61% (an increase of 11% since March) and a disapproval rating of 24% (an increase of 3% since March). In the Elon Poll (April 18 & 21, 2017),
48% of North Carolina’s voters approve of how Roy Cooper has been handling his job as governor, 29% disapprove and 23% aren’t sure. His role in 2018 at this high level of job approval will be critical in the legislators’ campaigns.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
…the primaries and general election of 2018 will be unique—a “legislators’ election,”
…there will not be any statewide races above the congressional contests on the November 6, 2018 ballot,
…Seventeen 2017 national polls show on the generic congressional ballot that Democratic candidates have a spread of 5 points or above and the recent Quinnipiac poll shows a 16- point Democratic advantage in those races,
…voter excitement about the 2018 congressional races shows a 19- point lead of Democratic over Republican candidates,
…Trump will not be on the ballot and will not help North Carolina Republican candidates for congress in 2018 and his problems with the electorate will only increase;
…of the ten Member North Carolina Republican congressional delegation, nine have voted with Trump over 95% of the time in the last four months;
…so, NC GOP Congressional Members will be running independent, go-it-alone, personal survival campaigns, avoiding Trump,
…if the North Carolina state legislative races (Senate and House) were held today, 36% of the voters say they vote Republican, 50% for Democrats and 14% don’t know how they will vote,
…that Democratic percentage of 50% for the state legislature is the highest ever and the GOP percentage (32%) is the lowest in all of the 34 polls conducted by Civitas since October, 2010,
…the key issues in all of these are: Trump, health care and education,
…Trump’s approval rating is 42% and disapproval is 53% for a 7% loss of approval and switch to disapproval since March, 2017,
…Governor Cooper’s approval rating of 61% represents an increase of 11% since March, 2017,
…the 2018 North Carolina primaries and general election will be unique and focused on members of congress, state senators and house members, and
…this will mean different communications strategies by most candidates.
Dr. Walt de Vries is a political consultant, author, university professor and founder of the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership (1974) and co-founder of the American Association of Political Consultants (1969). He was Executive Assistant to Michigan GOP Governor George Romney (1962-67). Walt has co-authored two books on Ticket-Splitting (1972 and 2000) and another on Southern Politics (1976). Walt has done polling since 1960 and formed his own company in 1968. He has polled in all 50 states and several foreign countries. He currently lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.