women

Is Winning Women Enough for Democrats to Win the House?

aw2
September 21, 2018

It’s been beyond obvious for a while now that Republicans have a problem with female voters. Poll after poll have shown that white college-educated women, once a persuadable pool of voters, have abandoned the GOP. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that these women support a Democrat for Congress by 22 points — 58 percent to 36 percent. In 2014, they preferred a Democratic Congress by just 2 points (46-44 percent). Republican strategists on the ground are seeing and feeling the same thing. A GOP strategist involved in a number of midwestern races emailed the other day saying, “we are losing independent women at a rapid rate.” Another GOP consultant involved in swing state races told me that these women voters’ are singularly focused on their dislike and disgust of the president, making it difficult, if not impossible, for Republican candidates to get a fair hearing from them.

The defection of these women voters are the reason why traditionally GOP, upscale, overwhelmingly white districts in suburban Chicago (IL-06), Kansas City (KS-03), Dallas (TX-32), Houston (TX-07), New Jersey (NJ-07) and Minneapolis (MN-03), are in serious peril.

But, what is worrying many Democrats is that the enthusiasm they are seeing among women isn’t being replicated among another group of voters that theoretically should be as motivated — or more — to vote for Democrats: Latino voters.

This isn’t a new concern. Democratic strategists, as well as political analysts like Ron Brownstein and Josh Krashaaur, have been sending up warning flares for a while now. Latino voter drop-off in midterm elections is nothing new, but the thinking was that President Trump's rhetoric and policies around immigration, especially the issue of separating children from their parents at the border, would be a catalyst for higher Latino engagement in 2018. At this point, however, recent polling by New York Times Upshot/Siena College and Monmouth University, suggests that's not the case.

In California's 39th district — a racially diverse district that Hillary Clinton carried 52 to 43 percent — a Monmouth poll out this week found Republican Young Kim leading Democrat Gil Cisneros 46-42 percent. Cisneros has been under attack by the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund with cable ads “airing uncorroborated allegations by a Democratic Assembly candidate that Cisneros made inappropriate sexual advances towards her at the party convention (the candidate was a supporter of Cisneros's primary opponent and no Los Angeles media outlets found enough evidence to run a story). The ad depicts Cisneros puffing a cigar.”  

Even so, Cisneros’ weakness in the polling may also be due to the fact that, as Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray notes, “the strongest anti-Trump voters are also among the least likely to show up in November.”

Republicans in Latino majority districts in South Florida are holding up better than their underlying infrastructure suggests they would. In a district Hillary Clinton carried with almost 57 percent, Republican Carlos Curbelo (FL-26) has a narrow lead over his Democratic opponent in the NY Times Upshot/Siena poll. And, in the 27th district, where moderate GOPer Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, private polls show former Clinton administration HHS Director Donna Shalala struggling to open a lead in a district Clinton carried by more than 58 percent.

In the sprawling southern Texas 23rd district — a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and voted narrowly for Clinton in 2016, Republican Rep. Will Hurd had a solid 51-43 percent lead over his Democratic opponent in the latest NY Times Upshot/Siena poll.

Finally, in the Los Angeles County 25th CD, a district that is majority minority and which Clinton won with 50 percent of the vote in 2016, the NY Times Upshot/Siena poll found Republican Steve Knight with a narrow lead over his Democratic opponent.

Now, compare those Republicans with Republicans sitting in Clinton districts that are majority white.

The NY Times Upshot/Siena polls found GOP incumbents Mike Coffman in suburban Denver (CO-06) and Erik Paulsen in suburban Minneapolis (MN-03) trailing their Democratic opponents. A recent Monmouth poll in suburban New Jersey (NJ-07) found Rep. Leonard Lance trailing his Democratic opponent by eight points.

Many are crediting Hurd and Curbelo’s stronger than expected standing to their moderate profile and willingness to buck the president on issues like the border wall and DACA. But, Reps. Coffman and Lance have also shown a propensity to break from their party. And yet, they aren’t getting the same ‘benefit of the doubt’ that they have gotten in previous elections when their voters supported a Democratic nominee for president and their GOP congressman.

Some important caveats here. First, there has long been a question of whether traditional polling can adequately capture the Latino vote. There’s also the question of whether mediocre turn-out in primaries among Latinos (as we saw in Texas and California) actually portends equally lackluster turnout in November. But, strategists who are using better (and more sophisticated) data to gauge the Latino voter, tell me that they are also seeing a lack of engagement and enthusiasm among Latino voters.

It is also important to not get too caught up in the head to head numbers. Almost all the NY Times Upshot/Siena are within the margin of error. The most important number is Trump’s job approval rating. The closer that number is to 50 percent, the better the odds that the Republican can pull out a win. The closer it is to 40, the harder it will be for a Republican to hold on.

For example, in Illinois’ 6th district, Rep. Roskam is up one point 45-44 percent. But, Trump’s job approval sits at 36 percent and voters in this upscale suburban Chicago district prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by 8 points (44/51). Voters here don’t like the president and they don’t want Republicans to control Congress. We should assume that undecided voters break against Roskam at the end. And in Florida, Rep. Curbelo is up just three points in a district where Trump’s job approval is 15 points underwater and Democrats have a 7-point lead on the generic ballot. This means that Curbelo’s 47 percent could be his ceiling.

Overall, however, Trump looks healthiest in CA-39 and TX-23 (both minority white CDs), and weakest in upscale white suburbs (IL-06 and MN-03).


Bottom line: Democrats are doing very well in the upscale, suburban districts where we’ve seen unprecedented engagement by women voters. But, in the diverse districts where Clinton ran up her biggest margins in 2016, Democratic candidates for Congress may not fare as well. Can Democrats win the House without winning those districts? Yes.

But, if Democrats are going to prove they have a broad base message and appeal, they need to do more than just run up the score in white, suburban America. They also need to make up ground rural/exurban America and prove that they can energize and turn-out Latino voters.