2018 vote margin narrows as Democratic engagement slips (POLL)

A Democratic advantage in the upcoming midterm elections has narrowed.

April 16, 2018, 7:00 AM

A Democratic advantage in the upcoming midterm elections has narrowed in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with indications of lower engagement among members of the party now out of power in the federal government.

A 10-point Democratic lead among all adults narrows to 4 points among registered voters and 5 points among those who say they’re both registered and certain to vote; neither of those is statistically significant. In January, by contrast, Democrats held similar margins in all three groups – 13, 12 and 15 points, respectively.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

Factors at play include a slide in self-reported registration among Democrats, which is a sign of waning engagement; consolidation among Republicans of their base; and better results for the GOP among less-educated Americans generally, and non-college-educated white women in particular.

Among other results, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds more than three-quarters of Americans looking for a congressional candidate who agrees with them on gun policy. Fewer, but still half, call it important for them to back a candidate who shares their view of Donald Trump, and a yet small number, about a third, are looking for a candidate who agrees with them about Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

Generic Ballot

The generic ballot -- asking people if they’d vote for the Republican or the Democratic candidate in their congressional district -- is a rough gauge, in part because so many seats are not seriously contested, often due at least in part to gerrymandering. Further, turnout in November is the real question and a longstanding challenge for Democrats, whose voters tend to lag in midterm participation.

Self-reported registration is one indicator as it is less a measure of actual registration than of political engagement. The share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who report being registered to vote has slipped from 84 percent in November to 79 percent in January and 75 percent now. That contrasts with 87 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, up slightly from 82 percent three months ago.

President Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria, April 13, 2018, at the White House in Washington.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Further, among Republican likely voters, 95 percent say they would vote for their party’s candidate, which is up from 89 percent in January and now matches the level among Democrats, 95 percent.

Three months ago, moreover, the two parties ran about evenly among registered voters with no more than a high school diploma, and among white women without college degrees. Now, GOP candidates now lead in both groups, by 11 and 15 points, respectively. That could reflect economic improvement making its way to less-educated, lower-income groups; in a weekly survey by Bloomberg, consumer sentiment was its best in 17 years last week.


Seventy-eight percent of Americans and registered voters alike say it’s important to them to support a candidate who shares their opinion on gun policy, including four in 10 who say it’s “extremely” important. That includes roughly equal numbers on both sides of the issue – whether they prioritize enacting new laws to reduce gun violence or protecting the right to own guns.

On one hand, there are more who emphasize new gun laws; on the other, those focused on protecting gun rights are more likely to say it’s “extremely” important to them to back a candidate who agrees with them, 49 vs. 40 percent among registered voters.

Participants take part in the March for Our Lives Rally in New York on March 24, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images

Trump, meanwhile, may be a potential concern for some GOP candidates. His average approval rating at 15 months in office is the lowest on record for any president in polling, dating to the Truman administration. And 52 percent of registered voters say it’s extremely or very important to them to support a candidate who shares their view of Trump, rising to 60 percent of likely voters.

Fifty-four percent of those who approve of Trump are looking for a candidate who agrees with them, a similar share to the 53 percent disapproving of Trump who say the same; the difference is that those who disapprove of the president outnumber those who approve by 10 points among registered voters.

Using another gauge, registered voters who see Trump favorably as a person are 10 points more likely than those who see him unfavorably to seek a candidate who agrees with them. But many more registered voters are unfavorable toward Trump than favorable, which keeps Trump as more of a vulnerability for the GOP.

Republicans have sought to balance that risk by tying Democratic candidates to Pelosi. Thirty-five percent of registered voters in this poll say it’s important to them to support a candidate who shares their view on Pelosi, including 43 percent of those who see her favorably and 38 percent of those who see her unfavorably.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks about the Omnibus budget deal during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 22, 2018.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Overall, she’s seen more unfavorably than favorably by 48-33 percent among registered voters; one in five have no opinion. (This is much less negative than Trump’s 57-36 percent unfavorable-favorable score, albeit with a substantially higher share of don’t knows.) As such, Pelosi’s impact looks like a wash overall – except, potentially, in terms of motivating the Republican base. Among registered voters, 76 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents see Pelosi negatively, surpassing her positive score among Democrats and Democratic leaners by 19 points.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone April 8-11, 2018, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults and 865 registered voters. Results have a margin of sampling error 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 32-25-35 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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