USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll reveals troubling numbers for GOP in 2018 midterm elections

More than half of respondents in nationwide poll said they’d vote for a Democratic candidate in their local congressional district race

January 19, 2018 Jim Key, Emily Gersema

Only 40 percent of Americans say they would vote for a Republican congressional candidate in their district, compared to 51 percent who would vote for a Democrat, according to a new national USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. The remaining 9 percent would support a candidate from another party.

“These numbers show Republicans are in real trouble,” said Bob Shrum, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

If the elections were held now, Democrats would very likely capture the House.

Bob Shrum

“If the elections were held now, Democrats would very likely capture the House. And if President Donald Trump’s favorability ratings don’t improve, history shows that’s what we can expect to happen in November.”

The nationwide USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll, the first in a series leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, was conducted between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 in English and Spanish. The 3,862 people surveyed are members of USC’s Understanding America Study internet panel, recruited from a list of all households in the United States and representative of the demographics of the country. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Since the April 2017 USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll, Trump’s approval rating among those who voted for him in 2016 has dropped from 83 to 74 percent. Overall, it has dropped from 40 percent to 32 percent. Among those in 11 key swing states, the president’s approval hovers at 33 percent.

“He has never left the Republican primary, so he still has strength from within the GOP,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican political strategist who is a fellow at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

Murphy said it is a risky bet.

“When the demography of the general election changes, not only are you trapped on an island, the island is getting smaller. It’s kind of a cul-de-sac strategy,” Murphy said. “Although it’s made him really muscular in Republican politics, he’s not stronger anywhere else in this data.”

Populism on the right contributed to Trump’s 2016 win, the experts said. But since then, populism has sharply shifted to the left.

Taken together, the latest results of the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll portend a broad switch in Congress, said Doug Hermann, a Democratic political strategist.

Democrats appear poised to take more seats in the November midterm elections, he said, and they will lose by smaller margins in traditionally red districts.

“Time is Trump’s enemy,” said Herman, a principal at The Strategy Group, noting the president’s waning approval. “If things are this bad and he is starring as the perfect villain in this role, there needs to be a sea change that is unlikely to occur for this kind of political environment to change course.

I’ve never seen this kind of intensity from Democratic partisans, much less in an off year.

Doug Hermann

“I’ve never seen this kind of intensity from Democratic partisans, much less in an off year,” Hermann added. “These numbers portend a very broad switch in party control in Congress.”

Immigrants and 2020 presidential favorites

As members of Congress face a showdown over immigration reform and the president’s rhetoric heats up the electorate, a majority (62 percent) agreed with the statement that immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talent,” compared to 38 percent who believe they’re “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare.”

Most of those surveyed had completed the poll before Trump’s controversial statements about immigrants in a recent White House meeting with legislators.

Looking ahead to the 2020 election, survey participants were asked if their party’s presidential primary were held today, who — among a list of potential candidates — would they vote for? Among those who said they would vote in the Republican primary, 25 percent say they’d choose a candidate other than Trump.

Among a list of 10 Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden led with 28 percent support, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (22 percent) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate (19 percent). All other tested potential candidates were in single digits except Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at 11 percent.

“There is a kind of thirst or yearning among Democrats for someone new,” Shrum said.

Russia investigation

Amid the independent counsel’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election, 59 percent said the issue is “a serious matter that should be investigated” while 41 percent agreed with the statement that it’s “mainly an effort to discredit Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Republicans and Democrats were more polarized. More than 8 out of 10 Republicans called it an effort to discredit the president whereas nearly 9 in 10 Democrats said it was a serious matter. Independents were more aligned with the Democrats, 64 percent to 36 percent.

Obstacles for women

As the #MeToo movement to combat sexual harassment gains momentum, 6 out of 10 people agreed with the statement that “there are still significant obstacles that make it harder for women to get ahead than men,” while the remainder said “the obstacles that once made it harder for women than men to get ahead are now largely gone.”

Women across race, religion and socioeconomic lines were united in saying that women still face significant obstacles compared to men.

Jill Darling

“In a show of unity that is rare in polling these days, and on the eve of another round of women’s marches, women across race, religion and socioeconomic lines were united in saying that women still face significant obstacles compared to men,” said Jill Darling, survey director of the USC Dornsife College’s Center for Economic and Social Research.

The more usual partisan divide still applied to men, however. More than two-thirds of Democratic men said obstacles for women remain, compared to just under two-thirds of Republican men who said those obstacles are mostly gone. Another notable exception were the 62 percent of Trump voters who said that obstacles for women are now largely gone.

Racial discrimination

When asked to weigh in on the topic of racial discrimination, a narrow majority of 54 percent said the issue of “people not seeing discrimination where it really does exist” is a bigger problem for the country than people seeing it “where it really does not exist.”

The division was much more pronounced within racial subgroups. Nearly 9 out of 10 black people and 66 percent of Hispanics said the bigger problem was real racial discrimination. However, 56 percent of white people said the bigger problem was “seeing it where it doesn’t really exist.”

About the poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll is a partnership of the Los Angeles Times and two institutions of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: the Unruh Institute of Politics and the Center for Economic and Social Research.

The poll results, methodology and data tables are available online.