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With 100 Days Until the Midterms, Trump is the Top Issue

President Donald Trump speaks at the United States Steel Granite City Works plant, July 26, 2018, in Granite City, Ill.
President Donald Trump speaks at the United States Steel Granite City Works plant, July 26, 2018, in Granite City, Ill.

One hundred days from now, we should be better able to answer the following question: What does the country really think about the presidency of Donald J. Trump?

Midterm congressional elections are on November 6th and party control of both the Senate and House of Representatives is at stake, not to mention the fate of the Trump presidency for the next two years.

Opposition Democrats enjoy some key advantages three months out. When voters are asked which party they will support in the November elections, Democrats hold a seven point edge over Republicans in the latest polling average calculated by the non-partisan website Real Clear Politics. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Democrats held a 51 to 39 percent generic ballot lead over Republicans, and other surveys have shown the Democratic advantage widening in recent weeks.

Referendum on Trump

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much but they do see eye-to-eye on one thing, and that is that President Trump will be the defining issue in this year's midterms.

With that in mind, Trump has been busy rallying his base and urging them to get out and support Republican candidates in November.

"We won't back down, we won't give in, and we will never, ever, surrender," Trump told supporters at a recent campaign rally in Great Falls, Montana. "We will never, ever, quit. We go forward to victory."

The president touted some good economic news on Friday when the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy surged last quarter to an annual growth rate of 4.1 percent, the fastest pace since 2014. "We have accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions," Trump told reporters at the White House.

Energized Democrats

But the good economic news seems to be doing little to blunt enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms among opposition Democrats.

Democrats have undertaken an intensive grassroots organizing campaign for November to get out the vote, and that includes high-profile names like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran for president in 2016.

"This fight about who controls the House is unbelievably important and it could literally come down to one or two elections," Sanders told an enthusiastic crowd in Kansas recently. "If you guys can do what I know you can. This will be an election heard not only all over this country but all over the world."

Democrats need to pick up about two dozen seats to retake the majority in the House, and gain two seats to have a majority in the Senate.

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​In addition to being energized, analysts predict that Democrats also have history on their side.

"The midterms generally are good for the out party, the party out of the White House, and in this case Donald Trump is a particularly unpopular president among Democrats," said John Fortier with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "They are motivated, they don't like him and they want to come out to vote."

Trump's polls

And then there is the issue of the president's poll numbers, which appear to have slipped slightly since his controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Real Clear average has Trump's approval at 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. But in two polls last week, Trump dropped below 40 percent approval, a reversal after improving his poll numbers in the last few months.

The latest Quinnipiac survey had the president's approval at 38 percent, with 58 percent disapproving. And the Marist Poll found Trump's approval at 39 percent with 51 percent disapproving. Marist also had the president under 40 percent approval in three key Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Trump narrowly won Michigan and Wisconsin as part of his Electoral College triumph in the 2016 presidential election.

Rallying the base

As Trump campaigns around the country on behalf of Republicans, he is urging supporters to defy history and turn out in strong numbers to show support for his agenda.

It is clear that both parties now see the midterms as a referendum on the president. "We have rarely had a president who was so centered on an election and so essential to it," said University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato via Skype. "He is the Sun. Everything else revolving around the Sun is a planet or a moon."

While Trump will be center-stage in the campaign, recent polls show Americans concerned with a range of issues including the economy, immigration, health care, guns and taxes.

Optimistic Democrats

Given Trump's low approval rating and the historical trend of presidents suffering losses in midterm elections, many experts predict that Democrats should make gains.

"I think the question is, is there a Democratic wave or is it a Democratic tsunami?" said Brookings Institution scholar Elaine Kamarck. "Do Democrats take the House with a margin of five (seats) or do they take the House with a margin of 30? That I don't think anybody can tell yet."

But given the president's loyal base and his apparent interest in campaigning, some Trump supporters caution that Republicans could do better than expected.

"I think the Democrats will gain some seats. But right now, if the election were held today, the Republicans may hold the House by one or two," said former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He spoke with VOA's Georgian Service.

All 435 House seats and about a third of the 100 Senate seats are at stake in November, and the outcome will have a major impact on the next two years of Trump's presidency.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.