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Poll: Women voters are driving Democrats’ favorability gains in battleground House districts

With about a month until the midterms, a new poll shows Democrats with an advantage among voters in battleground House districts.

Members Of Congress Return To Capitol Hill Amidst New Kavanaugh Accusations
A woman wears a jacket that reads ‘November Is Coming’ at a recent rally against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A new survey of 69 competitive House races across the country with seats largely held by Republicans shows Democrats with a narrow advantage going into November’s midterms.

The survey of 2,672 likely voters in the districts — conducted by the Washington Post and Schar School of Policy and Government — shows that 50 percent of voters in these districts favor the Democratic candidate, compared to 46 percent who prefer the Republican candidate. This is a dramatic difference from two years ago, when voters in these districts said they preferred Republican candidates by 56 percent to 41 percent, a margin of 15 points.

The survey is geographically diverse, including districts are all over the country, from Maine to Texas. Voters in these districts tend to be white, and they tend to be more college-educated, compared to the US as a whole.

The new results are being propelled by women voters tending to prefer Democrats, the common theme of 2018. Fifty-four percent of women voters in these districts said they preferred Democratic candidates, and 40 percent preferred Republicans. Men, on the other hand, favored Republicans by 51 percent, compared to 46 percent favoring Democrats.

Given the recent bitter and politically charged battle over newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, voters also have the Supreme Court on their mind. Kavanaugh was confirmed in a narrow Senate vote on Saturday after being accused of sexual assault and misconduct, allegations he denies.

When asked about their most important issues, the Supreme Court and Donald Trump and the Supreme Court rose to the top, along with health care and the economy. When it came to the Supreme Court, 85 percent of respondents listed is as either “extremely” or “very” important. When voters were asked about Trump, 77 percent of respondents listed the president as an “extremely” or “very” important issue going into 2018. Health care, the economy, and immigration were also top issues.

The poll could be bad news for Republicans

These numbers could be anxiety-inducing for Republicans, who hold the vast majority of the seats surveyed by the Post and the Schar School. Republicans control 63 out of the 69 districts where voters were polled, and Trump carried 48 of these districts. In order for Democrats to win back control the House in 2018, they need to gain 23 seats.

As the Post’s Scott Clement and Dan Balz noted, likely voters in districts carried by Trump in 2016 are much more likely to be evenly split among Democratic and Republican candidates, as opposed to the 21 districts Hillary Clinton carried.

This Washington Post poll was different than the generic ballot question that other polls use, because it was targeted to specific districts and asked likely voters if they were more likely to vote for a specific candidate by name, rather than just more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.

The last four weeks going into Election Day are critical for Democrats, especially coming off the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Democrats in some of these competitive Republican districts have been outperforming expectations when it comes to fundraising — a sign of enthusiasm.

For instance, Democrat Kathleen Williams, who is challenging Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte for Montana’s at-large congressional seat, has fundraised nearly $2.9 million for her campaign, with the majority of donations coming in the past few months, according to local news outlets.

Democrats have tried and failed for years to flip the district, which the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates R+11, and Williams’s strong numbers caught pollsters by surprise. Cook currently has the seat ranked as Lean Republican.

When Kavanaugh’s nomination appeared to be in real trouble last week, it had the effect of revving up the Republican base in a way pollsters haven’t seen all election cycle. An NPR/Marist poll released on Wednesday showed that 80 percent of Republican voters polled said the midterms were “very important,” essentially on par with Democratic voters, who were at 82 percent.

Compare that to July, when Republican voters lagged 10 percentage points behind Democrats when asked how important the midterms were. The sudden jump in enthusiasm signaled that Republicans were fired up about Kavanaugh in a way nothing else had been able to achieve.

“The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Now that Kavanaugh has been confirmed, the effect could indeed be short term. (It’s important to note it’s still too early for enough polling data to tell us if this was a short-term spike or a larger trend among Republican voters.) But Kavanaugh’s drawn-out, embattled confirmation hearing, ending with him being confirmed, could now have the effect of spurring more Democrats to the polls on November 6.

At least in these battleground districts, Republicans have reason to be nervous.

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