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Trump’s approval rating is going up — but voters still want Democrats to take Congress

A new poll finds a third of voters don’t see their midterm vote as a verdict on the president.

Representative Martha McSally holds out her arm in a gesture toward Donald Trump onstage at a political rally.
President Donald Trump campaigns alongside Martha McSally, Republican candidate for the Senate in Arizona, in October 2018.
Ralph Freso/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

President Donald Trump’s approval rating has improved with Americans — but voters still want Democrats to win in the 2018 midterm elections.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend found that 50 percent of likely voters want Democrats to control Congress after November, compared to 41 percent who want Republicans to maintain control. Among all registered voters, the gap narrows slightly: 48 percent of voters prefer Democrats and 41 percent Republicans. In a September NBC News/WSJ poll, Democrats had a 12-point lead over Republicans among registered voters.

Voters have warmed up to President Trump, at least somewhat. Trump’s approval rating reached 47 percent among registered voters — its all-time high in this poll — while 49 percent of registered voters disapprove of him. In September, 44 percent of registered voters approved of Trump and 52 percent disapproved.

But while support for Republicans has increased slightly since September, it doesn’t seem to be spiking as Trump’s approval ratings improve. One item that could help to explain the disconnect is the fact that many voters said they don’t consider their midterm decisions to be tied to their feelings about Trump. Twenty-nine percent of registered voters said their votes were meant to send a signal of support to Trump, 33 percent said it was meant to signal opposition, and 36 percent said it’s not a message either way on the president.

As would be expected, there are some pretty deep divisions on political opinions among race, gender, and age. As NBC News notes, Democrats lead among black voters, Latinos, white women with college degrees, young people, all women, and independents. Republicans lead among men, whites, and white women without college degrees.

Voters give Democrats higher marks on looking out for the interests of women and the middle class, handling health care, and immigration. They rate Republicans higher on handling the economy, trade, and the Supreme Court justice nomination process.

On the latter point, 40 percent of poll respondents said they favored the Senate’s confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while 36 percent opposed, and 24 percent said they still needed to know more about him or weren’t sure. The party divisions on Kavanaugh are stark: 80 percent of Republicans favored his confirmation, while 66 percent of Democrats opposed.

Voters are excited about the midterms

The NBC News/WSJ poll, like many surveys this election cycle, reflected a lot of enthusiasm from voters about heading to the polls on November 6.

Pollsters asked registered voters to rate on a 10-point scale how interested they are in the November elections. Sixty-five percent of respondents rated themselves as a nine or a 10, meaning they’re very interested. And 52 percent said that the 2018 midterm elections are more important than prior contests.

Enthusiasm was higher than normal among a number of groups likely to back Democrats, including Latinos, women, and young voters.

The 2018 midterms are just over two weeks away, and campaigns are entering their final stretches. Democrats have reason to be optimistic, but not overly so.