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  • Sheri Rivlin Allan Rivlin

Democrats' Dreams of Taking the House Could be Dashed by this Terrible Number: Minus-7

Among all the “Breaking News” banners on cable television in the age of Trump, you could be forgiven for missing this one new polling result released on Thursday. The NBC News / Wall Street Journal Survey finds 36 percent of the public saying they think the Republican Party would do a better job dealing with the economy than the Democratic Party. Just 29 expressed greater confidence in the Democrats giving the GOP a 7-point advantage on this one number.

The survey contains a lot of good news for Democrats, who lead the generic congressional ballot by 8-points (50 Democrat-controlled Congress to 42 Republican-controlled Congress) and Democrats have a 17-point advantage when it comes to dealing with health care. But the 7-point deficit on handling the economy is deeply troubling because voters’ sentiment on dealing with their most important concern has proven to be the best predictor of which party will be celebrating on the morning after Election Day.

The table shows the average difference between the parties on questions that measure voters’ trust to manage the economy or create jobs (or other comparable phrasings) for all of the polls listed at from 2008 through 2016. In the table above we have averaged the advantage or deficit for all of the surveys taken between New Year’s Day through Election Day in each of the national election years. Democrats win elections when they have a lead on this number, but lost three of the past four elections when they trailed the Republicans by 2-points in 2010, 3-points in 2014 and 4-points in 2016. The 7-point deficit in this latest survey is too early to be a reliable predictor of the 2018 election but it does help explain why Democrats have been frustrated so far in the 2017 special elections.

There is plenty of time to turn this around but only if Democrats demonstrate a new willingness to communicate their economic ideas effectively. We have been beating this drum for several years. Here is a link to Five Democratic Economic Messages we could start employing today. The key point is that Democrats must have a message that goes beyond opposing and resisting President Trump. Despite all of his troubles, Trump keeps delivering economic messages by bringing CEOs and workers into the White House or even visiting companies that have positive job news to report. Democrats are not matching this level of commitment to making our economic case, and that is why we are falling behind.

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