It’s been an unrelenting torrent of negative news for Republicans trying to hold on to their House majority this fall: President Trump’s low approval ratings, a slew of retirements in competitive seats and the crushing weight of history that suggests they are headed for major losses in November.
The most obvious number is that Democrats’ once-massive 16-point lead on the generic ballot (“If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?”) is now down to just 3: 47% to 44%.
But dig into the poll further and other shoots of optimism for Republicans sprout up.
1. The economy is becoming more prominent as a voting issue, as Trump recedes somewhat. More than 8 in 10 voters (84%) say the economy will be “extremely” or “very” important to their votes, while 64% say the same of the President. The better the economy does — or is perceived to be doing — and the less that people see the 2018 election as a straight referendum on Trump, the better for Republican chances.
2. While Trump’s job approval numbers remain stuck in the low 40s, he appears to be less of a drag on congressional Republicans today than he was a few months ago. In January, 52% said they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who opposes Trump, while 41% said they’d be more likely to back someone who supports him. That margin has narrowed in the new poll; 48% said they’d rather choose a candidate who opposes Trump, while 43% prefer a candidate who supports the President.
3. Republicans are getting more interested in the 2018 election. In March, just 1 in 3 GOPers (and GOP-leaning independents) said they were “very enthusiastic” about the midterms. That number is up to 44% in the new CNN survey.
The Point: None of this is definitive proof that Republicans will be able to beat back the Democratic wave. There’s other evidence in the poll that suggests that among those most excited about the midterms, Democrats still carry a double-digit edge, for one. But for a party that has been without much good news for months, this poll will look like an oasis in the desert to GOP strategists and candidates.
Analysis By Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large