Republican Politicians Downballot Are Better-Liked Than Donald Trump

That might not be enough to save them in November.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks during a session called "The New Congress" at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council me
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks during a session called "The New Congress" at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting in Washington Dec. 2, 2014. Polls show him significantly outperforming Donald Trump in Ohio.

Weeks after the party conventions, Donald Trump’s deficit in both national and state-level polls shows no sign of abating. While there’s still time for the race to narrow, the current state of the race raises another question: If he’s still this far behind on Election Day, how will that affect Republicans’ ability to win in other races?

Voters in recent years have increasingly tended to select presidential and congressional candidates from the same party. The 2012 election saw fewer than 6 percent of the nation’s congressional districts support different parties for the House than the presidency. In the 81 most competitive House districts, GOP congressional candidates ran on average just 1 point ahead of Mitt Romney, according to Republican pollster Robert Blizzard.

Republicans further down the ballot are hoping that won’t be the case this year. To save their Senate majority, they’ll need battleground states to ditch that pattern and split their ticket across party lines, supporting GOP candidates for Senate, even if they prefer Clinton over Trump.

There are signs that such a split could play out in some of this year’s marquee races. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is out-polling Democrat Ted Strickland by 7 points in HuffPost Pollster’s average, despite Clinton’s 2-point edge in the state. In Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, both states where Clinton holds a 7-point lead, incumbents Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are tied with their Democratic challengers. An exception is Wisconsin, where the relatively scarce recent polling suggests Democrat Russ Feingold’s lead over Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) may be wider than Clinton’s lead over Trump.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll offers another bit of evidence that Trump is under-performing other Republican politicians. Forty-three percent of voters said the Republican candidates running for office in their state were better than Donald Trump, while 12 percent said their state candidates were worse, and 25 percent that they were about the same. (The rest were unsure.)

It’s not a new phenomenon for voters to prefer their home-state politicians over the rest of the nation’s officials. Polls have long found, for instance, that Americans like their own representative in the House, even if they think throwing the rest of Congress out would mark a change for the better.

But Trump fares notably worse in comparison to other Republicans than Hillary Clinton does compared to other Democratic candidates. Just 31 percent of voters said their state’s Democratic candidates were better than Clinton, while 7 percent said they were worse, and a plurality, 44 percent, that they’re about the same. 

Forty-eight percent of independent voters said Republican candidates at the state level are better than Trump, while 38 percent said Democratic candidates are better than Clinton.

The divide was even starker among members of the candidates’ own parties. Just 17 percent of Democrats said their party’s state-level candidates are better than Clinton; twice as many Republicans, 35 percent, said that other GOP candidates are better than Trump.

The question is whether those results are a sign that Trump isn’t dragging down other candidates, or a representation of his potential to do exactly that, especially as House and Senate Democrats seek to link vulnerable rivals to the Trump campaign. Evidence is increasingly pointing to the latter.

“Donald Trump’s post-conventions polling slump seems to be having an effect on the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate candidates,” FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote last week, noting that GOP candidates had seen their standings worsen post-convention. “We thought this might happen: There’s been an increasingly strong relationship between how a state votes for president and how it votes for Senate over the past few election cycles. And, indeed, Trump’s tumble has coincided with worsening GOP numbers in key states. It may cost the party the Senate.”

HuffPost Pollster’s initial Senate forecast predicts that, were the election held today, Republicans would have just a 22 percent chance of holding on to their Senate majority.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Aug. 11-12 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.