Podcast: What Defines a Political Wave in the House?
Roll Call Decoder, Episode 6

MARCH 14: Speaker Paul D. Ryan holds a press conference with House GOP leadership in the Capitol on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, as a television displays election results from the special election in Pennsylvania. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With President Donald Trump’s mediocre job ratings, Democrats’ advantage on the national generic ballot and success in special elections in Pennsylvania, Alabama and elsewhere, there’s plenty of talk about a political wave. In this week’s Decoder, Roll Call elections analyst Nathan Gonzales, sitting in for David Hawkings, talks with Roll Call columnist Stuart Rothenberg about how many seats it takes to make a wave and which Republicans might survive.

Show Notes:

Pennsylvania 18: A Red Flag for the GOP
The margins in a strong GOP district signal November worries for Republicans

Democrat Conor Lamb, left, and Republican Rick Saccone fought to a virtual draw for Pennsylvania’s open 18th District seat. (Courtesy Conor Lamb/Rick Saccone/Facebook)

The results in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District confirm problems for Republicans.

The size of the Democratic general election wave is still unclear, but something is happening. Districts won comfortably by President Donald Trump in 2016 are more competitive now, which suggests that districts won by Hillary Clinton are likely to go Democratic in the midterms.

Analysis: Why the Gun Issue Has Shifted (It’s Not What You Think)
When courting swing voters, gun rights crowd is less part of the equation

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, seen here on the East Lawn on Feb. 21 with students who were calling for action on gun control, represents the kind of suburban district that was once reliably Republican, but no longer, Rothenberg writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The gun debate has shifted dramatically. Suddenly, it looks as if the issue will benefit Democrats in November, not Republicans.

The reason for the shift doesn’t rest primarily on the intelligence and commitment of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, although many of them have been articulate and persuasive.

Analysis: Will the Suburbs Flip the House? Watch These Seats
If Trump keeps bleeding suburban support, GOP House majority could be at risk

Retiring Michigan Rep. Dave Trott’s 11th District is overwhelmingly suburban, offering Democrats a pickup opportunity. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If elections and national surveys over the past year have shown us anything, it is that suburban voters could well be the key to the 2018 midterm House elections.

Turnout among minority voters and younger voters could affect the result in a district here or there, but an increase in suburban turnout or a substantial shift by suburban voters (especially suburban women) from the Republicans to the Democrats could have a much broader impact on the fight for control of the House.

Analysis: Running Against Pelosi May Not Save the GOP This Year
Tried-and-true strategy unlikely to move the needle much in November

The Republican strategy to keep the House in 2018 includes running against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But that may not move the political needle much, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It is no secret that the Republican strategy to keep the House in 2018 includes running against Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC have run television ads during special elections this cycle linking Democratic nominees to Pelosi, and GOP strategists are gleeful when they talk about the Democratic leader’s baggage and their intention to use her in their TV ads.

Analysis: The Generic Is Falling! The Generic Is Falling!
A deeper look at polling shows a fairly consistent Democratic advantage

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned House Democrats at their recent retreat not to be complacent about their chances for winning the majority in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

I hear it all the time these days. The Democratic electoral wave is petering out. The generic ballot shows the Democrats’ advantage is cratering. President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are up. Voters are giving the president more and more credit for the economy’s strength. Lighten up, political junkies, the election is not until November. Today’s generic may not be tomorrow’s.

Moreover, the Democrats remain well-positioned to benefit from an electoral wave. This column focuses on the generic ballot, as reported and averaged by RealClearPolitics.

Analysis: The GOP Catch-22 — Donald Trump
Republicans in Congress are in a no-win situation with the president

Republicans are caught between supporting and distancing themselves from President Donald Trump as the midterms approach. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Even if you think Republican leaders in Congress have shown no spine in responding to President Donald Trump’s more outrageous and inappropriate comments, you ought to be willing to acknowledge that GOP legislators are caught in a no-win situation.

It’s always tempting to tell incumbents of an unpopular president’s party to criticize their own party leader as a way to survive a midterm wave. But that strategy rarely works in competitive congressional districts when the political environment is as bad as it is for Republicans today.

Analysis: The Stunning ‘Role of Government’ Numbers
Trump years have been marked by more preference for government action

President Donald Trump's time in office has been marked by an uptick in support for government action among the public, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While most people seem fascinated by shifts in presidential job approval and national ballot tests, I’ve always thought that the “role of government” question asked in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

The responses to that question offer interesting insights into how voters see government, which, in turn, affects how they view the two parties and how they behave when the next election rolls around.

Analysis: Watch the Polls, Ignore the Post-Shutdown Chatter
Shutdown was more about hype than a political realignment

The shutdown that ended on Monday will likely only be a minor factor in November, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Over the past few weeks, members of Congress, journalists and television hosts agreed on one thing: The looming government shutdown was a huge deal. Then, after the shutdown ended, those same people pontificated about who won and who lost, as well as about liberal dissatisfaction with the deal to open the government. Here is my advice: ignore most or all of this chatter.

Instead, focus on two new national polls, one from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, and the other from The Washington Post and ABC News.

The Democrats’ Savior
Donald Trump gave Democrats what they could not give themselves: unity

Protesters walk down Independence Avenue in Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, during the Women’s March. President Donald Trump has energized and united Democratic voters. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One year ago, as Donald Trump was preparing to take the oath of office, Democrats were in disarray. Supporters of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were pointing fingers at each other, the Democratic National Committee was in disgrace, and Democratic voters were demoralized.

Now, Trump has succeeded in doing something extraordinary, something neither Clinton nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could do — he has united and energized Democrats.