The latest round of public opinion polls shows that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has a small lead on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, possibly the result of a bounce after last week's GOP convention. But among Republican aides on Capitol Hill, there was no such post-convention uptick.
Only 42 percent of GOP respondents to CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey said they planned to vote for the real estate mogul in November. A plurality, 46 percent, said they’d stay home or vote for a third-party candidate. Twelve percent said they’d vote for Clinton.
The Republican staffers have been remarkably consistent. Exactly the same percentage said they’d give Trump their vote when CQ Roll Call asked in May and in June.
At the same time, only 36 percent of the Republican respondents said that Trump would win the election, an increase from the 30 percent who said as much in June but in line with the results from May.
This, of course, contrasts with Republican heavyweights, who seem to be rallying to Trump since he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. The new supporters range from GOP congressional leaders on Capitol Hill to key figures in the religious right.
“Every once in awhile you come across a phenomenon that’s such an outlier, and I think Trump is in that category,” said Jeffrey Taylor, a former chief of staff to ex-Indiana GOP Rep. David McIntosh, who’s now the managing partner of U.S. Government Relations Intl., a lobbying firm. “Every single pundit got it wrong and all of the polls got it wrong.”
Taylor expects more unity will come and counts himself among those who’ve come to embrace the Trump candidacy. His former boss, McIntosh, is another who’s changed his tune. McIntosh is now president of the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group that ran anti-Trump ads during the primaries but has since praised his choice of Pence.
If Republican aides have mixed feelings about their nominee, Democrats on Capitol Hill are exhibiting none of the dissension that’s apparent at their convention in Philadelphia this week. All but one Democratic respondent said they would vote for Clinton and all but one said she’ll win.
How can Democrats be so confident, given Trump’s surge in the national polls?
“Trump was always going to get a bump after his convention, and Hillary and the Democrats will have that this week,” said Kevin Murphy, a former speechwriter for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat.
The Capitol Insiders Survey, an online, opt-in poll, was emailed to aides July 19. They had until July 26 to respond and 205 did, of which 110 said they were Democrats, 93 Republicans and two independents.
The Democrats’ confidence extends to the Senate. Ninety-three percent of the Democratic staffers who filled out the poll said their party would be in charge there come January. Republicans, by contrast, are worried. Nearly half of the respondents, a plurality, said Democrats would gain the majority.
The aides disagree, though, over what will happen in the House. There, three in four of the Democrats think they’ll make “significant gains,” while only a third of Republicans think the Democrats can do that.
On policy matters, it looks like Congress might as well skip ahead to a lame-duck session. The aides are now predicting that Congress will again resort to either an omnibus spending bill to cover the coming fiscal year, as it has consistently in recent years, or it will enact a continuing resolution allowing the incoming Congress and president to work out a deal.
The confidence they showed earlier in the year that a return to regular order would lead to enactment of at least some individual appropriations bills is gone. Now, six in 10 aides say none will make it to the president's desk.
The aides are narrowly divided on whether Congress can reach a agreement on funding to combat the Zika virus, with a plurality of 47 percent expecting a deal. Democrats were more confident that their GOP colleagues would take the blame if there is no meeting of the minds.
Meanwhile, solid majorities continue to say there will be no action on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland or on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
“Bipartisan cooperation is at an all-time low, and sinking,” said Ron Eckstein, a former speechwriter for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who’s now a spokesman for Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal advocacy group. “It's hard to imagine things getting better with the heated rhetoric coming out of this campaign.”