With their House majority hanging in the balance, Republicans have tried time and time again to tie Democratic candidates to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, hoping that her general unpopularity will drag the candidates down too. It doesn’t seem to be working.
A spate of recent polls have found that voters don’t care much about candidates’ views on the California Democrat. More voters care about what they think of President Donald Trump, these polls have found, supporting historical patterns in which midterm elections often become a referendum on the occupant of the White House.
This trend comes alongside consistent polling showing a generic Democratic congressional candidate leading a generic Republican congressional candidate. Democrats are up an average of 7.5 points on the so-called generic ballot, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average.
A private poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee that Bloomberg obtained last week underscored the GOP’s problem. When the November election is framed by Trump and Pelosi, respondents preferred Pelosi-aligned candidates over Trump-aligned ones by 5 points, 50 percent to 45 percent, Bloomberg reported. Among independents, a crucial voting bloc for both parties, the minority leader was ahead by a 4-point margin.
But Republicans aren’t backing down from their national strategy to use Pelosi as a villain in campaign ads, forcing Democratic candidates to answer questions about whether they’d support her for speaker if their party wins the majority next year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which did not return a request for comment, continues to use Pelosi in its attack ads, even against Democratic candidates like Lizzie Pannill Fletcher who have refused to back her for party leader.
An ad the NRCC released Tuesday in Texas’s 7th District — where Fletcher is challenging longtime GOP Rep. John Culberson in a race Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Tilts Republican — asserts that the Democrat would push a massive tax hike on working families.
“Why? Because she wants to fit in with Nancy Pelosi and her liberal agenda,” the narrator says. “That’s not Texas. Neither is Lizzie Fletcher.”
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Rallying the base
Whether Republicans expect the Pelosi attacks to sway undecided voters against Democrats or simply remind their conservative base what’s at stake in November, polls show the message isn’t registering the way other themes of this election cycle are.
A Democratic poll by Democracy Corps and Greenberg Research surveyed 1,200 registered Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP from Aug. 21-26, testing messages that Trump and congressional Republicans have been using on the campaign trail.
“We were testing what Republicans were using in their words,” said Stan Greenberg, one of the pollsters.
Specifically, the poll presented a number of statements Trump has made about why it’s important to vote for Republicans in November and asked voters how much more positive they feel about the Republican candidates for Congress after hearing those statements.
What they found was that Trump’s statements the voters most positively identified with were those on the economy, such as tax cuts and the unemployment rate, and on immigration and border security.
“Way down, 10 points down, is the Pelosi statement,” Greenberg said.
“I think it underscores why the Pelosi attacks haven’t worked in the special elections where they’ve used it,” he added.
The specific Trump statement on Pelosi that the poll used was: “The Democrats and the dishonest media are losing their minds because they lost the election. They’re owned by Nancy Pelosi and crazy Maxine Waters and they’ll undo everything, turning our country around. They’ll raise your taxes, take your guns, continue their witch hunt, and open the border to drugs and crime. We must elect Republican to stop their un-American agenda.”
While 66 percent of the respondents overall felt much more or somewhat more positive about Republican candidates after hearing that statement, only 41 percent of those who identified as moderate Republicans did.
Not important overall
Other polls have also suggested that tying candidates to Pelosi is an ineffective strategy.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Aug. 26-29 posed the question, “Is supporting a candidate who shares your opinion on Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House, important to you in the congressional election this fall, or not important?”
“Not important” was the most common answer, reported by 43 percent of respondents. Sixteen percent said it was somewhat important, 20 percent said very important and 14 percent said extremely important, while 7 percent had no opinion.
Before that, a CNN poll conducted Aug. 9-12 also found that only 34 percent of voters identified Pelosi as an issue that was very or extremely important to their vote. Twice as many, 68 percent, said the same of Trump. Pelosi ranked the lowest in importance among the 10 issues presented to voters in the survey.
“Republicans are on the brink of losing their House Majority and they are flailing,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “Poll after poll shows that attacking Nancy Pelosi just isn’t the Hail Mary they hoped it would be. Their strategy to hold the Majority is crumbling before their eyes.”