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7 November 2018

Referendum on Trump? Two thirds of midterm voters cite the president as their reason for voting

Polling indicates that the majority of midterm voters see their vote as a yes or no for the president, and the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination played a big role.

By Nicky Woolf

The results are just starting to come in from the midterm elections, and it is far too early to tell who the big winners and losers are going to be from the vote. However, two figures loom large in what has driven America’s voters to the polls and influenced their choices – Donald Trump, and his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The preliminary results of a nationwide digital poll just released by the Associated Press imply that for two thirds of voters in this election, the most important figure was not the candidates they were actually voting for, but President Donald Trump.

Just under 65 per cent of voters said they voted for the purpose of expressing either opposition to or support for Trump, the report said. That’s a ten percentage point jump from last time: in the 2014 midterm elections, a CBS poll found that 54 per cent of voters cast their vote as a referendum on President Obama (34 per cent against, 20 per cent for).

The split doesn’t look great for Republicans:

Nearly 40 percent of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate, while about 25 percent said they voted to express support for Trump.

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This might spell bad news for Republicans, especially those running in suburban marginal House districts – some of whom have tried to distance themselves from the president during the campaign.

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The other name not on any ballot but looming large over the election is Brett Kavanaugh. FiveThirtyEight.com reports that in the Indiana Senate election, where incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly is fighting to hold his seat, “53 percent said that Donnelly’s vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was important in deciding their midterm vote.”

This is particularly important for Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp, who is fighting for her political life in North Dakota – Kavanaugh may cost her and the Democrats her seat: she was already trailing in the polls before she voted against his confirmation, but the gap increased so that she was behind by ten to twelve points after the vote, Vox reported (she has since closed the gap to nine points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average).

However, her vote also energised Heitkamp’s base: as New York Times’ Ken Vogel noted, in just 17 days surrounding and following the Kavanaugh confirmation vote, Heitkamp raised $12.5m in donations – almost as much money as she raised in the previous five and a half years.

It is also looking like it might have been crucial for Joe Manchin, the only Democratic senator to vote for Kavanaugh, who has just won his seat in West Virginia.