IA-01, ME-02, MI-06, NV-02: A quartet of polls in four GOP-held House districts pitting Republican incumbents against generic Democratic opponents finds good news for Team Blue—but as ever with generic polling, the data must be treated cautiously. More on that in a minute; first, to the numbers, which come from two different pollsters (Clarity Campaign Labs and Public Policy Polling) working for two different pro-Democratic organizations (Patriot Majority USA and Save My Care, respectively). The first three polls are all Clarity/Patriot Majority; 2016 president results are in brackets:
IA-01: Rod Blum (R): 32, "Democratic challenger": 47 [Trump 49-45]
ME-02: Bruce Poliquin (R): 43, "Democratic challenger": 44 [Trump 51-41]
MI-06: Fred Upton (R): 37, "Democratic challenger": 41 [Trump 51-43]
NV-02: Mark Amodei (R): 46, "Democratic opponent": 45 [Trump 52-40]
All of these districts feature Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare, though Clarity's memo doesn't explain why these particular races were chosen. As you can see, these are all districts Trump won, and all of them also moved to the right last year. Indeed, Obama had carried both Iowa's 1st and Maine's 2nd, while he lost Michigan's 6th by just a point. As such, they're also the sort of districts that, if there's a Trump backlash, could move back in the other direction.
And that's what makes Nevada's 2nd the most interesting of the bunch. This is an enormous, conservative, and heavily rural district that encompasses most of the state—including all of the so-called "cow counties"—where Democrats have always struggled to compete. What's more, Amodei himself has made it sound like he's strongly considering retirement. If this is a 1-point race with him, it could be even more compelling without him.
Of course, this is where all the caveats come in. Polling real office-holders against generic candidates represents a sort of platonic ideal: Voters can easily imagine the perfect Democrat, free of flaws and right on all the issues, while the Republican is presented with warts and all. What's more, in some races, Democrats may not land serious challengers; in others, Democratic candidates may stumble or fail to gain traction.
It's also extremely, extremely early. As soon as we saw these polls, we were reminded of a very large batch of surveys testing generic Democrats against actual Republicans—61 in in all—that MoveOn commissioned in October of 2013, just after the Republicans forced the federal government to shut down. Then as now, the data looked very favorable for Democrats.
At the time, we said of those polls, “This portends one of two possible scenarios: either Republicans are in for a serious drubbing in 2014, or we'll be treated to a series of articles about how generic polling a year out isn't predictive of very much.” We’re not sure we ever got that series of articles, but it certainly was another good test case for why generic polling so far out wasn’t incredibly useful. Indeed, there was a wave in 2014, but it was the GOP that netted 13 House seats.
Now, MoveOn smartly fielded those polls at a very bad low-point for Republicans. Had the shutdown and general GOP intransigence remained present in voters minds, perhaps 2014's outcome would have been very different. Needless to say, though, life quickly, well, moved on, and the shutdown soon became a vague memory.
Trump, however, presents an entirely different sort of stimulus—one that will very likely (sad to say) still be tormenting us come November of next year. If anything, we could see a scenario where his presence grows even more toxic for his party and brings all kinds of otherwise seemingly uncompetitive districts online. But again, we're still a very long way off, and there's a lot for Democrats to do between now and then to be able to capitalize on this opportunity.