"If the election were held today, would you vote for a Democrat or Republican candidate for Congress."The answer to this question has a strong correlation to which party win control of the U.S. House.
Of course, in individual congressional districts, the question is not a good test for which party will win. But aggregated across the country, the question is good for taking the partisan temperature of the electorate. Elections in which the Republicans do well, the GOP runs ahead of the generic ballot. Elections in which Republicans lose seats, the Democrats enjoy a signficant margin in the generic ballot.
There are caveats, however. Democrats generally do better with self-identification and as a result have a bit of an edge on the generic ballot question. The second caveat is that margins matter. A Democratic two point lead in the generic ballot means close to nothing. If the party keeps switching leads in the generic ballot, that suggests considerable volatility among the electorate.
In 2018, the Real Clear Politics final generic ballot polling average gave Dems a 7.1% edge. The result was an 8.4% edge for Democrats on election day, netting the Dems a more than 40 seat gain in the U.S. House. In 2016, the RCP generic ballot polling average was a scant 0.6% for Democrats. On Election Day, Republicans though edged out Democrats by 1.1%. Still in the 2016 election, the Democrats picked up 6 House seats.
The 2020 generic ballot looks a lot like 2018. In 2018, the Republicans led on only one generic ballot poll in the hundreds of such polls taken over the course of nearly two years leading up to the 2018 election. As the 2020 election approaches, Republicans have led on zero generic ballot polls and trail the Dems by 7.3%.
It should be emphasized that Democrats dominating the generic ballot in 2020 in a similar fashion as 2018 is not going to lead to another 40 seat gain for the Democrats in the House. House districts are highly gerrymandered. Democrats already picked off most of the most vulnerable Republicans in 2018. Those were the low hanging fruit for Democrats. Reaching higher up the congressional tree in 2020, the Democrats knocking off GOP incumbents gets a lot more difficult.
What the 2020 generic ballot means is that the Democrats will not be losing their House majority in 2020. Anyone who offers to bet you the Republicans will win a majority in U.S. House this November, take the bet. Barring a huge collapse in the generic ballot numbers, the Democrats are going to have their house majority going into 2021.
With only 1/3 of U.S. Senators up every two years, the generic ballot is not good at determining election swings in that chamber. In 2018, the Republicans enjoyed one of the best maps ever as scores of Democrats were seeking re-election in red states, while Republicans had few vulnerable Senators to defend in blue states. As a result, the Republicans picked up two seats in an otherwise awful GOP year.
In 2020, the Senate map is much more competitive for Democrats. Democrats had four top targets for knocking off incumbents (Arizona, Maine, North Carolina and Colorado) and Republicans have one almost certain pickup (Alabama). There was a second tier of GOP Senate incumbents and Republican open seats that seemed just out of reach for Democrats. No more. As a result of the unpopularity of the GOP brand as reflected in the generic ballot, Democrats now have strong chances of winning seats in Georgia, Iowa, Montana, and Kansas. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) are polling as vulnerable.
My take? As of writing this Democrats have about a 90% chance of keeping the House and about a 60% chance of winning a majority in the U.S. Senate (where the Democrats need three seats if Biden wins the presidency, four if Trump is re-elected). The latter is a huge increase. At the start of 2020, I might have given the Dems a 30% chance of winning enough seats for control of the Senate.
As of writing this piece, I noticed a new poll came in from Florida Atlantic University showing Biden with a 6 point lead in the Sunshine State. In the Trump era, Florida had fallen from the ranks of being the swingiest swing state to being only a second tier battleground. Trump has always had a surprising level of popularity in Florida. But, post Covid-19, Trump's popularity in Florida has sunk significantly. In March, a Florida Atlantic University poll found 49% approval of Trump's job performance and 41% disapproval. In the just released FAU poll, the numbers are 43% approve, 46% disapprove, an 11 point net slide in popularity in 2 months. That March FAU poll had Trump ahead 51-49, The newly released FAU poll has Biden up 6 in Florida.