CAPS - Harris Poll on the post-Midterms political landscape

December 3, 2018

The midterms, a forward look to 2020, views on Congress and the Russia investigation are addressed in the November 2018 poll by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard (CAPS) and The Harris Poll. The poll was conducted November 26-27, 2018 among 1,407 registered voters.

Political Climate and Midterm Response

President Trump’s approval rating – currently 46% -- has remained steady in the mid-40s since early in 2018. Trump continues to be credited with his work on the economy (56% approve), fighting terrorism (55%), and stimulating jobs (54%). But a majority disapprove of his work in foreign affairs (57%), and administering the government (58%). Voters are closer to evenly split on his dealing with immigration (52% approve, 48% disapprove).

Following the midterms, both parties saw a peak in party favorability – democrats (up to 46% from 41% in October) more than republicans (up to 43% from 41% in October).

A plurality of voters (43%) say the midterm was a win for democrats (67% of democrats say they won), and just 17% of registered voters say the GOP won (among GOP voters, 33% say they won). Forty percent say the election was a draw.

Voters from both parties are satisfied with the election outcome: 67% overall, 58% among GOP, and 79% among democrats.


In a hypothetical democratic primary, Joe Biden received a plurality of the vote (25%), following by Bernie Sanders (15%), then Hillary Clinton (13%). (An alternative version of the question, excluding Hillary Clinton as an option, yielded Joe Biden with a 28% plurality, following by Bernie Sanders at 21%). Today, over a third of voters (38%) think that Hillary Clinton will run again in 2020.

The surprise of the 2020 Democratic horserace is Beto O’Rourke, who appears fourth with 9%, ahead of democratic mainstays Elizabeth Warren (4%), Cory Booker (3%), and Kamala Harris (2%), among others.

President Trump is a clear favorite in the hypothetical GOP primary with 44%, well above second place Mitt Romney at 6%.

Congressional Dysfunction and Key Issues for the New Congress

By a 3:1 margin, voters see Congress as “dysfunctional.” (76% say dysfunctional, 24% say congress functions well.) Who is to blame? Voters are split on whether it is party leaders (48%) or rank-and-file members (43%).

Voters overwhelming would like to see compromise, with 73% asking for congress members “work across party lines.” To this end, voters support procedural changes that would allow amendments to bills to be voted on when they have “significant bipartisan support” (56%).

Voters (63%) want to see a comprehensive immigration deal that gives dreamers work permits and a path to citizenship in exchange for increasing merit preference, while eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and funding barrier security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A larger majority of voters want to see legislation to raise the minimum age for purchasing guns to 21 (76%) and a reduction of government spending (73%). And a majority of voters support Trump’s tariff-driven trade policy (65%), even if it means higher domestic price levels (53%).

Budget Shutdown

Most voters (62%) oppose using a government shutdown to leverage political motives by either Congress or the President. A majority (69%) say Congress and the President should work to compromise to avoid a shutdown versus taking hard positions.

Voters (61%) support Trump approving a measure that would protect the Special Counsel from being removed by a new Attorney General in order to avoid a partial government shutdown on December 7th, a democratic demand. Voters are split on whether Democrats should say “no” to funding a border wall in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Relations with the other ‘estates’: Federal Reserve, Judiciary, and Media

Over four in five voters (45%) say the fed is raising interest rates appropriately, compared to 38% who say too quickly and 16% too slowly. A slim majority of American voters (54%) trusts the Fed to raise rates responsibly.

But a large majority of voters (72%) acknowledge the risks if the Fed raises rates too quickly it could create a recession. A small majority (54%) say it is appropriate for the President to criticize the Fed if they think it is hurting the economy.

Irrespective of framing, today US voters are skeptical of the judiciary’s political independence, suggesting the high court has taken a hit from recent politicized events relating to its work. Sixty-six percent think federal judges are influenced by politics and ruling more and more by their political views compared to 34% who think they are mostly independent and ruling on the basis of the law. Fifty-six percent of voters say today we have Trump and Obama judges who make decisions on the basis of political views as much as the law vs. 44% who think we have a strong and independent judiciary

A slight majority of voters say the media has been fair to Donald trump (53% fair vs. 47% unfair). Voters are split on whether the White House should be able to suspend credentials of journalists deemed disruptive (52% should not vs. 48% should).

Russia Investigation

Voters appear increasingly skeptical that the special counsel has found evidence of collusion: 42% say the special counsel has not found such evidence – up from 38% two months ago. A majority of voters continue to believe that the investigation does more to hurt the country (58%) than to help (38%).

American voters want transparency when it comes to how the investigation was launched. Sixty-five percent say it’s important to turn over evidence from the FBI and Justice Department to clear the air in starting the investigation. Over two-thirds (69%) of American voters favor an investigation into potential abuses at the FBI; and a majority of voters believe bias played a role in the launching of the Russia investigation (55%).

Seventy-six percent of voters want to see former FBI director Comey and Loretta Lynch answer the subpoena issued by the outgoing Congress. And 63% of voters say the incoming congress should be allowed to obtain and release the President’s tax returns.

A large majority of voters (69%) say House Democrats should wait for Mueller’s final report before opening a new investigation into the Trump campaign.

For more information on the November poll, go to the CAPS/Harris Poll website for the detailed results, and please visit The Hill ( for first look analysis of all polls.

The CAPS/Harris Poll website will be updated throughout the week with more information about the poll.


The survey was conducted by The Harris Poll online within the United States from November 26-27 among 1,407 registered voters.

The results reflect a nationally representative sample. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, and education where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

The poll was supervised by Harvard Professor of Government and CAPS Faculty Director Stephen Ansolabehere, Mark Penn, and Dritan Nesho.

Stephen Ansolabehere has 25 years’ experience conducting survey research and experimental research in the field of political science.

Mark Penn is a former presidential pollster and has 40 years of polling experience.

Dritan Nesho is a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and has over 11 years of polling and data analytics experience.