About those head-to-head polls


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On the roster: About those head-to-head polls - Warren continues to gain ground in latest poll - Trump heads to N.C. rally on eve of House election - What’s in store as Congress returns - New phone, who dis?

ABOUT THOSE HEAD-TO-HEAD POLLS
It’s no surprise to regular readers of this note (and it’s precursors) for the past nine years that our absolute favorite part is corresponding with you. We call it “From the Bleachers,” but by any name it would be a treat.

You never fail to impress us with your wit, kindness, thoughtfulness, patriotism and knowledge. You have shown remarkable devotion and a willingness to both encourage and correct us.

There are, as of last counting, 316,052 of you willing to make space for us in your inboxes. We are impossibly, unendingly grateful. But we are selfishly the most pleased for the correspondence — especially your terrific questions.

For example, reader Peggie Hall of North Little Rock, Ark. raised a particularly good one last week about the relative value of head-to-head polling at this point in an election cycle:

“We see polls almost every day comparing [President Trump's] latest standing against all the likely Democrat nominees. I strongly suspect I'm not the only person who'd like to see how the President fares in a comparison of then candidate and then nominee's standing in the polls against Hillary -- and Sanders too, of course -- in 2015 and throughout 2016 right up through Election Day. Thanks for considering what may or may not be just a harebrained idea from a devoted reader!”

Ms. Hall, you are far from harebrained in your wondering! We have explained here and elsewhere why we care about these polls so far out from the election. First, it does say something about what voters generally want. Second, in a reelection cycle, it has a great deal to say about how voters feel about the incumbent.

Our basic rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to how well the potential challenger is doing, but you should instead look at the incumbent’s numbers. Whomever the Democrats nominate will not be the same person in the eyes of voters after they finish the nominating process (ouch) and then have the incumbent’s campaign drop $1 billion worth of negative advertising on his or her head (double ouch).

The current Democratic front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, is certainly a well-known public figure. But the amount of attention he is getting on a day-to-day basis is nothing compared to a sitting president, especially one who is locked in the most intense, obsessive relationship with the press of any incumbent in history.

If Biden does go on to win his party’s nomination, his reputation and perceived attributes will be quite different in the eyes of voters a year from now.

But it’s still worth paying attention to how voters choose when forced to contemplate next year’s election. In an average of the five most recent methodologically sound polls comparing Trump with Biden, Biden leads by almost 12 points — 52.4 percent to 40.6 percent.

Like so:

TRUMP V. BIDEN
Trump: 40.6 percent
Biden: 52.4 percent
Biden +11.8 points

We’re not going to bother going down the list of Democrats because of the reasons listed above. Most of them are just not well known enough at this point to shed any useful light on their chances. It is worth noting, however, that Trump fares about the same against all of them, hanging out around 40 percent.

That tells us what is confirmed in other surveys that asked the question more directly: There is a strong appetite for change (again) in the electorate. That’s why so much of the focus for Trump and his campaign is going to be on trying to render his eventual challenger as a dangerous choice.

The most recent reelection cycle was notable for the profound negativity of the incumbent. We expect that trend to intensify.

As for your comment about how many of these polls there are, it may just seem that way. We had to reach back to July to find our fab five. Accordingly, we are going to cheat a little bit and look not at the state of polling at this point four years ago, but rather at the end of September 2015 in order to get a better, more compact sample.

Just for fun, we looked at the polls eight years ago as well. That cycle is probably a more useful comparison anyway since they are both reelections.

We can’t really test the question before the 2012 cycle. In September of 2007 there were exactly zero national polls — of any procedure or provenance — that tested then-Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton (lolz) against then-Republican front runner Rudy Giuliani (doublelolz).

As much as people talk about what’s the matter with polling, there is far more (at least on a national level) and far better polling than there was 12 years ago. We do have a problem with sufficient high-quality, state-level polling in the age of mortally ill local newspapers, and there is a lot of unreliable, cheapo national polling to be studiously ignored. But all in all, this exercise has caused us to count our blessings.

We are also not going to fool around with Bernie Sanders since he wasn’t included in all the polls four years ago. As he has learned the hard way in his second candidacy, much of his relative success was as a protest vote against a little-liked but still dominant front runner.

Here’s how it looked in September 2015:

TRUMP V. CLINTON
Trump: 43 percent
Clinton 46.8 percent
Clinton +3.8 points

Not bad, pollsters! Clinton won the popular vote by a little bit more than two points, so the surveys of September 2015 turned out to be pretty predictive. It looks even more prescient when you consider that one of the five polls was a pretty obvious outlier that put Clinton up by 10 points. All of the rest, including our own Fox News poll, were clustered narrowly showing close contest but with Clinton having the edge.

No national polls then or now can account for the electoral map, but they certainly could identify the possibility for a blowout election in which one side was so big that it made the map a moot point. That is certainly not what voters were feeling four years ago when they were asked what they would do if forced to choose between Trump and Clinton.

And here’s how it looked eight years ago at this point:

OBAMA V. ROMNEY
Obama: 47 percent
Romney: 45.2 percent
Obama +1.8 points

Once again, pretty spiffy. Obama would go on to win the national popular vote by 3.9 points, but the shape of the race — a small but decisive advantage for the incumbent — was evident.

The contests in both 2012 and 2016 went through a lot of wild gyrations between the fall of the previous year and Election Day, but in the end, voters’ initial estimates when asked to consider what would be their eventual choices ended up in synch.

There is no way to know whether that will be true again in 2020. But we can at least say that early polling is probably pretty useful at measuring, as it does, voters’ initial, snap responses. At the very least, polling this consistently bad should be quite alarming to the incumbent and his party.

So thank you very much, Ms. Hall, for sending us down memory lane. It turned out to be quite instructive and useful.

But then again, what else should we expect from the very best readers in the world?

THE RULEBOOK: AMEN
“Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 51

TIME OUT: ‘AN UNRIVALED TRIBUTE’
Garden&Gun: “Off a winding Louisiana road, down an allée of spindly oaks, past an ancient split-cypress fence, grows a garden. There, Jack Holden points his pruning shears at the privet hedge lining a path, lilies springing as they please, and ferns seeking pockets of dappled light. … At each turn in this Eden lies another note of beauty, history, and delight, the funky, fruity smell of flowers swirling all around. … [Jack and his wife Pat] understand the connection between French history and the wilds of Louisiana better than perhaps anyone. Not only have they rescued plants during decades of drives through the state, they’ve also salvaged early antique furniture, farm tools, dishes, even entire decaying buildings. The Holdens are treasure hunters of the highest order, preservationists of Louisiana’s memories. Their collecting focuses on the cultures of the Acadians—descendants of the French—and the mixed-race Creoles who long shaped Pointe Coupee, a southeastern parish near Baton Rouge.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
DEMOCRATIC 2020 POWER RANKING
Biden: 28 points 
Warren: 19 points
Sanders: 15.6 points
Harris: 6.8 points
Buttigieg: 4.8 points
[Averages include: ABC News/WaPo, IBD, Quinnipiac University, USA Today/Suffolk University and Monmouth University.]

TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE 
Average approval: 40.2 percent
Average disapproval: 55 percent
Net Score: -14.8 percent
Change from one week ago: down 1.8 points 
[Average includes: IBD: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk University: 44% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Monmouth University: 41% approve - 53% disapprove.]

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WARREN CONTINUES TO GAIN GROUND IN LATEST POLL
ABC News: “A gain for Elizabeth Warren and a slip in support for Kamala Harris place Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Warren atop the field in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, days in advance of the Sept. 12 Democratic debate in Houston, sponsored by ABC and Univision. The poll finds Biden, this summer’s front-runner, far better rated for electability than for being ‘the best president for the country.’ Still, his supporters are more committed than those of other candidates, and electability has advanced as a priority, helping him hold his ground -- albeit not advance. Biden has support from 27 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the national survey, compared with 19 percent for Sanders and 17 percent for Warren. The rest of the field is in the single digits, including 7 percent for Harris, 4 percent for Pete Buttigieg and 3 percent apiece for Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang. All others are at 1 percent or less in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.”

Warren, Biden stand out at N.H. Dem convention - NYT: “But no one was embraced at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention Saturday quite like Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator took the stage to a standing ovation that lasted around two minutes… Ms. Warren and Mr. Biden were two of 19 candidates who assembled here for a daylong party gathering that attracted some of the state’s most committed activists, including more than 1,200 delegates. The event was an imperfect test of the New Hampshire primary electorate — indeed, there were plenty of attendees who came from out of state. An unknown number of Warren supporters came to the event from outside New Hampshire, judging from several social media posts of Democratic backers from Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and elsewhere who came to the convention for her on Saturday.”

Team Harris acknowledges struggles in N.H. - Politico: “A briefing memo accidentally left behind at a restaurant [in New Hampshire] showed Kamala Harris’ staff expected her to be grilled on her lack of presence in the state as well as her campaign’s ‘summer slump.’ The document, obtained exclusively by POLITICO, detailed intricacies of her campaign’s relationships with Granite Staters she was set to meet last weekend — from how much her campaign has donated to local politicians to advice she received from a local TV reporter. It included talking points to rebut expected criticisms from voters or reporters, such as the limited number of visits she’s made to the first-in-the-nation primary state and her lackluster poll results. … Harris has struggled to break out of single digits in nationwide and New Hampshire polling over the past several weeks.”

Steyer qualifies for October debates - NYT:Tom Steyer, the billionaire and former hedge fund investor turned impeachment activist, became the 11th Democratic presidential candidate to qualify for the October debates on Sunday after a new poll showed him with 2 percent support in Nevada. To make the cut, candidates must procure donations from 130,000 people and earn 2 percent support in four qualifying polls. Mr. Steyer fell one poll short of qualifying for the third Democratic debate in Houston this week. But the Democratic National Committee’s rules allow polls to carry over and count toward qualification for the fourth set of debates. With three qualifying polls already under his belt and the fourth published Sunday, Mr. Steyer has now secured a spot in the debates next month, scheduled for Oct. 15 and possibly Oct. 16, in a location to be announced in Ohio.”

Warren and Clinton keep lines of communication open - NBC News: “Elizabeth Warren's team doesn't want to talk about Hillary Clinton, but that doesn't mean the 2020 presidential candidate isn't talking with her party's 2016 nominee. … It’s hard to know exactly how many times they’ve reached out to each other — or precisely what they’ve discussed — in part because neither camp wants to reveal much of anything about their interaction and in part because they have each other's phone numbers, and there are many ways for two high-powered politicians to communicate that don’t involve their staffs. One source was aware of just one additional call between Warren and Clinton since then. But a person who is close to Clinton said the contact has been substantial enough to merit attention, describing a conversation between the two as seemingly recent because it was ‘front of mind’ for her.”

TRUMP HEADS TO N.C. RALLY ON EVE OF HOUSE ELECTION
AP: “President Donald Trump’s rally in North Carolina will serve as a measure of his clout in trying to elect a Republican to the House in a closely watched special election that’s seen as a tossup race. It will be his first campaign rally since a tough end of summer that saw slipping poll numbers, warning signs of an economic slowdown and a running battle over hurricane forecasts. Trump will visit the state Monday night on the eve of the House election. He enjoys wide popularity within his own party, but a GOP defeat in a red-leaning state could, when combined with a wave of recent bad headlines, portend trouble for his reelection campaign. … Trump’s appearance Monday on behalf of Republican Dan Bishop is shaping up as a test of the president’s pull with voters. The special election could offer clues about the mindset of Republicans in the suburbs, whose flight from the party fueled the GOP’s 2018 House election losses.”

This comes as Sanford announces run - NPR: “Former South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford says he's running for president, making him the latest Republican to attempt a long-shot bid against President Trump in the 2020 GOP primary. Sanford, who was also South Carolina's governor, made the announcement on Fox News Sunday. He called for a ‘conversation about what it means to be a Republican’ and criticized Trump over adding to the national debt. Sanford lost reelection to the House in 2018 when the president endorsed his primary challenger, who narrowly lost to a Democrat in the general election. … Sanford joins former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh as Republican challengers to Trump. All three have little chance of winning.”

WHAT’S IN STORE AS CONGRESS RETURNS
Fox News: “As Congress heads back to work on Monday in Washington after a six-week recess, lawmakers who already have struggled to pass substantive legislation this term are set to grapple with a slew of combustible issues, ranging from trade deals and border wall funding to gun control and impeachment proceedings. With an already heated presidential cycle in full swing, experts have said the political landscape would afford little hope for legislative compromise, but plenty of opportunity for gamesmanship and stonewalling. To top it all off, lawmakers also need to fund the government by Oct. 1 to avert another shutdown, despite deep-seated disagreements on appropriate budget levels for the State Department, the Pentagon, and other key agencies. … However, despite the gridlock, experts said lawmakers likely would reach a deal to avert another government shutdown this month. The House already has okayed ten of the annual 12 spending bills, but those bills would be dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Pelosi and Schumer ready to push gun safety legislation - NYT: “The top two Democrats in Congress called on Sunday for President Trump to defy the National Rifle Association and get behind legislation, already passed by the House but blocked in the Senate, to expand background checks to nearly all gun buyers. With gun control high on Congress’s agenda as lawmakers return to Washington this week after their August recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, sent a joint letter to the president, telling him that his ‘urgent, personal intervention is needed to stem the endless massacres of our fellow Americans by gunfire’ and that he had a ‘historic opportunity to save lives.’ The letter, which Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer intend to follow with a news conference on Monday, is part of what Democrats say will be an all-out push for gun safety legislation this fall.”

House Dems share impeachment procedures - Politico: “President Donald Trump's attorneys would be allowed to review some of Congress’s impeachment-related evidence under a set of procedures unveiled Monday by the House Judiciary Committee, part of a plan to spell out the panel’s authorities as it intensifies its consideration of articles of impeachment. The measure, obtained by POLITICO, would also allow smaller groups of lawmakers on the Judiciary panel’s subcommittees to consider evidence -- a step that could streamline and hasten its review. It would also allow committee staff for both Democrats and Republicans to question witnesses for an extra hour, part of an effort to focus questioning and elicit more useful information. Though the measure is largely technical — it’s titled ‘Resolution for Investigative Procedures’ — it is the first effort by lawmakers to acknowledge the committee’s consideration of whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment…”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Peace talks with Afghans, Taliban called off after Trump cancels secret meeting - Fox News

Republicans look to clean up the House from embattled members - Politico

Reps. Liz Cheney and Joe Kennedy face test to prove they’re more than their family names
- WaPo

AUDIBLE: MAN’S BEST FRIEND
“My dog’s name is Sherman. I quote him all the time.” – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday when asked by Chuck Todd why he wouldn't quote Gen. William Sherman’s famous “I will not accept if nominated” line about the Kansas Senate race.

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

NEW PHONE, WHO DIS?
NY Post:Donald Sizemore’s technique for fighting pushy telemarketers sure fits the bill. Like many Americans, this Alabama man is sick of the constant interruptions to his daily life — so he used a quacky talent to get some lighthearted revenge. ‘Hewhoah? Hewwwwhoooooah, are you dhere?’ a deadpan Sizemore, 77, employing a pitch-perfect Donald Duck voice, is heard saying in to a seemingly taken aback telemarketer. ‘Dhis is Dawnald Sizemoah, who are you?’ When the caller claims he’s being contacted about ‘litigation,’ Sizemore quipped, ‘Ohhhh, doah, am I in tawubble?’ [After several seconds of silence the caller eventually hung up on Sizemore.] … His wife, Gayle Sizemore, 73, captured the rollicking robocall encounter in a video that’s since racked up more than 8,658,765 views and nearly 300,000 shares on Facebook.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“For the president of the United States, there are consequences. When the president’s id speaks, the world listens.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on June 8, 2017.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.