The President’s Poor Polling

President Trump’s approval rating has steadily fallen throughout his presidency. According to Real Clear Politics, which charts all major presidential polling, his first few weeks as commander-in-chief saw Trump bobbing above water as often as he sank below it:

Is Rasmussen paid directly by the White House or do they bother with a middle man?

Since then, of course, those numbers have grown increasingly bleak. Trump has had a net-negative approval rating in every poll since late March, a stretch of about 150 straight polls charted by RCP. Almost all polls over the last two months, moreover, have him at double digit negatives, with nearly half showing him more than 20 points under water. That includes Gallup, in its most recent survey, giving him his lowest mark yet — an abysmal 34 percent approval rating.[1]

Et tu, Rasmussen?

All told, these eight months show a troubling trend for the President’s average approval numbers, shown in black below, against his disapproval, shown in red.

I haven’t seen this much red ink since my high school essays.

In the last month, many news outlets have run some version of the “record low numbers” story.[2] Much to the President’s frustration, this serotinal swoon has almost totally derailed his agenda. To say that his administration is in big trouble seems inconvertible.

But leave it to this White House to controvert.

“Those same polls told you Trump would never be president,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reminded us. Hey, when she’s right, she’s right. Let’s offer some context to Trump’s polling.

Fact #1: The polls suggested he wouldn’t win the Republican nomination.

Fact #2: Then the polls repeated that mistake in the general. Right up until Election Day, the polls, not to mention the website you are now reading, projected a Trump loss.

Fact #3: As I noted four months ago, a first-term ascent from these depths is not without precedent. President Trump is only eight months into his presidency. Two years into President Reagan’s, he mired at 35 percent approval. Two years after that, he was sworn in for a second term after winning 49 states.[3] In other words, an approval rating as low as Trump’s 37 does not ensure he’s a one-term president.

Fact #4: There have not yet been palatable electoral effects of his unpopularity. In the four high-profile special Congressional elections during the Trump Administration, the Republican has won every time. Further, one governor switched from the Democratic to Republican Party just to get Trump’s arm around him. And then there was Alabama’s Republican Primary for Jeff Session’s open Senate seat, a contest which saw candidates tripping over themselves to be the most pro-Trump.

These facts suggest the liberal media misleads us with its insistence that Trump hemorrhages supporters by the day. They want us to think people are bailing on him so we jump ship, too. Instead, one should just look at the above context.

On the other hand, in the nuanced field of political science, even the context needs context.

Fact #1, re-examined: “The GOP primary polls were wrong.” Only kind of. Trump stormed out to a polling lead within a month of his candidacy’s announcement. The lead just didn’t seem sustainable to us. In what now seems like a strange reversal of positions, it was we who didn’t believe the fake polls.

Fact #2, re-examined: “The general election polls were wrong.” Well, only kind of again. The national polls were remarkably accurate: the RCP average predicted a 3-point win for Hillary Clinton, and she won the popular vote by 2 percent. The 2016 polls were in fact more accurate than the 2012 polls, even if 2012 polls actually agreed with the Electoral College. Of course, some of the battleground states, with much smaller sample sizes, erroneously favored Clinton.

Fact #3, re-examined: “Reagan came back to win.” I remember Ronald Reagan. I’ve read about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was an accomplished leader.

Mr. President, you’re no Ronald Reagan.

Fact #4, re-examined: “Republicans keep winning elections.” All six of those scenarios were in heavily Republican areas. The four Congressional districts were in Georgia, Montana, Kansas, and South Carolina; Republicans did keep their seats, but the Democrat overperformed in all of them compared to the districts’ past Congressional elections. Meanwhile, the governor who switched parties, Jim Justice, leads West Virginia, also known as the reddest state in the 2016 election. As for the Alabama U.S. Senate race… it’s, you know, Alabama. Its candidates know to show loyalty to the Republican president.

Ultimately, though the White House is putting on a resilient face, internally it must recognize it’s careening toward taking losses in the 2018 midterms and the end of Trump’s presidency two years after that. It’s a flaw in his “all about that base” theory I outlined last month — the one where the President seems to assume that a passionate minority of the country elected him once and it can do so again. To whatever extent Trump beat the polling projections last time, the polls did not have him this unpopular, and his win was by a razor thin margin in the few states that made the difference. Recall that he won Pennsylvania by just 0.7 percentage points, Wisconsin by 0.7, and Michigan by 0.2. He’s now polling ten points worse nationally than he was heading into Election Day, and a recent NBC/Marist poll of those battleground states finds him around 35 percent approval in each one.

Perhaps worst of all, it will be tougher to win over undecideds like he did in the last election. He will no longer be the “change” candidate that might “shake things up.” He’s a known quantity now, and three-fifths of the American people know they don’t like him.


[1]Gallup notes the bleeding has finally slowed with a rather backhanded-complimentary headline: “Trump’s Job Approval Stabilizing at Lower Level.”

[2]In truth, he’s going toe-to-toe with Gerald Ford for most unpopular start to a modern presidency, as both were around 37 percent approval after 227 days. Bill Clinton dishonorably places third, but even he held at 44 percent at this point in his presidency.

[3]Minnesota wouldn’t feel this stupid again for another 14 years, when it elected a professional wrestler as its governor.


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