Nearly all independent polling showed Donald Trump’s public standing slide during his five-week government shutdown – a dynamic that likely contributed to the president’s humiliating surrender. The White House expected the American mainstream to side with Trump and his team, and that obviously didn’t happen.
And yet, some in the president’s orbit are reportedly telling Trump not to be concerned. Politico reported late yesterday that the Republican’s campaign team commissioned a poll of 10 GOP-leaning House districts that Democrats won in the 2018 midterms, and the results, according to the internal data, found a plurality of voters endorsing Trump’s wall crusade.
There’s ample reason for skepticism about a Republican campaign relying on Republican pollsters conducting a survey in Republican-friendly districts. But as CNN’s report on this added, it’s notable that the president’s political operation is not only convinced of Trump’s strong standing, that’s the message the president’s campaign team is pushing him to believe, too.
And while Trump has a habit of believing claims that make him happy, irrespective of their accuracy, it’d be wise for him to also consider the independent data. Take the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example.
A 56 percent majority of all Americans say they would “definitely not vote for him” should Trump become the Republican nominee, while 14 percent say they would consider voting for him and 28 percent would definitely vote for him. Majorities of independents (59 percent), women (64 percent) and suburbanites (56 percent) rule out supporting Trump for a second term.
This is very much in line with a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, which found 57% of registered voters saying they will oppose Trump’s 2020 candidacy.
There are some obvious caveats to results like these, so let’s tackle them one at a time.
The first is that it’s still very early in the 2020 cycle – no one has any idea who the Democratic nominee might be – and other modern presidents have recovered ahead of their re-election fights. There’s some truth to that, but the details matter. Ronald Reagan, for example, confronted similar circumstances at this point in 1983, but his standing suffered because of poor economic conditions. Indeed, the unemployment rate reached 10.8% in December 1982, which was higher than at the peak of the Great Recession.
As the economy improved, so too did Reagan’s public standing. In Trump’s case, the unemployment rate is already below 4%, but his support is weak anyway.
Bill Clinton’s poll numbers reached Trump-like levels, too, but that was during the Democrat’s first year in office, not his third. Trump’s numbers are more in line with Jimmy Carter, who, of course, lost badly in 1980.
The second caveat is, the current president may not be overly concerned with the scope of his opposition since he doesn’t need a majority of Americans to win. Let’s not forget that Trump managed to prevail in 2016 with just 46% of the vote – less than Mitt Romney received in 2012, less than John Kerry received in 2004, and less than Al Gore received in 2000 – and he may be prepared to do so again in 2020.
If, say, some ego-driven coffee salesman splits the American mainstream, it will be that much easier for Trump to overcome his weak standing and hang onto power.
Those caveats notwithstanding, the current occupant of the Oval Office clearly has a popularity problem. The Trump campaign may want the president to feel optimistic about his re-election chances, but there’s no denying the fact that the odds are currently against him.