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Why Trump’s Approval Numbers Won’t Budge

There’s an underlying reality lurking in the remarkable poll numbers released Monday by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. They showed that Donald Trump’s approval rating declined by only two percentage points. That despite the fact that the president suffered what was by any measure a devastating week, with a former campaign chairman convicted on fraud charges and a former lawyer copping a plea on campaign finance violations and implicating Trump in the mess.

Trump’s frenzied political enemies promptly smelled blood in the water and circled the vessel like hungry sharks. Surely, they concluded, this bolt of bad news would undermine Trump’s political standing and begin an erosion that would lead to his eventual demise, either at the next presidential election or, they could only hope, sooner.

But the WSJ-NBC poll showed that 44 percent of voters approved of Trump’s presidential performance, as compared to a 46 percent approval rating just before last week’s bad news. As the Journal noted in reporting the latest results, the difference was within the poll’s margin of error and hence statistically insignificant.

Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducted the opinion survey along with Republican Bill McInturff, said the new numbers, seemingly impervious to the president’s growing sleaze factor, represented a challenge to those who’d hoped that Republicans will be devastated in this year’s midterm elections. “For the 2018 Democratic strategy,” said Hart, “the Manafort and Cohen convictions represent a fool’s gold opportunity rather than a silver bullet solution.”

As the Journal added, “The results are a testament to the durable loyalty of Mr. Trump’s core supporters, who have throughout his presidency remained largely unmoved by the controversies that have swirled around him.” The paper quoted McInturff as saying, “We’ve had this enormous series of events, and these numbers don’t change very much.”

Why?

Because this isn’t about the fate of Trump so much as the future of America. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump opened up a series of fresh fault lines in American politics by advocating new directions for the country that no other politician would discuss. They included a clamp-down on illegal immigration and a serious reduction in overall immigration after a decades-long influx of unprecedented proportions; an effort to address the hollowing out of America’s industrial capacity through trade policies; an end to our nation-building zeal and the wars of choice spawned by it; and a promise to curtail the power of elites who gave us unfettered immigration, an industrial decline, endless wars, years of lukewarm economic growth, and an era of globalism that slighted old-fashioned American nationalism.

And there’s just enough ambiguity about the wide-net independent counsel investigation that snared Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen to sustain a feeling among many Trump supporters that those convictions were merely the elites fighting back. In any event, they’re perceived as having very little to do with Trump.

change_me

Before Trump’s 2016 emergence onto the political scene, many liberals believed the American future belonged to what political analyst Ron Brownstein called the “coalition of the ascendant”—including racial minorities, immigrants, Millennials, and highly educated whites residing primarily along the nation’s two coasts. They were convinced this ascendant force would eventually overwhelm the declining white majority and usher in a new era of globalism, open borders, identity politics, free trade, cultural individualism, foreign policy interventionism, and gun control.

Trump interrupted the coalition of the ascendant on its way to U.S. political hegemony. In the process, he touched off an epic struggle over the definition of America.

For those committed to the new world envisioned by the coalition of the ascendant, it is easy to see Trump, with all of his crudeness and vulgarity, as evil. After all, he’s personally distasteful and he wants to destroy the America of their dreams. But for Trump supporters, he represents their last hope for preserving the old America. These people view the stakes as so high that the president’s personal indecency and civic brutishness simply don’t register as problems. They may wish for a more wholesome leader, but no such person has emerged to take up their cause.

All of this has implications for the looming battle that is likely to ensue if Democrats retake the House of Representatives and initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump. The knot of Trump support these days may be tight, but it’s not particularly large. The 44 percent approval rating registered in the WSJ-NBC survey may actually be a bit high. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, which does polling aggregation and quantitative political analysis, that number actually stands at about 42 percent, close to his high-water mark since his early weeks in office. Nate Silver, who runs FiveThirtyEight, says that anything under 49 percent normally spells defeat for a president at reelection time.

Further, Morning Consult, a tech company that specializes in collation and analysis of survey data, notes that Trump’s approval rating has declined during his presidency in all 50 states. True, some 90 percent of self-described Republicans continue to support him, but self-described Republicans make up only 40 percent of the electorate.

All of this supports the view, which I have posited in the past, that while Trump may have been brilliant in crafting a successful electoral coalition in 2016, he hasn’t managed to turn that into a governing coalition. This can be seen in part by his lack of any apparent inclination to talk to Americans who aren’t already part of his base.

But that base, as Silver’s ongoing survey aggregations and the WSJ-NBC poll make clear, is ironclad. The Trump constituency isn’t going away, and any impeachment initiative from House Democrats in the new Congress is only going to further tighten its knot.

This suggests that the issues brought forth by Trump in his campaign aren’t going away either. The country is split down the seams, and some kind of Hegelian synthesis will eventually have to emerge that incorporates elements of the two competing visions of America that today are roiling national politics—and which seem irreconcilable. Trump proved in 2016 that the coalition of the ascendant wasn’t simply going to win the country by default. Even if the people of that coalition manage to get rid of Trump, the issues he raised will still be with us. The president’s unwavering poll numbers testify to that. But Trump seems to be proving also that his own coalition isn’t likely to win the country either. This is reflected in those same largely static poll numbers.

And so our ominous deadlock crisis continues, with little prospect for a resolution anytime soon. This has been a resilient nation over its 230-year history. It will need all the resiliency it can muster as we move forward.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C. journalist and publishing executive, is a writer-at-large for The American Conservative. His latest book is President McKinley: Architect of the American Century [1].

168 Comments (Open | Close)

168 Comments To "Why Trump’s Approval Numbers Won’t Budge"

#1 Comment By Mark Thomason On September 1, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

“Trump interrupted the coalition of the ascendant on its way to U.S. political hegemony.”

True, but Bernie Sanders had the same appeal to a large number of Americans. It was another attack on the status quo, not the same attack.

Trump is today the only alternative winning against the status quo that was Hillary and the DNC. They have largely but not entirely beat down the internal challenge.

Other alternatives could emerge. They’d hurt Trump far more than the renewed fulminations of Team Hillary and its “we was robbed” mentality blaming everything but their own basic problem of a status quo betraying far too many Americans.

#2 Comment By Ivo Olavo Castro da Silva On September 2, 2018 @ 2:37 am

How can anyone believe these poll numbers and the media in general? Didn’t all polls assured us that Hillary would win? Let’t wait until November to check OFFICIAL polls. But again it will be too late for the left. Sorry folks!

#3 Comment By mcGraph On September 2, 2018 @ 2:27 pm

Quick fact check, we are not experiencing “unprecedented” rates of immigration:

[2]

Just under 13% of the American population is foreign-born right now, slightly lower than between 1860 and 1920. So, yes, many more are currently foreign born than have been for the last century, but there is precedent.

In fact, I think if you look at the robber baron era you’ll see lots of parallels.

#4 Comment By JeffK On September 3, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

Regarding Trump’s disapproval rate and voting, here’s another link. 2018.

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#5 Comment By MM On September 4, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

Hobbes: “How did I let him off? He gets my billing for 2nd worst, the question was about W vs Trump.”

That may have been the question, but you went on to say, and I’ll quote you because it’s right up there for all to see, “Bush W was the worst foreign policy president since the Great Depression.”

I may be obtuse, but that time period includes guys like Truman, LBJ, Nixon, etc.

Bush’s decisions were bad, you’ll get no argument from me there.

But 58,000 dead U.S. soldiers, 250,000 dead South Vietnamese soldiers, millions of civilians on both sides, all concentrated in about a 5 year period, and for what?

That kind of takes the cake in my book.

#6 Comment By MM On September 4, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

JeffK: You accused Mr. Gayle of cherry-picking earlier, and then proceeded to cherry-pick the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showing a dip in Trump’s job approval. Seems a bit hypocritical, frankly.

Why didn’t you mention the latest Rasmussen poll, which came out at the same time covering the same period and polling almost twice as many people. There’s a 10-point spread between the two.

Any comment on that omission?

#7 Comment By Patricus On September 4, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

Because this isn’t about the fate of Trump so much as the future of America. During the 2016 presidential campaign, “Trump opened up a series of fresh fault lines in American politics by advocating new directions for the country that no other politician would discuss. They included a clamp-down on illegal immigration and a serious reduction in overall immigration after a decades-long influx of unprecedented proportions; an effort to address the hollowing out of America’s industrial capacity through trade policies; an end to our nation-building zeal and the wars of choice spawned by it; and a promise to curtail the power of elites who gave us unfettered immigration, an industrial decline, endless wars, years of lukewarm economic growth, and an era of globalism that slighted old-fashioned American nationalism.”

That paragraph sums up the Trump appeal nicely.

#8 Comment By JeffK On September 4, 2018 @ 12:42 pm

And now, the latest WaPO/ABC news poll: “Registered voters said they favored a generic Democratic candidate over a Republican one 52 percent to 38 percent. The same poll showed Democrats with just a 4-percentage-point advantage in April, and with a 12-point advantage in January.”

And all of this before the gravity of what’s in Bob Woodward’s book starts to sink in.

So much winning…..

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#9 Comment By MM On September 4, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

JeffK: “And all of this before the gravity of what’s in Bob Woodward’s book starts to sink in.”

Not to let the Presiden off the hook, he’s the architect of his own public image, to a certain degree:

But I’m shocked, shocked, frankly, that 90% negative press coverage, including false and misleading “breaking news” on a regular basis, might have a negative effect on a politican’s approval rating…

#10 Comment By JeffK On September 4, 2018 @ 3:29 pm

@MM.
I didn’t mention Rasmussen because I was not aware of it. A big deal? Not really. There’s only so much time in the day to read politics and comment.

Do you really think Trumps approval rating is going UP? Really?

#11 Comment By MM On September 4, 2018 @ 4:42 pm

JeffK: “Do you really think Trumps approval rating is going UP? Really?”

No, I never argued that. He’s generally unpopular, but one poll does not necessarily indicate a long-term, future trend. The last 4 months have actually been his most stable since taking office:

[5]

Not great, but he’s got a floor of at least 42% at this point. Not as good as prior presidents, but even Obama had trouble staying above 50%. I believe he only accomplished that for 18 months during his 8 years. They just happened to be shortly after being elected, and before and after he was reelected.

By the way, your list of logical fallacies upthread was pretty good, if hastily thrown together.

I recommend adding confirmation bias to it, and then looking in the mirror… 🙂

#12 Comment By JeffK On September 4, 2018 @ 5:12 pm

@MM says:
September 4, 2018 at 12:17 pm

“JeffK: You accused Mr. Gayle of cherry-picking earlier, and then proceeded to cherry-pick the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showing a dip in Trump’s job approval. Seems a bit hypocritical, frankly.

Why didn’t you mention the latest Rasmussen poll, which came out at the same time covering the same period and polling almost twice as many people. There’s a 10-point spread between the two.

Any comment on that omission?” – Yes.

Yesterday the Rasmussen poll shows “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 45% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump’s job performance. Fifty-three percent (53%) disapprove.

The latest figures include 33% who Strongly Approve of the way Trump is performing and 44% who Strongly Disapprove. This gives him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -11.” – Rasmussen Sep 4, 2018.

And this is your poll of choice to prove some point about Trump’s popularity? Showing a -11 on approval/disapproval? Really?

You argue minutia, while ignoring what is blatantly obvious. Which is Trump is immensely unpopular. The most consistently unpopular president, over time, in history. And somehow you think the voters won’t take that into consideration this November 6?

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Your comments are on par with Faux News or Breitbart. Seriously deficient in critical analysis, indicating an inability to read and comprehend content. Or a willful addiction to confirmational bias.

I fully admit I am biased. I despise Trump. However, there is ample evidence my revulsion to him as president is shared by the majority of Americans. Your refuse to publicly admit how awful he is. Why?

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#13 Comment By MM On September 5, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

JeffK: “And this is your poll of choice to prove some point about Trump’s popularity?”

I’m not even going to respond to this, as my point about cherry-picking individual polls evidently went right over your head.

“Your refuse to publicly admit how awful he is. Why?”

Because I’m not obligated to. I may agree or disagree with the current administration on individual policies or public statements, but you won’t convince me to join the conga line of Trump haters.

It’s not my job to give you an ideological massage. You can give yourself one for all I care.

You’re right that the resistance is sizable, particularly where I live. But when the resistance declares 63 million Americans who voted for Trump political scum, it’ll never convince me to join the team.

I don’t have such boiling contempt for my fellow citizens. Or the president.

#14 Comment By MM On September 5, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

JeffK: “I fully admit I am biased. I despise Trump. However, there is ample evidence my revulsion to him as president is shared by the majority of Americans.”

Well, at least you admit you’re just a hater. Explains why you have such a strong reaction against anyone who dares to disagree with you, or point out facts you disregard or conclusions you can’t accept.

You know, former President Obama had an aggregate disapproval rating similar to Trump’s from about mid-2013, when the abuses of his DOJ, IRS, and NSA were made public, all the way through the end of 2015:

[7]!

So tell me, did you despise him as passionately then as you do the current president, today?

If you’re consistent, you’d have to yes. Polling is polling, and you’ve cited it to justify your contempt of the current president. But given your politics, I suspect that’s a bridge too far.

After all, when you like the guy in the White House, public opinion doesn’t matter, right?

#15 Comment By JeffK On September 5, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

@MM
“But when the resistance declares 63 million Americans who voted for Trump political scum, it’ll never convince me to join the team.”

I never said people who voted for Trump are political scum. I grew up in Western PA, where the mills, and all the good paying jobs that went with them, are mostly gone. Working in those mills, at hard and sometimes dangerous jobs, paid for my undergraduate education.

It became Trump country because BOTH parties did way too little for those people. In my view, The Democrats at least tried to put government programs in place to help. Job retraining. The ACA. Etc.

My friend of 47 years, who is now 62 years old, was laid off 2 months ago. He is now dependent on the programs that The Democrats have been defending for years, and that The Republicans have been trying to gut. With The Republicans, their philosophy is ‘Tax cuts for us and ours, you all, not so much’.

He was a Trump supporter. Not so much any more now that he has lost his health care for him and his wife.

What have The Republicans done for the average working guy lately other than voting in a minuscule tax cut for them, while driving the deficit through the roof, and further enriching their donors?

I despise Trump because he is a charlatan. A con man. A scammer extraordinaire. A loud mouth, classless, clueless, ignorant bully. And most probably indebted to Russian oligarchs and under Putins control. Mueller will show this to be true, IMHO.

Regarding the height of Obama’s disapproval, that was in 2009 at the worst of the Financial Recession of 2008.

Trump has historic disapproval with a record stock market, and very low unemployment.

What does that indicate?

#16 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On September 5, 2018 @ 10:33 pm

MM says:
Bush’s decisions were bad, you’ll get no argument from me there.

But 58,000 dead U.S. soldiers, 250,000 dead South Vietnamese soldiers, millions of civilians on both sides, all concentrated in about a 5 year period, and for what?

That kind of takes the cake in my book.

That’s a totally reasonable opinion. The fact that I think Bush was worse doesn’t mean I do not think LBJ was horrible. I suspect that in the long term the Bush presidency will have caused more death and destruction and weakened our country more than LBJs. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong though. In fact I hope you are right.

Not near as many American service men were killed in Bush’s Middle Eastern wars, but significantly less was accomplished – Vietnam accomplished nothing while Iraq threw an entire region of significant strategic importance into chaos.

#17 Comment By MM On September 6, 2018 @ 10:19 pm

Hobbes: “Vietnam accomplished nothing while Iraq threw an entire region of significant strategic importance into chaos.”

Ah, let’s see, Laos, Cambodia… somewhere between 1.5 million and 3.5 million dead in North and South Vietnam alone. The boat exodus.

And it wasn’t all to blame on the U.S. China and the Soviets added fuel to the fire. But Eisenhower got the ball rolling, JFK didn’t stop the ball, and Nixon, too.

To blame everything that has happened or ever will happen in the Middle East on Bush and ignore the actions of Clinton before him and Obama after him… come on, man, use some proportionality in your analysis.

#18 Comment By MM On September 6, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

JeffK: “I never said people who voted for Trump are political scum.”

Well, based on your insistence that I agree with you that Trump is a horrible human being, this reply makes absolutely no sense. I don’t even like Trump that much, but you’ll never force me to parrot your brand of progressive hate like some goose-stepping moron.

They’re either scum or they’re dumb, using your own personal contempt as the logical standard.

63 million people who voted for him, at the time, didn’t agree with you on Trump.

And if public opinion surveys, today, can be extrapolated to the adult population, 100 million people don’t agree with you on Trump.

I’ll ignore your meaningless anecdotes and cut to the heart of the matter:

Because they don’t agree with you that the President is a horrible human being, then they must be horrible human beings, according to your twisted logic.

And that is the end of that rubbish.

Congrats, you’re really illustrating the inherent hypocrisy of the peace, love, and tolerance crusaders…