Be Afraid, Mr. President
President Donald Trump has the lowest poll standing of any new president at the 100-day mark, while his core supporters are holding firm.
Is this cause for optimism for Trump and his fans? Or for concern? Obviously it’ll depend on how the next 100 and 1,000 days play out. But after talking to some of the best pollsters and analyzing the surveys, I think the White House should be worried.
At this juncture in a presidency, public support is usually high. Presidents get honeymoons, tend to score some policy victories and get the chance to show off an appealing family or a good sense of humor to win over a few skeptics. Wit won’t work for Trump; he’s incapable of the self-deprecating humor deployed by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
Many voters don’t like Trump personally or favor his policies. And the opposition may be more passionate than his base supporters.
For sure, that base is holding. Most Trump voters are willing to overlook or excuse his ignorance on issues ranging from the Korean peninsula to the American Civil War, and many revel in his invective.
Ann Selzer, the pollster for Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register, recently conducted a dozen focus groups of Trump voters in the Upper Midwest. “Despite a few concerns,” she said, “they remain satisfied he’s doing what they expected.”
The Trump camp disputes surveys showing his poor ratings. John McLaughlin, who polled for Trump last year, recently wrote that there’s a “partisan bias” to media polls. Others say Trump’s negative poll numbers are no more reliable than the pre-election media polls last November that were supposedly far off the mark.
That’s a canard. The NBC/Wall Street Journal, CBS/New York Times and ABC/Washington Post final polls all showed Hillary Clinton winning by four percentage points. The Bloomberg poll, which I directed, had her winning by slightly less than three points. While losing in the Electoral College, she won the national popular vote by 2.1 percentage points, within all the polls’ margin of sampling error.
Today, the anti-Trump core is as solid as the president’s supporters, and may be more intense.
Look at the campaign in advance of the June 20 special election in Georgia to fill the House seat that came open when Republican Tom Price joined the Trump administration as secretary of health and human services. The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, taking a lesson from Clinton’s flawed presidential campaign strategy, is focusing on issues and not just opposition to Trump. The Republican candidate, Karen Handel, had the president in for a fund-raiser but doesn’t mention him in her commercials.
That the Democrat is competitive in a suburban Atlanta district that Republicans have held for almost 40 years illustrates that anti-Trump passion is bringing out new Democratic voters. “Trump is the accelerant in our expansion of the voting universe,” said Ossoff’s pollster, John Anzalone.
Moreover, Trump’s supposedly hard-core support appears to be shakier than it’s usually thought to be. Exit polls on Election Day suggested that almost one in five voters in November disliked both candidates and chose Trump as the lesser evil. These voters, plus a few soft Clinton backers, are now a potential swing electorate that doesn’t like the Trump presidency so far.
“He’s losing the middle,” said Peter Hart, who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, noting almost half the voters are negative about Trump both on policy and personally. “Ultimately,” Hart said, “he needs some of those people.”
A string of successes -- creating lots of new jobs, a foreign policy victory -- would attract some of them. Conversely, the outcome of investigations into Russian interference in the election, or continued Republican efforts to gut popular health-care measures and jettison reasonable coverage for people with disabilities, could lose him more of them.
Unless Trump’s popularity rises, voting against him in Congress won’t imperil many Republican lawmakers from swing districts, or the vast majority of Democrats. Generally, he’s neither respected nor feared.
Whit Ayers, a prominent Republican pollster, noted that Obama’s approval ratings settled in the mid-40s after his honeymoon period, not much better than Trump’s now. “It wasn’t until the very end that Obama broke through 50 percent,” Ayres said.
He added: “That said, job approval in the mid-40s has historically been bad news for the president’s party in midterm elections.” The Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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