Early Returns

Beware of Prematurely Declaring Trump Defeated

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

I think NBC's Steve Kornacki speaks for a lot of people when he says: 

As narratives of collapse take shape around Trump’s presidency now, the campaign should at least serve as a cautionary tale. It may look like his base is crumbling — and maybe it is — or maybe we’re living through a new version of what happened last year.

We won't know anything for sure until people start to vote in 2020, and maybe not until the general election that year (assuming Trump makes it past the primary). But I think the evidence is strong that there's nothing special about Trump and polls.

  • In the primaries, the polls usually did just fine. The problem was with people -- myself very much included front and center -- who said early on to ignore the polls, and even after the primaries and caucuses began believed the polls wouldn't predict future events. That might suggest to pay less attention to experts and pundits and other prognosticators next time around -- but it might also suggest to pay more, not less, attention to early polls.
  • In the general election, once again some pundits were way too quick to count Trump out. But the polls were (mostly) fine; the national polls were more accurate than usual, while the state polls got some states wrong, but not especially more than usual. 
  • During the Trump presidency so far, Republicans are losing ground in special elections at a rate consistent with Trump's weak approval polls.
  • Trump did, in fact, overperform his favorability ratings in the general election last year (although even that is complicated by Hillary Clinton's poor favorability numbers). However, it's not at all clear we can extrapolate from out-party candidate Trump's favorability ratings to incumbent Trump's approval numbers. The latter are likely to be much better predictors of eventual resuls. 

What this all tells me is to be wary of claims by anyone that such-and-such event will doom this president. But I see no reason at all to believe the polls are unusually ineffective with regard to Trump. That just doesn't seem to be the case. And remember: Trump needs practically every single voter who supported him in 2016 to stick if he wants to be re-elected. He doesn't have to lose his base; if he loses just a few weak supporters without picking up any new ones, he's basically done. 


1. Seth Masket on why a weak president can still be dangerous. Absolutely correct.

2. Julia Azari on Congress, the presidency and agenda-setting

3. Matt Glassman on congressional capacity.

4. Geoffrey Swenson at the Monkey Cage on why Afghanistan policy is so hard to get right

5. Dan Drezner on Trump, Afghanistan and deferring to the status quo. Smart stuff. 

6. Fred Kaplan isn't impressed with the Afghanistan policy

7. Spencer Ackerman on Trump's Afghanistan policy -- and Obama's

8. Harry Enten on fake polls and Kid Rock

9. And Brian Beutler warns Trump opponents to avoid any alliance of convenience with Steve Bannon. Excellent. 

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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