CNN poll: Highest number since 2007 says things are going well in the U.S.

The share that says so is 57 percent in all. To give you a sense of how rare that air is, you need to go all the way back to late July 2005 to find a higher number (58 percent) in a CNN poll. Since then America has endured Hurricane Katrina, the deterioration of Iraq, and the financial crisis and loooong recovery. That’s a lot of rain to have sit through while waiting for some sun.

Which raises a question. If this number were to stick at this level, could Trump possibly lose in 2020? His job approval is poor and job approval is typically the gold standard of gauging a president’s reelection odds, but normal political rules of gravity don’t seem to apply in the Trump era. Remember, his favorability rating in 2016 was the most pitiful of any presidential candidate in modern American history. He won anyway.

He hasn’t tweeted about this poll yet as I write this at around 5:15 ET but it’s fait accompli that he will. It’s got a key number that Obama never matched in eight years *and* it’s coming from his pals at CNN. Spike the football, Mr. President.

Overall, 41% approve of the President’s work, and 53% disapprove. Those numbers are about the same as at the end of March.

On the issues, however, Trump’s numbers are climbing. Approval is up 4 points on the economy to 52%, the first time it’s topped 50% since March 2017; up 5 points on foreign trade to 43% approval; and his numbers on immigration have improved 4 points since February, with 40% now approving. On handling foreign affairs, Trump’s approval rating tops 40% for the first time since April of 2017, though the increase since March is not statistically significant (42% approve currently)…

And although Trump’s overall approval rating hasn’t improved, it is no longer the worst of any elected president at this stage of his term. Jimmy Carter also held a 41% approval rating in May of his second year in office.

Given Carter’s electoral fate in 1980, Trump would obviously like to gain a few points in job approval this year. But there’s good news for him there too: In the RCP “poll of polls” he’s already several points higher than the 41/53 number CNN has for him. RCP has him at 44.2/51.9. Yesterday he was at 44.4, which is the highest number he’s posted since mid-March 2017. (Remember this post from last week? He’s actually gained a bit more ground since then.) And at 51.9, his disapproval is the lowest it’s been since the day before he fired James Comey.

Yet there’s still a sizable gap of around 13 points between his job approval in RCP and the number in the CNN poll who say things are going well in the U.S. How come? There are principled ways to explain the distinction, e.g., the country’s doing well because the economy’s doing well and the economy isn’t “steered” by the president. But if I’m right that voters may not be rating their approval of Trump’s job performance in traditional ways then maybe there’s less difference between the two numbers in practice than we think. That is to say, normally a job approval figure is treated as an estimate of what share of the population wants the current president to continue in the job. If so, 41 percent is … not good. But in Trump’s case, people may be treating job approval less as a metric of whether they want things to continue as they are now and more as a metric of what they think of Trump personally. Trump’s persona is so overbearing, it’s hard to separate the man and all of his drama from his job performance. So when you ask people if they approve of the job he’s doing, some may take it as a question about him personally and respond reflexively with, “No, he’s a dick.”

But does that mean they wouldn’t vote for him again in 2020, believing that the state of the country is better than it’s been in a long time?

I don’t think so. The “how things are going in the U.S.” metric may be more relevant than job approval. In fact, CNN asked the people they polled why they approved or disapproved of him. Was it because of his stances on the issues or because of his personality? Overwhelmingly, the people who approved did so because of his policy positions. But a majority of those who *disapproved* did so because of his personality:

Trump likes to say that his “actual” job approval is much higher than the approval you see in polls. That may be true in the sense that job approval just isn’t the proper yardstick with which to measure his 2020 chances, or it may be true that his job approval with respect to the economy specifically, which is 52/42 here, is more important than overall approval. Combine a good economy with no major wars and you’re destined to have a more or less contented public, however irritated they are by POTUS’s latest “witch hunt!” tweet. If you dislike the man but like how things are working right now with his policy set, you’ll think twice in the voting booth about making a correction course.

Actually, now that I read deeper into this CNN poll, I see that Trump might not be tweeting out the link after all. When asked who’s a better president, 56 percent say Obama versus 37 percent who say Trump. And when asked if Hillary would have been a president than Trump, 47 percent say yes versus 44 percent who say no. Sad!