By comparison, notes WaPo, the worst number Obama pulled during his first term when people were asked if they definitely wouldn’t vote for him for reelection was 46 percent. Coincidentally, or not coincidentally, his opponent in 2012 went on to win 47 percent of the national vote.
So maybe this is a data point worth paying attention to.
Some of the usual excuses for grim polls don’t apply in this case either. “It’s just one poll!” Actually, it’s not. Two weeks ago a PBS/NPR poll found nearly the same number, 57 percent, vowing they wouldn’t vote for Trump again. “It’s fake news!” If you think the PBS data is fake news then all of the tweets Trump’s been posting lately about his job approval soaring among Hispanics is also fake news. That data came from the same PBS poll. Anyway, WaPo:
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…
While 75 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents approve of Trump’s performance in office when asked separately, nearly 1 in 3 say they would like to nominate someone other than Trump to be the party’s candidate for president.
Having nearly two-thirds of women ruling out voting for him even before the campaign’s begun seems … not great, but it’s not an outlier. The PBS poll found 63 percent of women saying the same thing.
As for his support among Republicans, I think that 75 percent figure is being weighed down by the inclusion of “leaners,” whom you’d assume would be a bit chillier to POTUS than card-carrying GOPers. By comparison, when PBS polled his job approval they found 83 percent of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing. But even that’s not stellar: It’s on par with how Dubya was doing with Republicans in early 2006, nearly three years into the Iraq war and around four months after Hurricane Katrina. It may be true (and probably is) that Trump hasn’t lost any support among true Trump fans. But it’s not true, at least for the moment, that he maintains an iron grip on the entire party. He’s no more popular with GOPers than Bush 43 was around the time that the rest of the country began turning against him in earnest.
I can think of two reasons to downplay the WaPo and PBS data, neither of which have to do with fake news. One: They’re both polls of adults, not registered voters. People inclined to show up on Election Day are the ones who count for electoral purposes, right? Yeah, but the share of registered voters in the WaPo poll who say they definitely won’t vote for Trump is the same as it is among adults, 56 percent. No consolation.
Two: It’s still way early and some voters are bound to change their minds as the election approaches. It’s easy to say you “definitely” won’t vote for the current guy when the other team is still more than a year away from offering an alternative. For the moment all anti-Trump voters can happily and falsely assume that whomever Democrats nominate will be acceptable to them as an alternative to Trump. It’s not a coincidence that the share of people vowing not to vote for POTUS in both polls almost perfectly matches his national disapproval rating: Most may be viewing this question as a mere proxy for being asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of Trump?”
And of course the pollsters are catching him at a bad moment. The shutdown is unpopular and he got most of the blame for it according to every survey taken over the past month. His numbers look grim right now but check back in a month when this is all (mostly) forgotten.
There’s only so much comfort to be had in that logic, though. It’d be one thing if Trump’s job approval was bouncy, zooming up to 52 percent one month and then dropping to 40 percent the next. Then we could reason that so long as he’s on an upswing late next summer/early fall, he’s likely to be reelected. But his numbers aren’t bouncy. Just the opposite. Many a data nerd has marveled at how stable his approval has been for the past year, never varying much from 43 percent no matter what’s going on in the news. There’s never a meaningful “upswing,” just stasis or modest temporary decline, as there was during the shutdown.
The scary thought is this: Realistically, what might happen over the next 18 months that would cause his numbers to bust through the 43-percent ceiling? He’s had a great economy for two years and has never once touched majority approval in the poll of polls. He’s had no major foreign policy crises to deal with either. With Pelosi now in charge of the House, his chances of getting some big-ticket program passed are down to zero. And if you were told that we’re about to see a shift in economic growth and you had to bet on which direction the shift would be, you wouldn’t bet on “even greater!” Somehow, after having all sorts of political wind at his back since 2017 and flatlining at around 43 percent, he’ll need a breakthrough in popularity after the wind has turned against him. How does that happen?