Emerson: Trump gets best job-approval numbers since February 2017

You’d never know it from news coverage — or from last month’s midterms — but the electorate has warmed up to Donald Trump. An Emerson College poll shows the president getting his best job approval ratings since near the beginning of his presidency. That doesn’t make them good, but it’s going in the right direction:

The last Emerson poll of 2018 finds President Trump’s job disapproval rating fell below 50% for the first time this year, with approval at 43% and disapproval at 47% on his job performance. These are the strongest job numbers for the President in an Emerson poll since February 2017, when Trump had 48% approval/47% disapproval. This survey data was collected December 6-9, US Residents, MM, n=800, +/-3.6%. …

A Generic Presidential ballot test forecast a similar 2020 race with what was predicted in 2016, with 45% currently leaning for the generic Democrat and 43% for the generic Republican.

Even with the turbulence of his presidency, a majority (56%) of GOP voters surveyed do not believe a Republican candidate should challenge President Trump in the 2020 Presidential Primary; 25% believe a Republican candidate should challenge President Trump.

A 43/47 job approval rating on its own isn’t a very strong number. If Trump goes into the next election cycle with those numbers against a candidate who’s not named Hillary Clinton, he’ll be in serious trouble. However, the trend line has improved all year long despite a number of political storms and a few setbacks, including the midterms which took away the GOP’s House majority. If that trend continues in 2019, Trump could find himself in reasonably good shape to compete for re-election.

This is, of course, just one poll. What about the full trend across multiple poll series? This chart at RealClearPolitics shows similar trends for the past year, even if the amplitude in the job-approval average is different:

This shows more of a plateau in the second half of 2018 rather than the improvement Emerson notes, but it does demonstrate improvement. Maybe it’s better to describe it as America getting used to Trump, as most of the improvement has come from a decline in disapproval, especially in 2018. The individual polls themselves are still wildly divergent — CNN gives Trump a -13 approval spread, while Rasmussen gives him a -2 and Fox a -6. (His last positive spread came in April 2017 from Rasmussen.) Again, these aren’t great numbers or even good ones, but the trend is at least pointing in the right direction.

Emerson also polled for the 2020 Democratic primaries, and the news there may not be too good for their party either. Nearly half of all respondents pick two men whose combined ages will come close to 160 in 2020:

That should be worrisome in a populist, anti-establishment environment. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders not only will be in their late 70s in the next election cycle, so will their combined tenures in Washington DC (44 years for Biden, 29 for Sanders by 2020). The only outsider on in the top six candidates would be Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, who lost his Senate election last month after serving three terms as a non-entity in the House. Democrats need someone who can compete against Trump’s ability to cast himself as outside the Beltway swamp, not another flavor of establishmentarian. Trump may still be vulnerable in 2020, but running yet another DC insider against him is akin to throwing the GOP a lifeline.