Think political polls are junk science? Here’s what you need to know
From Forbes, by John Zogby
The Donald Trump Presidency defies all the rules, not unlike like the Trump personality. It is difficult to find good news about what the President is doing and what he has accomplished. Often enough even the accomplishments fail to please very many people inside the Beltway or among the 4th Estate. Mr. Trump has given encouragement to bigots (“shithole nations”, “violence on both sides”, “scumbags”), as much as he has discouraged allies and enemies alike overseas. Most recently, the gala celebrating the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem has enraged many in the Middle East, Europe, and in the US. He has imposed tariffs which have caused apoplexy among high volume trading partners yet is managing to bring better deals with the Chinese and possibly Mexico.
On the flip side, his personal lawyer appears to have been caught peddling influence and access to the President and the President himself has now supplied documentation that he reimbursed his lawyer for paying hush money to a porn star. Law and ethics aside, all of this seems so tawdry.
Despite controversy and a media elite who truly hate him, the President’s approval numbers are among his highest to date. Just this week along, the average approval rating is at 47% — which actually represents one point more than the percentage of the vote he attained in 2016. His average disapproval is about 51%, among the lowest of his Presidency. Again, these are not ratings to brag much about. But they are also not numbers that jeopardize a re-election bid in 2020. And that is the point. Opponents of Mr. Trump may think they have the next Presidential election all sewn up. But Democrats may have the fight of their lives on their hands. Let’s first look at the President’s opportunities based on the numbers we see fight now.
1. Mr. Trump’s Base – looking at the internals at just one of the three polls released this week, The Economist/You Gov Poll of over 1200 registered voters, Mr. Trump’s rating stands at 44%. That figure is the lowest of three (Rasmussen is 51% and Reuters/Ipsos is 46%). We find him continuing to not do so well among the usual groups – women (36%), 18-29 year olds (23%), 30-44 year olds (29%), Hispanics (27%), African Americans (11%), moderates (32%), and independents (37%). On the other hand, Mr. Trump remains solid with voters over age 65 (54%), whites (47%), Republicans (84%), those in households earning $50,000-$100,000, and conservatives (81%). That does not assure his victory in re-election, but it means he is still very competitive – especially at a time when it is hard to read or view good news for him anywhere.
2. 2018 Elections – while Democrats are still producing a string of victories in special elections, showing the party’s candidates to be competitive or leading in congressional districts where Mr. Trump won in 2016, a broad sweep for the Democrats may not necessarily materialize in November. Certainly, if the elections were held today, things could be very sweet for them, but there is already some evidence that taking back the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate could be a lot more challenging come the Fall. Today, younger and more female candidates on the Democratic side appear to be motivating the part’s base to show up to vote in larger numbers in previous Democratic debacles like 2010 and 2014. And there is probably no greater a force in encouraging this base than the behavior and policies of the President himself. But one key barometer is what is known as the “congressional generic” – i.e. if the election for Congress in your district were held today, for whom would you vote, the Democrat or the Republican candidate? While not airtight as a predictor this question has been around for along time and it offers some historical context. Generally, if the Democrats are leading by about 5 points in this “ballot”, they pick up some seats. New polls out this week, show the party only leading by an average of 5 points over the GOP (45%-40%) and just this week the new polling is even narrower: Reuters/Ipsos 1 point (38%-37%), CNN 3 points (47%-44%). Note that in each instance, the percentages of those undecided is substantial.
The uncomfortable truth for opponents of Mr. Trump is that he wins almost all the time at whatever he does. While there is concern that North Korea may pull out of the June 12 summit, that is highly unlikely. And while the Middle East is in turmoil on a number of fronts and he is alienating friends and foes alike, the fact is he is not being stopped. Perhaps above all, unemployment is at a staggering 3.9%, wages continue to move up, and nations he was angering over trade are looking to make deals. And while he may have indeed pulled the US out of the Paris Treaty on Carbon Emissions, many governors, mayors, and CEOs appear to be making it work for many Americans.