Well, that’s interesting, I thought, as I noted that the RealClearPolitics homepage stated that President Trump was tied for his all-time high in CNN polling. Then I went over to the CNN homepage for confirmation. Guess what I found?
The main story was about a church that lost 44 parishioners to COVID-19. The second-most prominent story told us that “Grocery Prices Are Soaring” (which is true if you think that a 2.6 percent increase in April should be called “soaring”), the third-most-prominent item told us, “Doctors treating coronavirus patients are seeing odd and frightening syndromes.” Running down the rail on the right we were given such important developments as “Man refusing to wear a mask breaks arm of Target employee,” “CNN Investigates: He’s willing to get Covid-19 to speed up vaccine efforts,” “Five surfers die after huge layer of sea foam hampers rescue” and “How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a choir practice.”
Only after all of this stuff did we learn that CNN has a new poll out, under the headline, “CNN Poll: Biden tops Trump nationwide, but battlegrounds tilt Trump.” Polls are expensive, news organizations tend to hype them breathlessly to generate headlines in rival media outlets, Wednesday was (obviously) a slow news day, and politics is one of CNN’s core topics. Yet CNN seemed oddly unenthused about its own poll. And the story to which the homepage linked doesn’t mention that Trump had never scored higher in a CNN poll. True, there are lots of noisy data in the piece, most of which cut against Trump. But on the other hand the single most surprising and hence most newsworthy detail of the poll was that Trump holds a seven-point lead over Biden in the battleground states. The CNN story doesn’t even tell us what that figure is — seven points seems like a pretty big number — and downplays its own finding by noting, “Given the small sample size in that subset of voters, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether the movement is significant or a fluke of random sampling.”
The headline of a different CNN news story about the same poll carries the headline, “CNN Poll: Negative ratings for government handling of coronavirus persist” over a picture of Trump looking downcast. This story, unlike the other one, mentions (but not till the fourth paragraph) that Trump’s approval rating of 45 percent “now matches his high point in CNN polling dating back to the start of his term.”
I don’t want to spin this poll as great news for President Trump — he has a 55 percent disapproval rating, and only 36 percent think he’s a trustworthy source of information about the crisis — but the story of the 21st century has been persistently low faith in presidents, government, Congress, and the direction of the country. President Obama had an approval rating of about 48 percent at this point in May of 2012, on his way to being reelected by a wide margin. Joe Biden has an approval rating of only 45 percent, as against 46 percent disapproval, and that’s with Biden mostly shielded from public view. Biden’s penchant for gaffes largely escape notice when his public appearances mainly consist of reading from a Teleprompter in his basement, whereas Trump’s gaffes make headlines. Biden bears no responsibility for all the things that have gone wrong, whereas Trump not only gets heaped with blame, but the pressure of managing a crisis spurs him on to more gaffes. Trump probably doesn’t need to win a plurality of voters to win a majority of Electoral College votes. And being disliked by a majority didn’t stop him before: The day he was elected president, he had a 37.5 percent approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics poll of polls.
Biden does appear to be the favorite at the moment; he is, after all, leading in nationwide polls by an average of 4.5 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. He appears to have carved out a substantial lead among older voters, whom Trump has to thank for his win in 2016. Yet betting markets still rate Trump a big favorite. After three and a quarter years of the media talking themselves into believing the “walls are closing in,” “the noose is tightening,” and “the endgame has begun,” the voters don’t seem to be confirming that Trump is toast. On the contrary, they have substantially more positive views about Trump than they did when they elected him president. And Biden can’t hide in that basement forever.