US voters remain deeply skeptical of political polling. But Trump’s approval rating so far has been ‘incredibly stable’
Six hundred days after the 2016 election, many US voters remain deeply skeptical of, if not hostile to, political polling.
But election models portraying Clinton as a sure thing left her supporters feeling betrayed when, thanks to the electoral college, the presidency fell to Donald Trump. For those voters today, mistrust of surveys can take on an almost spiritual vehemence.
Yet while Americans who feel that Trump is harming the country can be leery of any survey that seems like good news for their side, the same voters might be too quick to believe numbers that look good for Trump but which upon closer scrutiny exaggerate the strength of the president’s political position.
When Trump hit a personal best 45% overall approval rating last week in Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, boosted by a 90% approval rating among Republicans, achorusofanxiousTrumpdetractors asked: “How can this be?”
Easy come, easy poll: on Monday, Gallup had Trump back down at 41%, as Americans learned more about his policy of separating migrant families at the US border. In fact, Trump’s approval rating during his first term has been “incredibly stable” within a band from about 36% to 43%, polling analyst Harry Enten and others have pointed out.
Under normal circumstances, an overall approval rating much under 50% would spell doom for an incumbent president, ruling out re-election. And 90% in-party support is not unusual in recent presidential cycles.
“Don’t listen to the polls,” cautioned a 55-year-old army veteran and Clinton supporter from central Florida who tweets @politicalppatty and who did not want to give her name for fear of losing her Veterans Administration benefits.
“Even if they say Trump is going down, that he’s going to be impeached – don’t listen. Democrats don’t get out the vote. We do not band together. We don’t have a playbook like them [Republicans]. So don’t listen to the polls. Unless we show up, we’ll lose.”
Some voters find it hard to understand how Trump could maintain such strong support from Republicans. But while Trump is an unusual president, in terms of his political style and conduct, certain features of his presidency, such as his robust party support, are true to historical patterns, said Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“I think the problem is that people want to think that Trump should be different, and that he shouldn’t have the same approval rating as a ‘typical’ Republican president,” Vavreck said.
“But he is the president, he is a Republican, so it’s a little bit like the counter-question is: ‘Why would we expect him to look different?’ The answer to that is that he behaves differently. But that party label is still really important to people.”
In positive news for critics of the president, robust support from the Republican party might not be what it used to be, as the party shows signs of shrinkage. Democrats have built a seven-point advantage in registered voters, according to Gallup’s tracking poll, up from two in November 2016.
In today’s GOP, which is the president’s plaything, he is the mainstreamGeorge Will
And Republicans are suffering high-profile defections, recently including Steve Schmidt, who ran the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign and worked in George W Bush’s White House. In his most recent Washington Post column, the renowned conservative commentator George Will urged fellow Republicans to vote Democratic in the midterm elections.
“In today’s GOP, which is the president’s plaything, he is the mainstream,” Will wrote. “So, to vote against his party’s cowering congressional caucuses is to affirm the nation’s honor while quarantining him.”
But if critics of Trump who remain poll-curious wonder how to gauge what they hope is the building opposition, Republican defections might not be the place to focus. Probably more important to the defeat of the Trump bloc in future elections, analysts say, will be factors such as turnout among minority voters, whom Trump lost in 2016 by a whopping 53 points.
Another important group are the white, working-class Americans who voted for Barack Obama. A New York Times analysis of official voter files in three states found that almost one in four white working-class voters who supported Obama switched to Trump in 2016.
Will those voters stick with Trump? An Economist/YouGov poll released this month of people who voted in the last presidential election suggested that the 2016 electorate has soured on Trump somewhat. The president’s approval rating in the poll was seven points underwater, 41-48, a significant slide from his 46-48 popular vote loss to Clinton.
Vavreck described a paradox of Trump that makes it hard to gauge the political winds swirling around him. As an unusual candidate in 2016, Trump made an election look unusual when it was in fact quite usual, in terms of partisan voter behavior.
“The 2016 election did look in a lot of ways like typical presidential elections – the problem was, we couldn’t appreciate that while it was happening, because all you could see was how different and unusual it was – and it was,” Vavreck said.
“But to say now, ‘Anything that looks unusual, we should discount that’ – I don’t think we want to do that. I don’t think the lesson to learn from 2016 is, ‘When you see something really outside the equilibrium, forget it, because it’s just like being in the equilibrium.’
“No, that’s exactly wrong. If you see things that are outside the historical norm, I think you do have to pause and say, ‘Wait, what does this mean for what we know?’”
For some American voters across the political spectrum, the answer is simple. No matter what the numbers say: ignore the polls and vote.
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