Trump’s Polling and Re-election Watch

UPDATED 02/17/20

The bottom line of this post is an an assessment of the prospects for Trump’s re-election, which have improved markedly in the past month.

To reach that assessment, I review Trump’s poll numbers, the effect of the impeachment on those numbers, and the economic outlook as reflected in the stock market. I derive the poll numbers from a reliable source: Rasmussen Reports:

Polling

Trump’s approval ratings are solidly within the range of the past two years, following the post-honeymoon, media-fueled decline in 2017:

FIGURE 1

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Trump.

Trump continues to be more popular than Obama was at the same point in his presidency:

FIGURE 2

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Obama and Trump.

Trump’s relatively good standing is also obvious in a straightforward comparison of strong-approval ratings, averaged over 7 days. Note that Trump’s strong-approval rating is as high it has been since the early, honeymoon weeks of his presidency:

FIGURE 3

Source: Same as figure 2.

I also compute an enthusiasm ratio, which is the 7-day average of the following ratio: the fraction of likely voters expressing strong approval divided by the fraction of likely voters responding. Here again, Trump holds a marked advantage over Obama:

FIGURE 4

Source: Same as figure 2.

Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the right direction or being on the wrong track. The following graph shows the ratios of right direction/wrong track for Trump and Obama:

FIGURE 5

Source: Rasmussen Reports, “Right Direction or Wrong Track“.

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. It jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017, and remained high after that, until the shutdown. The post-shutdown rebound gave way to a slump that ended in October 2019. The recent rise in the ratio parallels the rise eight years earlier, when Obama was in office, but at a markedly higher level. The current enthusiasm ratio is well above that attained by Obama in the period just before and after his re-election in 2012.

The Impeachment Effect

The following graph depicts Trump’s approval ratings, according to Rasmussen Reports, from the days before the news of Ukraine “scandal” broke through the end of post-aquittal polling:

FIGURE 6

Rasmussen’s polling method covers all respondents (a sample of likely voters) over a span of three days. The gaps represent weekends, when Rasmussen doesn’t publish the results of the presidential approval poll.

The Washington Post broke the story on September 20 about Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with the president of Ukraine. Thus the results for September 16 through September 20 didn’t reflect the effects of the story on the views of Rasmussen’s respondents. Trump’s approval ratings continued to rise after September 20, and peaked on September 24, the day on which the House officially initiated an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s approval ratings bottomed on October 25 but since then — despite much sound and fury, culminating in articles of impeachment and acquittal by the Senate —  they have returned to where they were on September 16, given the range of error advertised by Rasmussen (±2.5 percentage points with a 95-percent level of confidence.).

If the impeachment effort had any effect, it was to strengthen allegiance to Trump among the kind of voter who put him in office in the first place — the person who sees the Democrat party as the enemy of real people. It is far too soon to say that Trump’s re-election is assured. But it isn’t too soon to say that the impeachment effort made it more likely.

Economic Outlook

Meanwhile, the stock market keeps climbing — a good sign of confidence in Trump’s political survival:

FIGURE 7

Re-election Watch

Pluses:

Trump’s popularity, relative to Obama’s, is high. (See figure 2.)

Trump’s support is stronger than Obama’s was. (See figures 3 and 4.)

Voters currently have a rosier view of the state of the nation than they did when Obama was re-elected. (See figure 5.)

The effort to remove Trump from office by impeachment hasn’t affected his popularity thus far. (See figure 6.)

The economy continues to grow steadily, and the stock market reflects economic optimism. (See figure 7.)

Minuses: By my reckoning, there are none at the moment.

But there are some wild cards:

The likelihood that U.S. Attorney John Durham’s criminal investigation of the origins of Spygate will yield revelations damaging to Democrats.

The pace of economic growth and job creation, which may suffer because of coronavirus.

The next phase of trade negotiations with China.

The possibility of a military confrontation with Iran (or even Russia or China).

Stay tuned.