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.

The Trump Disadvantage

I keep a database of statistics compiled by Rasmussen Reports. One of the statistics is based on a weekly poll in which likely voters are asked about the direction of the country; specifically, whether it is going in the right direction or is on the wrong track. That’s a vague question, which leaves it up to the respondent to define what’s right and what’s wrong. A respondent might, for example, reply according to how he is feeling at the moment about the performance of the president. Whatever the case, I compute a weekly value for the ratio right direction/wrong track.

A second statistic is a direct measure of the president’s popularity. It is given by the following ratio: fraction of respondents strongly approving the president’s performance/fraction of respondents either approving or disapproving of the president’s performance. (This ratio disregards persons not venturing an opinion pro or con.)

(For more about these two metrics, see this post.)

Take Obama’s eight years as president (please!). Excluding the first several weeks of Obama’ first term, when his stratospheric approval ratings had more to do with hope than performance, here’s the relationship between the two metrics (with right direction/wrong track on the horizontal axis):

There’s a strong but not perfect relationship, which suggests that factors other than the president’s performance affect respondents’ views of the state of the nation. But it is evident that perceptions of the state of the nation do have a strong effect on judgments about the president’s performance (and vice versa).

Given that, the question arises whether Trump gets as much credit (or discredit) as Obama did for the perceived state of the nation. This graph covers Trump’s first term to date, and the same span of Obama’s first term, excluding (in both cases) the early “honeymoon” weeks:

Opinions of Trump have been so poisoned (with help from Trump, himself) that he can’t muster higher approval ratings than Obama did unless voters feel considerably better about the state of the nation under Trump than they did under Obama. A strong-approval ratio of 0.36, for example, was achieved by Obama with a right direction/wrong track ratio of about 0.7, whereas Trump can’t muster a strong-approval ratio of 0.36 unless the right direction/wrong track ratio is about 0.85.

What does that mean for Trump’s re-election? It won’t happen if between now and election day 2020 there is a sharp economic downturn, a severe stock market correction, or a major defense/foreign policy crisis of some kind. An impeachment trial, on the other hand, might be just the thing Trump needs to garner enough independent votes for re-election.

Is “Trump Fatigue” Setting In?

SUPERSEDED BY “TRUMP IN THE POLLS: AN UPDATE“.

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 graph below shows the ratios of “right direction”/”wrong track” for Trump and Obama:

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017, and rose (raggedly) until six months ago. After leveling off for five months, the ratio began to drop sharply a month ago.

I would chalk it up to “Trump fatigue”. Trump is still better than the alternative, but I suspect that two years of tweeted outrage — even though mostly justified — is wearing on people who otherwise support his policies.

Yes, I know all about the relentless anti-Trump campaign from the left and NeverTrump “conservatives”. The graph suggests that Trump did a good job of countering that until recent months. The graph also suggests that Trump has to claim new, substantive victories before the tide turns against him. Tweeting won’t cut it.

Trump (and the country) has a lot at stake in the several pending issues; for example, the showdown over the border wall, Syria, North Korea, trade talks, the state of the economy, and the perception that his White House is or isn’t in chaos. Looming over all of it is the Mueller investigation and a concerted effort by House Democrats to undercut Trump on all fronts.

The coming weeks and months could bring a steady stream of bad news — or some surprisingly good news — for Trump. But it will have to be genuinely good news, not bombastic tweets from the Oval Office. It is time for Trump to retire his Twitter account.

Keep your eye on the “right direction”/”wrong track” ratio.

Presidential Approval Ratings: Trump vs. Obama

BHO delivered his second state of the union (SOTU) address in the evening of January 27, 2010. On the morning of that day, BHO’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports stood at -15 (percentage of likely voters strongly approving minus percentage strongly disapproving).

DJT delivered his second SOTU address in evening of January 30, 2018. On the morning of that day, DJT’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports also stood at -15.

Here’s what happened to the ratings in the days immediately following the SOTUs:


Rasmussen stopped polling on weekends about three years ago.

DJT’s SOTU bounce arrived more quickly and was stronger than BHOs. Moreover, looking at the big picture — approval ratings by day of presidency, as reported by Rasmussen — DJT’s strong approval rating has been running ahead of BHO’s for more than a month:

Stay tuned for updates in the coming months and years.