President Trump’s approval rating isn’t exactly in a
freefall, but the president’s popularity is declining. Even worse for Mr. Trump’s
reelection chances, the problem seems to be worst in must-win battleground
One of the few regular polls that breaks down presidential
approval to the state level, where it really matters for elections, is the Morning Consult poll
that is released monthly. The numbers for July were recently released and they
are not pretty for Donald Trump, particularly when it comes to the Rust Belt
and the traditional swing states.
Axios puts the poll data into a handy chart that is the stuff of nightmares for
Republican leaders. Looking back to January 2017, Axios found no less than 15
states in which President Trump’s approval has gone from net positive to
negative. In nine of those states (in order of highest disapproval to least: New
Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada,
and Iowa), the president’s net disapproval is in double digits. In another four
states (Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, and Virginia), Trump’s net disapproval is
greater than the margin of error for the poll. Additionally, in Florida and
North Carolina Trump has gone from a double-digit positive to a one-point negative,
making both states tossups if the election were held today.
Further, polling data for Georgia and Texas shows problems
for the president as well. While both states show Trump with net positive
approval, Georgia is just outside the margin of error with a two-point edge for
the president while Texas shows a positive six points. The two states were at
net 18 and 21-point positives for Trump in January 2017.
There were no states where Trump approval increased in the
same time period. Even in Alabama, the Trumpiest state in the Union, the data
showed a one-point decline in the president’s approval, which translates into a
change in net approval of negative 10 points.
Of the states where Trump’s approval has gone from positive
to negative, nine (Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine (where Trump won one of three electoral
votes), Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) are states
that Trump won in 2016. Even assuming that North Carolina and Florida might
remain in the Republican column, the shift of the other swing states would
represent a 314-224 Electoral College loss for Trump if the election were held
There are some caveats. Polls are historical, not predictive.
This means that the situation could easily change prior to Election Day. The problem
for Republicans is that it could also change for the worse. The July numbers
don’t include Donald Trump’s disastrous last week. The state polls should be
considered very accurate. Margins of error are listed by state and are not greater
than four percent. The battleground states have much lower margins of error.
Approval rating is not a direct proxy for an election poll,
but an approval rating of less than 50 percent is not a good sign for an incumbent.
This is backed up by a spate
of recent polls that show Trump trailing the top four Democratic candidates
by healthy margins and only leading Pete Buttigieg in national polling.
There is a possibility that Donald Trump can reverse his
slide in the polls, but Republicans need to realize that what the president is
doing is not working. A fundamental change in the president’s approach is
needed if he wants to win reelection and Republicans want to avert an electoral
Trump’s one strong point has been the economy but recent
polling shows that the trade war has cut into that advantage. At least one
poll, by the Associated
Press, already shows Trump underwater on the economy. If the country slides
into a downturn or recession, any chance of Trump’s reelection will evaporate.
The best scenario for Trump would be a quick victory in the
trade war, but that appears unlikely with China continuing to ratchet up
retaliatory measures. A second-best alternative would be for Trump to seize on
something – anything – that will allow him to save face and end the tariff
battle before it results in a recession. At this point, this option also
Instead, the president appears intent on continuing to
escalate the battle, threatening last week to cut off all trade with China.
Other Republicans are so far backing the president. Lindsey
Graham (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection next year himself, said on CBS’
“Face the Nation” over the weekend, “We just got to accept the pain that
comes with standing up to China.”
“Accept the pain” is a horrible campaign slogan for
Republicans as we enter an election year. Better advice would be to look back
to Bill Clinton’s motto from 1992:
“It’s the economy, stupid.”