President Trump as Preshrunk Jeans

Charlie Cook New
October 18, 2019

The more things change, the more things stay the same. With the Sept. 18 disclosure by The Washington Post that President Trump urged the president of the Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country, many have predicted that this time will be different. They proclaim that the political bottom will finally fall out from under him.

They should guess again. Many voters do view Trump’s actions as inappropriate, unbecoming of a president, and perhaps even illegal. Support for impeaching and removing him from office has increased a bit. Yet it is hardly surging, as some have maintained. Moreover, his underlying approval numbers have barely budged, if at all.

Expecting Trump’s approval ratings to finally plunge is like waiting for preshrunk jeans to shrink. He had little in the way of a honeymoon period, and his approval ratings have fluctuated little, the whole while running pretty consistently below those of his predecessors. Thus, his numbers don’t have as much room to drop, as when bad news hit previous presidents. The voters who have already stuck with Trump through endless negative stories and developments since he took office are not likely to abandon him now. Those with the capacity for outrage were outraged long ago. “The Fifth Avenue people” will stick with him.

In the five most recent, well-regarded live telephone-interview polls, only one indicates even a narrow majority supporting impeaching and removing Trump. The others have shown much more mixed views about pushing Trump out of office, with only narrow pluralities generally favoring impeachment and removal. The lone major survey showing a majority in favor of removal was the latest Fox News poll (conducted Oct. 6-8 among 1,003 registered voters), which showed 51 percent support, with 43 percent opposed.

Others are far less conclusive. A PBS/NPR/Marist College poll (Oct. 3-8, 926 registered voters) indicated 47 percent support for “the U.S. Senate voting to remove President Trump from office,” with 49 percent opposed. A Quinnipiac University poll (Oct. 11-13, 1,195 registered voters) showed 46 percent support for removal, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (Oct. 4-6, 800 adults) demonstrated only 43 percent support.

A Washington Post/Schar School of Policy and Government survey (Oct. 1-6, 1,007 adults), in a somewhat awkwardly formulated question, found that 38 percent felt the House of Representatives should not “begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Trump being removed from office” and another 6 percent felt that the proceedings should begin but he should not be removed from office, for a total of 44 percent; with 49 percent favoring the House voting to remove him from office.

So support for removing Trump from office is higher than it was two months ago, but the notion that the public broadly supports it is hardly supported by the data.

The basic job-approval rating has proven to be the best single indicator of a sitting president’s political health. The narrow trading range for Trump's approval rating since taking office shows little malleability. Trump’s approval ratings in the Fox News Poll have never dropped below 38 percent or risen above 48 percent. In the latest, 43 percent approved—1 point below his average since taking office.

In the NBC/WSJ Poll, his low has been 38 percent and his high 47 percent, with the most recent at 43 percent. His approval range in the PBS/NPR/Marist Poll has been from 35 to 44 percent; currently it is 42 percent. His Gallup range has been from 35 to 46 percent; the latest is 40 percent.

By this time in their presidencies, his predecessors have had approval ranges of between 20 and 25 points; for Trump it has only been in the 9-to-11-point range.

In that same “more things change, the more they stay the same” vein, there are no signs that the innuendos about Joe Biden and his son’s eyebrow-raising, but apparently not illegal, business affairs, are taking a toll on Biden’s support. In the latest Fox Poll, Biden’s share of the Democratic primary vote actually climbed 3 points, from 29 percent in September to 32 percent a week ago. Yes, Elizabeth Warren is coming on like a freight train, growing her support from 16 to 22 percent, but her increased support seems to be coming from other rivals rather than at Biden’s expense.

The Quinnipiac poll has Biden and Warren both gaining. She now leads him 30 to 27 percent in that survey. Warren is consolidating the progressive side; Biden continues to dominate the center-left, establishment lane; and none of the others are making any progress at all.

As for Trump, he evokes stronger opinions, both in support and opposition, than any other chief executive or possibly any politician we have ever seen. As a result, few voters are ambivalent, conflicted, or even open to having their minds changed with new information. He has a rock-solid floor beneath him but an equally strong, albeit low ceiling above him. Those expecting that floor to lower or that ceiling to rise are risking surprise, disappointment, or both.

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on October 16, 2019