Trump Approval Watch

I am not normally obsessed with presidential approval ratings. But since the election of Donald Trump as President I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between approval and governing. A popular President can use it as leverage, think post-9/11 George W. Bush. An unpopular President that is also incompetent, like our current Commander-in-Chief, may have trouble making policy even with a friendly Congress.

Trump was never popular to begin with. As it was said ad nauseam during the 2016 campaign both Trump and Hillary Clinton were the most unpopular candidates for President ever (since public opinion started tracking such a thing). It is not surprising that now that he’s President he has enjoyed no honeymoon period, just breaking even at 45% of both approval and disapproval in the first Gallup poll measuring his ratings. That is the lowest among the Presidents since 1969.

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Source: Gallup

Barack Obama, the only one of the last four President who won a majority of the vote had the approval of two-thirds of the country in his first Gallup appearance in 2009. His predecessor George W. Bush had the approval of nearly 60% of the country in 2001 even though (like Trump) he didn’t win the popular vote and (unlike Trump) his Electoral College victory was handed to him by the Supreme Court. Even Bill Clinton in 1993 had 58% approval following an election that he won by a plurality in a 3-way popular vote.

Before Trump the least popular presidents were Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George H.W. Bush in 1989. Both had 51% approval, 6 percentage points higher than Trump’s. Unlike Trump these two Presidents were not unpopular. In fact, none of the Presidents who preceded Trump in the Oval Office were unpopular.

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Source: Gallup

On average, all elected Presidents since Nixon had majority approval (58%). This ranged from 51% (Reagan and Bush I) to 67% (Obama). The average disapproval for Trump’s last 7 predecessors was 13%. Disapproval ranged from 5% (Nixon) to 25% (Bush II).

Trump’s first approval was 24% lower than the average recently sworn-in President. His disapproval was nearly 4 times higher than the average President since 1969 and nearly twice than George W. Bush, his most unpopular predecessor.

That leaves us with one additional number: those who did not have an opinion. Since 1969 nearly 3-in-10 Americans have not expressed an opinion of the new President. It makes sense, these polls are often taken in the first couple of weeks of an administration. Many people without strong opinions may want to wait and see how the new Commander-in-Chief does. In other words, the honeymoon period is a combination of positive opinion (approval), and willingness to cut some slack (no opinion). Even the last 3 Presidents in a more polarized environment have averaged 20% no opinion. Trump’s margin of error is much smaller. Only 10% of Americans did not have an opinion of him.

While approval ratings may rise and fall as Presidents get in trouble or out of it, as they accomplish goals or botch them, they start with a lot of leeway. Trump’s first numbers suggest that the vast majority of Americans have an opinion formed of him and what he’s going to do while in office.

As I write this Trump’s approval stands at 41% while his disapproval has increased to 53%. Right now 94% of the country has an opinion of his performance and it is not a good one. With executive orders, a friendly Congress, and his sheer incompetence he can still inflict a lot of damage. But he’s vulnerable even if he thinks the normal rules of engagement do not apply to him.

The Republican Party as of now stands united but as Trump increasingly becomes a liability we will witness more Republicans willing to break with him. Maybe not on their sweet tax cuts, but on issues that they don’t care much about but now feel bound to follow out fear of igniting the wrath of the President’s base. You will see the seams starting to fall apart in the Senate.

Senators have different electoral incentives since they have staggered terms. The first Republican Senators smelling blood on the Michael Flynn saga do not face election next year.

With a Democratic base energized in these first weeks and a bumbling President, expect a few more to start opposing in the longer term if the bad ratings continue. House Republicans will be harder to move, they have safe districts. Expect the few vulnerable ones to start considering their exit strategies.

Of course, it is possible for Trump to improve or have other external events to have people outside his base rallying in his favor. One potential event that has been suggested is a terrorist attack. George W. Bush initially became widely popular  after the 9/11/2001 attacks. But Donald Trump is not George W. Bush. The younger Bush was more charismatic than our current President. Also, Bush used the attacks to try to unify the country (in his own way). Trump is incapable of doing that, he will use the opportunity to tweet an “I told you so” message.

I think it will be very hard for Trump to gain net positive approval ratings. He’s certainly way over his head, most people dislike him, and once Republicans see that he’s more a distraction than an asset, opposition will line up within the GOP. I think he is incapable of uniting the country in case of a tragedy or a war. The latter will more likely be seen with the suspicion that Bush II never received. Finally, I think that when his approval ratings among the voters of his own party (currently at 88%) start dropping and hopefully reach and surpass the Nixon line (50% was his Republican approval at his lowest point), he will get a primary challenge. While his policies matter, his approvals (or lack of) will be of great help in his downfall.

Edit 2/15/2017 to fix a mention of GWB approval rating.
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This Year Race Trumps Religion

My good friend and old colleague Dr. Mark Silk calls the end of religious identity politics a couple of weeks after declaring the Religious Right dead. Personally, I think race is trumping (no pun intended) religion this year, but as the natural progression (regression?) of an ideology rooted in white Christian supremacy. He writes:

In a crazy political year, perhaps we have one thing to applaud: the evident end of religious identity politics. Evangelicals have been decidedly lukewarm toward preacher’s kid Ted Cruz and fellow-traveler Rubio, and they showed no interest whatsoever in Mike Huckabee this time around. Jews, so far as we can tell, are not particularly feeling the Bern. And Catholics barely gave Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum the time of day.

I’m not so sure this end is a reason to applaud. The Republican Party is a Christian Party -or a party for certain types of Christians. All the candidates openly praised god, the Christian version of it. While it is true that some candidates were more a part of the Christian/Religious Right than others, at this point in history every potential GOP candidate knows what religious buttons to push.

Since all of them love Jesus, they have to differentiate each other by expressing who they hate the most. The foreign policy proposals of all the GOP candidates are about blowing up anything that is outside of our borders. Only Trump stands out by viciously (and explicitly) attacking and threatening violence against their domestic others: religious minorities, black, brown, red, and yellow, independent women. That’s why Trump is so appealing. And that’s no reason to applaud.

Photo credit: Donald Trump at 2015 CPAC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelicals supported Reagan. Why not Trump? – Spiritual Politics

In 1980, white evangelicals switched their allegiance from Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday school, to Ronald Reagan, a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity who had opposed restrictions on gay rights and signed one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws. So why should anyone be surprised that many evangelicals are now supporting a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity whose record on the social issues is well to the left of his Republican rivals? –

Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics

The Nones are an Important Super Tuesday Bloc

Last week Public Religion Research Institute published a short report on the religious affiliation of self-identified Democrats and Republicans in states with contests on Super Tuesday (tomorrow).

It is not surprising that the nonreligious comprise a larger portion of the Democratic Party coalition than the Republican’s. According to the data collected for the American Values Atlas, more than 1-in-5 (22 percent) Democrats are nones, but only 1-in-10 Republicans are.

In three states the nones comprise at least 3-in-10 Democrats: Colorado (34 percent), Massachusetts (31 percent), and Minnesota (30 percent). Among Republicans, Alaska has the highest rate of nones in their coalition. One-in-five (20 percent) of Alaska Republicans are nonreligious.

Considering that the PRRI analysis divides the party coalitions in large racial and religious groupings, it is fair to assume that in most of these states the nones represent the largest segment of the Democratic Party.

Unfortunately, contrary to most of those racial/ethnic/religious groups, the nones are not as well organized politically. We do not have a well-organized secular left even though the nones have been consistent supporters of Democratic candidates for nearly 4 decades and were an important part of Barack Obama’s coalition. But until we take party politics seriously, we will not be more than a vote taken for granted but not actively mobilized. The time is due for a powerful and strong Secular Left to serve as an antidote to the damage the Religious Right has done to this country.

Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton facing off in the Democratic debate at St. Anselm College, December 19 2015; Ida Mae Astute ABC News via Flickr.

A suitable compromise #SCOTUS nominee

These are the characteristics that a President Obama-nominated candidate to fill the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat that the Republican Senate will find inspiring and hard-to-pass on:

  1. White
  2. Male
  3. Ivy League-educated (preferably if he overcame the barriers of potentially losing his space to an affirmative action candidate because he was a legacy admission)
  4. A long legal career in the law firm of his CEO father’s best buddy from the country club
  5. During that legal career, standing up against tyranny such as the estate tax, environmental regulations, or any program that improves the lives of poor people.

The Donald’s Latino Support is not “Suprising”

A recent piece at The Daily Dot tries to explain Donald Trump’s “surprising” 13 percent support among Latinos. The “explanations” are that Latinos are a diverse bunch and that because Trumps scapegoats Mexicans, many Latinos still “mysteriously” favor him. Of course, 13 percent is small. In a sample of 250 voters (the number of Latinos in the survey cited), this is about 35 people.

I don’t think that fining 13 percent of Latino voters supporting Trump is surprising at all. Trump has a high level of name recognition among all Americans. Many Latinos in the US and people in Latin America recognize Trump for his Miss Universe pageant. I still recall during my teenage years when I was living in Puerto Rico and Miss Universe was a big deal and the local press would highlight whatever the Donald said about our representative. His statement was always flattering the beauty of the contestant since the Donald only cares about the looks of women. The pageant was not just popular in Puerto Rico, but through the region.

Rather than the 13 percent who would vote for Trump, I am surprised by how much attention his statements about Mexican immigrants have received. A recent Univision poll shows that 90 percent of Latinos know about the statements, 71 percent of Latinos have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, and that 79 percent of Latinos find the comments offensive. This latter number includes 77 percent of Latinos who are NOT of Mexican descent. Many Latinos are savvy enough to realize that ignorant bigots use “Mexican” to refer to any type of brown person with an accent where the “Rs” are rather strong.

The Donald’s campaign is highlighting an ugly side of the Republican coalition. At a time when the GOP thinks it is necessary to improve relations with Latino communities, Trump’s surge to the lead at the polls shows the disconnect between some of the party elites’ goals and the rank-and-file feelings. Most Latinos do not identify as Republican and most people in general do not pay attention to the Presidential Elections until they are well underway. But Trump’s statements have made Latinos pay attention to what would be an obscure affair to most of them. And that’s the real surprise of Trump’s run.

Featured image: Donald Trump tours the US-Mexico border (Source: NBC News)