Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pain by numbers:
Trump, the polls, and the shutshow


IT TOOK 700 DAYS for the administration of Donald Trump to decide to weaponize the levers of government against the very people called on to operate that government. It took him that long to shut down much of the government he pretends to run.

Judging from a torrent of polls spanning geography, demographics and political inclination, the ensuing 35 days may well shut down his hopes of re-election.

Signs have been obvious for some time now. You didn’t need a super blood wolf lunar moon to grasp how The Don’s cratering approval numbers do damage to both his current standing and his prospects for re-election in 2020, even among the hypothetical base voters that form the core of his support.

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How has The Don’s stock fallen since the start of the year? Let us count the ways:

A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, released the day of the president’s* Jan. 8 Oval Office address, found “only tepid support for the wall he wants to build ... Voters are opposed to shutting down the government to extract the funds for the wall’s construction — and more blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown than Democrats.”

The poll found that 47 percent of voters think Trump is responsible for the shutdown, while a third, 33 percent, think congressional Democrats are at fault. Another 5 percent blame the Republicans in Congress.

And the survey clearly suggested that voters opposed the fundamentally contradictory position of shutting down the government in order to fund its operation. Some 65 percent of poll respondents said Trump was ill-advised to shut down the government to achieve his policy goals; only 22 percent said a shutdown was acceptable for that purpose.

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ACCORDING TO a Jan. 9-13 poll from Quinnipiac University, 56 percent of Americans blame Trump for closing the government; only 36 percent pin responsibility on congressional Democrats for the government shutshow now underway.

And a poll from CNN played the same music again: 55 percent of the poll respondents gave Trump the side-eye, while 32 percent faulted the Democrats. Nine percent blamed both sides.

An NPR/Marist/PBS Newshour poll from Jan. 17 found that 57 percent of registered voters absolutely won’t vote for Trump in 2020. A Jan. 18 poll from FiveThirtyEight found that only 40.2 percent of voters approve of Trump’s performance art in the White House.

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A Marquette University poll from Jan. 16-20 found that 49 percent of voters won’t vote to re-elect him as president*. In the Gallup poll from Jan 21-27, only 39 percent of voters support Trump. An Associated Press poll from Jan. 19 found that 34 percent of voters approve of Trump’s actions — plummeting from a Dec. 18 AP poll that saw 42 percent of voters in his corner.

He’s underwater in the Jan. 22 Pew survey (39 percent job approval, 58 percent disapproval) and the one from Fox News (43 percent support, on the TrumpNewsChannel!) and the NPR/PBS/Marist poll (40 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval)

In another Politico-Morning Consult poll, released on Jan. 23, Trump got a 40 percent job approval rating, down 2 points from a poll that spanned Jan. 11 and Jan. 14. Two more big polls from the same day bore the same news. CBS News’ poll found Trump with 36 percent support; the Associated Press-NORC survey gave Trump a 34 percent approval rating, the lowest in Trump’s presidency. And with a Monmouth University poll released on Jan. 28, Americans rejected Trump’s planned last-ditch recourse on the border-wall issue: 64 percent of the country disagrees with Trump’s plan to invoke emergency powers to get what he wants.

Had enough?

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YEARS AGO, Trump inoculated himself from the kind of criticism that would bring just about anyone else to a humbling, enlightening self-appraisal, in the face of polling like that. And it’s true, a poll is at best a brief snapshot of a moment in civic time, an evanescent sampling of opinion for a moment and gone the next. And for a politician predisposed to a short attention span, like Trump, there’s an incrementalism to such polling that can make it easy to ignore.

But there’s no way to look at these polls in isolation. The fact that they’re conveying more or less the same downbeat statistical information, day after day after day, would be a problem for any forward-looking politician. For a profoundly insecure president* attuned (if not addicted) to the polls that illustrate his support, such a succession of surveys might actually be seen for what it is: pain by numbers, political death by a thousand random U.S. adults.

The next State of the Union address has been pushed back to Tuesday, Feb. 5. With the partial government shutdown finally over, but with the presidential threat to start a new shutdown on or after Feb. 15, President* Trump will speak from the House of Representatives to the American people, and try to impart his idea of the power of what’s possible. The wave after wave of polls that precede Trump’s speech in the House, and the ones that are certainly coming, will test his faith in the power of what’s possible — for him — in the 642 days between now and Election Day 2020.

Image credits: Trump top: Win McNamee/Getty Images. Logos of polling organizations © the polling organizations or their parent companies or entities.

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