Trump Weaknesses Remain Despite Recent Polling

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week contains a few surprises in Trump’s favor, but also reveals obstacles in the way of a his re-election, as well as indicators to shape Democrats’ strategy for maintaining control of Congress.

Here’s what stands out most to us in the report:

  • The most notable finding is Trump’s 44 percent approval rating among adults, up five points and the highest of his term so far. While it might seem alarming, some perspective is necessary. Until now, the Washington Post poll has underestimated Trump’s approval relative to the non-Rasmussen polling mean, which has hovered around 43 percent for several months. The bottom line is no other poll shows a five-point increase for Trump.
  • The economy is driving the uptick in Trump approval. Of the nine issues the poll tested, his perceived handling of the economy was the only one without a net negative response.
  • Gender and education are two of the strongest indicators of support for Trump. Men without a college degree remain a reliable base, while support among women is under water.
  • Voters are simply not interested in impeachment. The share of respondents opposed to launching impeachment proceedings has increased gradually over the last year, up 13 points from last August.
  • Democrats are vulnerable to the ‘socialist’ tag. Trump has numerous disadvantages going into his re-election campaign, but the greater his ability to define his opponent, the more precarious the Democratic advantage becomes. This could also affect the outcome in a number of congressional districts.

Sample of congressional districts where a too-far-left candidate could struggle

District Incumbent Dem. Margin 2018 Clinton Margin 2016
AZ-01 Tom O’Halleran (D) 7.7% -1.1%
CA-48 Harley Rouda (D) 7.1% 1.8%
IA-01 Abby Finkenauer (D) 5.2% -3.8%
IA-02 Dave Loebsack (D) 12.5% -4.4%
IA-03 Cindy Axne (D) 2.2% -3.8%
MI-08 Elissa Slotkin (D) 3.9% -7.2%
MN-01 Jim Hagedorn (R) -0.5% -16.3%
MN-02 Angie Craig (D) 5.5% -1.3%
MN-07 Collin Peterson (D) 4.3% -33.1%
MO-02 Ann Wagner (R) -4.0% -10.9%
MT-01 Greg Gianforte (R) -4.8% -22.2%
NV-03 Susie Lee (D) 9.6% -1.0%
NJ-02 Jeff Van Drew (D) 7.8% -4.8%
NJ-03 Andy Kim (D) 1.3% -6.4%
NM-02 Xochitl Torres Small (D) 1.9% -11.3%
NY-19 Antonio Delgado (D) 5.3% -7.2%
PA-10 Scott Perry (R) -2.6% -9.6%
UT-04 Ben McAdams (D) 0.3% -9.4%
VA-07 Abigail Spanberger (D) 2.0% -6.8%
WA-08 Kim Schrier (D) 4.8% 3.3%
  • Universal health care is a sensitive topic. While a majority still favor a ‘universal health insurance program’, support has faded over the last 15 years. A combination of Medicare for All who want it and private insurance appears to be the middle-of-the-road solution, even among suburban college-educated men. Varying degrees of support exist between different groups within the electorate due to confusion about exactly how such a system would work, which could be exploited to hurt Democrats.
  • Biden leads Trump by 10 points among registered voters. Despite a succession of problems, there is no indication that Biden’s chances against Trump have eroded. However, other polls have revealed more traction for the other major contenders—Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg.

There is better news in a recent Politico-Morning Consult generic poll for congressional candidate preference. The Democratic advantage has risen to 10 points, equal to a similarly-timed Economist-YouGov poll. By no means are we implying that Trump’s improved polling numbers are inconsequential, but this information hints at potential targets in blue collar congressional districts, and some conservative, Republican leaning districts in the suburbs.

Two recent state polls hint at the challenges facing congressional Democrats in 2020, and the potential influence of other contests on the ballot next year. In Maine, a Gravis Marketing poll from late June shows Trump trailing each of the top five Democratic primary candidates, while a South Carolina poll from The Post and Courier-Change Research shows him leading by almost 20 points there. The results aren’t broken down by congressional district in either state, but with the presidential election and high-profile senate contests in both states, we’ll be watching to see what this means for Jared Golden (ME-02) and Joe Cunningham (SC-01).

The current political climate lacks clear precedent and we are certain to face a number of unpredictable events before the election. We have no idea what will happen with the economy, but if it is indeed responsible for the tenuous bump in Trump support, it could just as easily wreck his candidacy if it drops precipitously.

Trump’s 2020 strategy is clear–win the electoral college. But he still has major obstacles blocking his path. Democrats are much better positioned in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin than they were in 2016. They are also gaining ground in Arizona, Georgia, and Texas due to more favorable demographic trends and increased suburbanization. Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia will likely go for the eventual Democratic nominee. Florida and North Carolina are more uncertain, though early polling shows signs of trouble for Trump in both.

This might be a close election, but right now Trump is not the favorite, nor should it be called a tossup.  The matchups involving Kamala Harris and others who are lesser known to many Democrats are not an indication of a tossup.  Joe Biden’s 10 point lead over Trump is more of an indication that the generic Democrat with name recognition is potentially winning.