In all the chaos engulfing Washington and the White House, it’s difficult to know sometimes which news items are grabbing voters’ attention. But it’s safe to say that last week did not help President Trump. From the failure to replace Obamacare to his son-in-law throwing his son under the bus to the Icarus-esque career of Anthony Scaramucci, the parade of negative headlines went on and on. In turn, the president has reached new lows in several national polls. But Trump’s opponents should not get too excited. They should be realistic about how long his fall will take and understand what will fuel it.
No matter the poll you pick, the numbers look bad for the president. Quinnipiac gives him a 33 percent approval rating and the Economist/YouGov’s poll puts him at 37 percent — record lows for both polls. On Wednesday, Trump hit 38 percent approval in the Rasmussen tracking poll, his lowest number in what is probably the most GOP-friendly of the prominent polls. Since his inauguration, Trump’s average approval rating has dropped from 44 percent to 37 percent.
Furthermore, there are continuing signs that his remaining support is softening. Not only has voter approval for Trump dropped and disapproval risen, but also the number of his voters who “strongly approve” of his time in office has continued to decline. That is likely to translate to less enthusiasm and lower turnout in future elections.
So what has actually hurt the president? As much as Washington likes to talk about the Russia scandal, the more likely culprit is health care. As Huffington Post polling editor Ariel Edwards-Levy notes, Trump’s numbers have dipped noticeably twice after congressional failures to pass an Obamacare replacement: first when the House failed in March and then this week’s dip. Voters’ views of the Russia scandal have largely held steady in the first six months of Trump’s term, while their attitudes toward his deal-making abilities and leadership — which would be affected by whether the “Art of the Deal” author could actually push through an Obamacare replacement — have declined. This is not to say that nothing related to the Russia scandal matters — another drop in May coincided with Trump firing FBI Director Jim B. Comey — but health care moves the polls more consistently.
But Trump’s opponents should not write the political eulogies yet. Most Republican voters still approve of him — in the same Quinnipiac poll where Trump has a 33 percent approval rating overall, his rating with GOP voters is still 76 percent. Thus many Republican politicians still will be more scared of standing up to the president than going along with him. And the rate of decline will not necessarily continue: While Trump will probably do his “best” to drive his numbers down further, serving his signature cocktail of crassness and incompetence, each percentage point will be a little bit harder as you get more and more die-hard Republicans. It could be many months before Trump’s approval ratings drop to 30 percent or lower. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, “months” will feel like a slog to the president’s foes.
And beyond that, 2016 reminded everyone of the limits of polls. The national polls (contrary to what many think) were more accurate in 2016 than in 2012, but Trump has shown that losing the popular vote by millions is no obstacle to winning the electoral college. The fight will be long and hard, and Trump’s opponents cannot rest easy until he has lost.