One of the big stories of the 2016 election is that Donald Trump won despite being the most unpopular presidential nominee in modern history. The polls weren't wrong about that; he won in spite of it.
He also won despite the outgoing Democratic president being popular — more popular than Ronald Reagan at this point in his presidency, in fact. Popularity, it seems, was not the be-all, end-all. And neither were Obama's coattails.
The working theory is that people simply wanted change — but many Trump voters seemed pretty happy with the presidential status quo.
17 percent of them, in fact.
According to a new poll from The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, nearly 1 in 5 Trump voters say they approve of Obama's job performance. That would mean about 8 percent (note: large margin of error) of Americans went to the polls on Election Day liking what Obama was producing as president but deciding to vote for the other party's unpopular nominee anyway.
And that is why Donald Trump is our president-elect.
The numbers aren't hugely surprising. Simply doing the math of a president whose approval rating is in the mid-50s and the other party's nominee winning the election, there had to be pro-Obama voters who were on Trump's side. The fact that there are so many people with this kind of dual loyalty, though, is striking — especially since both candidates used Obama's policies as a touchstone: Hillary Clinton setting herself up as the standard-bearer for those policies and Trump the one who would undo them. Even as Obama's approval rating rose in recent months, Trump said often that Clinton's election would translate into four more years of Obama.
It was a questionable strategy at the time, given Obama's popularity. But it doesn't seem to have hurt Trump's chances.
It's also fair to ask just how strongly these voters approved of Obama. Obama's approval rating dipped into the low-40s in recent years, so it's possible these Trump voters' approval of him was rather new and pretty soft. Maybe they liked Obama well enough now that he's about to be not-president but don't love him. In fact, that's probably very true.
But it's also true that many people voted for Trump despite not totally buying into his campaign and apparently liking Obama just fine.
The Post-Schar School poll also shows that, among Trump voters who said they shared Trump's views on only some, hardly any or no issues, 30 percent approved of Obama. And among Trump voters who weren't "very" optimistic about Trump's policies — they were only "somewhat" optimistic or were pessimistic — 25 percent approved of Obama.
This suggests a very real and sizable group of voters who didn't really like Trump that much and liked Obama — but still voted for the GOP nominee.
It didn't take a ton of them to tip the scales to Trump. But there were enough.