On Sunday, NBC and the Wall Street Journal published a poll showing some tough numbers for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Between the December 2018 NBC/WSJ poll and the January 2019 poll, the percentage of people who said they viewed Pelosi “very negatively” shot up from 28 percent to 34 percent, putting the total percentage who view her either somewhat or very negatively at 47 percent. Those numbers aren’t great, and they’ve led some to wonder whether the conventional wisdom about the shutdown — that President Trump lost and Pelosi won — is backward and Democrats actually lost.
But we don’t need to overthink this one. Polls show that Trump lost and Pelosi won.
First, we can show that Trump lost. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Drumhil Mehta collected a series of polls that ask people who is to blame for the shutdown — Trump, congressional Democrats or congressional Republicans. In every survey, Trump takes the most blame. Trump has also been taking more blame as time has gone on. The percentage who blame him has increased by five points over the past few weeks, while the percentage who blame congressional Democrats has gone up by only two points.
At the same time, Trump’s approval numbers have been trending downward. As I noted last week, Trump’s approval rating tends to dip when he either pushes an unpopular policy or fails to govern competently. And over the course of the shutdown, his approval rating has trended downward in multiple averages.
It’s possible to stop the analysis here and say that, from a purely electoral standpoint, Trump lost this one and therefore Pelosi won. The GOP’s fortunes rise and fall with Trump’s approval rating — his low approval rating hurt them in 2018, and if it stays low, it may bite them again in 2020. But Pelosi doesn’t occupy the same role for Democrats. They won the 2018 midterms while she was unpopular, and by the time 2020 rolls around, they’ll have a different standard-bearer.
But elections aren’t everything, and it’s still worth talking about whether Pelosi’s popularity dropped during the shutdown.
And the evidence there seems mixed. The NBC/WSJ poll showed a drop, but Pelosi’s approval rating has trended upwards in Gallup and Civiqs polling. Harry Enten at CNN computed an average of polls and found that her favorability rating has increased by three points since the beginning of the shutdown. Monmouth University also released a poll on Monday showing an improvement in Pelosi’s net approval — the percentage of voters who disapprove of her increased from 38 percent to 45 percent, but the percentage who approved of her increased from 17 percent to 34 percent.
The shutdown was a loss for Trump on a political and policy level. Trump shut the government down, took a hit in the polls and then failed to get money for the wall. It’s hard to spin that as anything other than a loss.