It has not been a good couple of weeks for President Trump’s poll numbers. While they’ve been relatively steady throughout his two years in the White House, the government shutdown has pushed his approval rating as low as it’s been at basically any point.
One number in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll might be more troubling.
According to the poll, 56 percent of registered voters — a clear and statistically significant majority — say they will “definitely” not vote for Trump in his 2020 reelection bid.
That number echoes a recent finding from Marist College, which found 57 percent said they would definitely not support Trump. But the number in the newer poll suggests the opposition is even firmer, and that’s because of the options that the poll’s question provides.
In the Marist poll, the options were definitely vote against Trump (57 percent) or definitely vote for him (30 percent). An additional 13 percent volunteered that they weren’t sure.
That’s bad enough. But the Post-ABC poll provided the option that asks if people would “consider voting for him.” Giving people a third option in polling tends to pull them away from the extremes to a safer and less committal middle ground. But judging by this poll, that definitely-not-voting-for-Trump segment is resolute in its stance.
The breakdown (56, 14, 28) in the Post-ABC poll is almost exactly the same as the Marist findings (57, 13, 30). While only about three-fourths of Republicans said in the Marist poll that they’re definitely voting for Trump, it’s similarly depressed in the Post-ABC poll, at just 70 percent.
There are some important caveats. The first is that all polling is a snapshot in time. Just because things are like this, it doesn’t mean they will remain the same. Trump is at a low point because the government shutdown reflected poorly on him and perhaps because the stock market has been struggling. Things can and will change for him, for the better or for the worse.
The second is that Trump may not need those 56 percent of voters. He won the presidency, after all, with just 46 percent of the popular vote — about two points higher than the 44 percent who are at least open to supporting his reelection. He could win with even less of the vote if a third-party/independent candidate, like former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, splits the vote three ways. This is registered voters; the actual electorate could draw disproportionately from people who might vote for Trump if they are more enthusiastic.
But these numbers can’t be described as anything except bad. Even at his low point ahead of his 2012 reelection, the highest number of Americans who said they would definitely not vote for Barack Obama was 47 percent — shy of a majority. About half as many said they would definitely vote for him, as is the case with Trump, but Obama’s ceiling was considerably higher — by nine points, in fact.
We tend to forget that a big reason Trump won was because of some unique factors — not least of which was an opponent, Hillary Clinton, who was about as unpopular as he was. In an election against an opponent who was even modestly unpopular (as in 45 percent of voters liking the candidate and 55 percent disliking the candidate, as opposed to Clinton’s 40-60 split), Trump probably would have lost. He won by less than one percentage point in the states that mattered.
At this point, Trump’s reelection hopes seem to lean heavily on the possibility that his opponent will be about as disliked as Clinton. Trump may also benefit from the powers of incumbency that have resulted in recent presidents winning reelection.
At least for now, though, a strong majority of registered voters say they won’t participate in that reelection.