If there was one early 2020 general-election survey that should have given President Trump solace about his political standing, it was a July Washington Post-ABC News poll. Although other surveys have shown Trump trailing pretty much every potential Democratic presidential nominee, that poll showed him virtually tied with everyone not named Joe Biden.
Now that has been taken from him, too.
The new Post-ABC poll is much more in line with other early general-election polls, showing Trump trailing the former vice president among registered voters by double digits and also trailing four other Democrats by four to nine points. Here is what those matchups look like:
There are signs not just that Trump is trailing but also that he may be regressing — at least slightly. The Post-ABC poll shows his approval dropping among registered voters from 47 percent in July — what was then a high for his presidency — to 40 percent today. If you look at it and other nationally representative polls, his average approval has dropped from 43 percent in June to 41 percent today. That seems to owe, at least in part, to increasing reservations about the direction of the economy and the fact that his trade war with China is unpopular, with 56 percent of registered voters disapproving and 35 percent approving.
But even if you accept that not much has fundamentally changed, the new poll is bad for Trump. It accounts for Biden’s second-largest lead (15 points) over Trump since beginning his campaign. And Biden’s biggest lead (16 points) came just two weeks ago in a Quinnipiac University poll.
Trump’s nine-point deficit against Sen. Bernie Sanders (52-43) is tied for his second-highest in high-quality national polls. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s seven-point lead (51-44) is tied for her second-biggest, too. And Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s seven-point lead is her third-biggest.
Trump attacked the poll Wednesday morning, wrongly calling it a “suppression” poll and incorrectly saying the Post-ABC poll “predicted” he would lose in 2016 by 15 points. (The final Post-ABC tracking poll showed Trump trailing by four points; he lost the popular vote by two.)
But the Post-ABC poll wasn’t the only poll released Wednesday that suggests trouble lies ahead. A new Quinnipiac University poll in Texas shows that 48 percent of voters in that state say they would “definitely not” vote for him. This is in a state he carried by nine points in 2016. Only 35 percent say they will definitely vote for him.
Now for the giant caveat: As The Post’s Dan Balz and Emily Guskin note in their write-up, no Democrat has an unfavorable rating greater than 39 percent in the new Post-ABC poll, and voters view all of them at least slightly more positively than negatively. If that were to hold, it would be nearly impossible for Trump to win.
But the likelihood that that will hold is almost nil. In American politics today, it’s rare for a politician who is well-known to stay above water in image ratings (i.e., having a favorable or approval rating higher than their unfavorable or disapproval rating). Once the campaign gets going, people who don’t know much about these Democrats will begin to find things they don’t like. And Trump has a talent for getting down in the political mud with his opponents.
The 2016 election showed just how fruitful that can be. While 6 in 10 Americans didn’t like Trump, by the end of the campaign, that was also true of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The question is how much of that was because Clinton was already a polarizing figure in American politics or was just a bad candidate.
Maybe the 2020 Democrats will fare better; maybe not. The most popular Democrat, Biden (53 percent favorable vs. 37 percent unfavorable), has already suffered from stumbles on the campaign trail, and some Democrats worry about what that could mean if it continues. Sanders (Vt.) is popular, but he also avoided many attacks in his 2016 campaign against Clinton, and his brand of democratic socialism could be a harder sell once people become familiar with it. The rest of the top Democrats — Warren (Mass.), Harris (Calif.) and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — are less well-known, meaning that much remains to be seen about how they will wear on the American people.
Although Trump won in 2016 on the strength of voters who didn’t like both him or Clinton, limited early signs show that may be reversed in 2020 — in which case it would be very, very difficult for him to win even if he drags his Democratic opponent down.
All of that said, it’s very early, of course. What we can say is that the president seems to have his work cut out for him.