As Quinnipiac does regularly, the poll included a number of questions evaluating Trump more broadly. Most Americans think he’s not honest, for example, and most view his handling of race relations negatively. The pattern is consistent: An unpopular president viewed poorly on a number of metrics is trailing in his bid for reelection.
What immediately struck me about the presented data, though, was how familiar it was. Trump has been viewed as more dishonest than honest in every single poll Quinnipiac has done. His approval rating is about where it has always been. Views of his approach to things are over and over about where they have been since he took office, as though the electorate was embedded in amber on Jan. 20, 2017, and will be Jurassic-Parked back into existence in time for November.
It’s not as if people don’t understand that the moment is … not great. The percentage of Americans who say that they are very or somewhat satisfied with the direction of the country has dropped by double digits since the beginning of 2019. The figure is now as low as it was in … November 2015, a time of enormous tumult similar to where we are now. Apparently.
(The period between Election Day 2016 and Trump’s inauguration is marked by the vertical gray bar.)
You will be unsurprised to learn that the reason Americans are only as pessimistic now as they were five years ago is partisanship. Now, 48 percent of Republicans say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the direction of the country, compared with 8 percent of Democrats. In that 2015 poll, 43 percent of Democrats said they were satisfied, while 11 percent of Republicans agreed.
This inversion by the parties is a rare bit of movement. Quinnipiac’s polling shows movement on another metric that it measures, too: Trump’s favorability rating. That movement, though, all happened before the 2016 election and involved Republicans quickly warming up to their party’s eventual nominee.
Since Trump took office, he has been viewed broadly favorably by Republicans and unfavorably by Democrats and independents. That’s the same pattern seen with Trump’s job approval rating, which, by definition, has been measured only since he took office. Republicans are a bit more positive about Trump than they were in 2017, but beyond that: stasis.
Now far be it for us to suggest that some things are a bit murkier than they were in November 2015, things such as the economy, health care (given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic) and race relations. But should you be a person who thinks that those things are perhaps on slightly rockier terrain at the moment, you might be surprised to learn that not only is Trump being viewed about the same as he ever was on all three metrics but that, on some, Republicans view him more positively.
On the economy, Trump enjoyed a little bump at the end of 2019 into 2020 that has since faded. So he’s about back to where he has been since 2018, despite the economy being in recession.
That recession, of course, is a function of the pandemic. Some experts think that a more effective federal response might have limited the economic damage. On the subject of health care, though, Trump’s poll numbers aren’t much different from what they have been since 2017. Among Republicans, he’s up significantly.
You can see two different political moments reflected in the lines above. The first was Trump’s focus on repealing Obamacare in 2017, a deeply unpopular effort that had even Republicans unusually skeptical. The other was the boost in approval he got early in the pandemic, the brief rally-around-the-flag moment he enjoyed before the scale of the pandemic became obvious. Even Democrats viewed him slightly better on health care for a bit, but that passed.
On race relations, Trump has similarly hit a new high even as tensions over race and systemic racism have led to thousands of protests across the country.
Many Americans are probably skeptical that Trump’s approach to the protests will have the effect of uniting the country. Indeed, he has demonstrated over the past month his relative indifference toward using the moment to bring Americans together.
Nonetheless, the percentage of Americans who think Trump does more to unite American than to divide it remains constant. Most of those who think he’s more of a uniter are Republicans, in keeping with all of the above patterns.
Republicans also consistently view Trump personally in a much stronger light. They view his leadership skills as positively now as they did when Quinnipiac first asked the question, shortly after the election. Overall, views of Trump’s leadership abilities eroded over 2017 and remained under 50 percent — though, to be fair, they haven’t gone much lower of late.
Then there’s the matter of Trump’s honesty. Since he took office, he has said more than 19,000 things that are false or misleading, yet Republicans are as likely as ever to say that they view him as honest. Americans overall are skeptical, but not much more or less skeptical than they were three years ago.
Trump is, in just about every conceivable way, the most polarizing president in modern American history. He’s the rope in a tug of war in which Democrats and independents are evenly matched against Republicans, and nothing moves more than an inch or two at a time. An earthquake hitting mid-tornado while locusts swarm over the people doing the tugging and all that happens is that little flag in the middle of the rope jerks back and forth a smidgen.
On the one hand, this is good news for Trump come November. He needs Republicans to want to vote for him, and most do. Not even the multiple ongoing crises have caused that to waver.
On the other hand, though, Trump is not winning over any new voters. And the result is that one of the best recent polls for his chances in November shows him with an eight-point deficit.