Let’s parse the Parscale op-ed. Excerpts from it are in bold, with my analysis below.
“Bush’s Rating Falls To Its Lowest Point, New Survey Finds,” read a bold headline on the front page of the New York Times on June 29, 2004. The Times described a fraught atmosphere among the electorate, with growing angst over the Iraq War and concerns over domestic security less than three years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The dire survey, according to the Times, meant President George W. Bush was likely to be a one-term president. “Presidents with job approval ratings below 50 percent in the spring of election years have generally gone on to lose,” said the Times. Bush’s approval rating at the time was 42 percent.
Sixteen years later, President Trump faces a barrage of similar headlines predicting likely defeat — pointing to national polling and an anxious population combating a global pandemic.
The op-ed certainly starts on a curious note. Is that New York Times headline really “bold?” One could certainly quibble with how the numbers were interpreted in the story, but the headline was plainly accurate. And it was certainly not “predicting likely defeat.”
The second and more important point is that the implied comparison between Trump today and Bush at this point in 2004 certainly has its limits. While the New York Times-CBS poll showed Bush with a similar approval rating (42 percent) to Trump today (41.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics average), it also showed less contempt for Bush. Trump’s average disapproval rating right now is 56 percent, compared to 51 percent in that poll for Bush.
What’s more, just 45 percent of people had an unfavorable view of Bush personally, compared to 56 percent for Trump today. Polls have also shown that about half of voters have written off Trump entirely. A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday shows fully 50 percent of voters say they aren’t at all likely to vote for Trump -- a similar number to how many Americans say they “strongly disapprove” of Trump. In 2004, only about 4 in 10 voters had similarly written Bush off.
And that mattered. Why? Because Bush had room for growth as the campaign drew to a close. And he did grow; by Election Day 2004, more Americans approved of him than disapproved. Trump’s numbers, by contrast, have been static and have never ventured close to such positive territory. To borrow a frequent sports analogy, there’s simply less upside in Trump’s campaign.
Oh, and there’s one number from that 2004 poll that Parscale curiously doesn’t mention: The actual ballot test between Bush and John Kerry. Despite Bush’s lowest approval rating, he was actually neck-and-neck with Kerry, taking 44 percent to Kerry’s 45 percent. Trump, by contrast, is down by an average of nine to 10 points.
Here’s one of the authors of the 2004 New York Times piece Parscale cites, the Times’s Adam Nagourney:
The president’s reelection war chest, including a record-setting $131 million raised in June from thousands of donors at all levels, reflects the continued support, enthusiasm and confidence so many Americans have in President Trump and his agenda. The massive amount raised in June eclipses the total raised in any single month of 2016.
It’s true that Trump is raising big money and has been for a long time. But if we’re going to use dollar figures as a measure of “support, enthusiasm and confidence,” it’s worth noting that Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden, is actually raising more right now. While Trump raised $131 million in June, Biden raised $141 million. Trump was also bested last month, pulling in $74 million to Biden’s $81 million.
The new numbers may be a record for Trump personally, but they’re not even a record for this campaign cycle.
And when it comes to the most important factor, enthusiasm, President Trump is dominating. The unprecedented enthusiasm behind the president’s reelection efforts stands in stark contrast to the flat, almost nonexistent enthusiasm for Biden.
Parscale asserts a massive enthusiasm edge while for some reason declining to provide any numbers. If I were his editor, I might suggest he cite a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed 69 percent of Trump’s supporters were “very enthusiastic” about their candidate, versus just 34 percent who were that enthusiastic about Biden. The poll also showed 87 percent of Trump voters said they would definitely vote, compared to 74 percent for Biden. Those are big differences!
But as I wrote about these numbers at the time, they gloss over a couple key points:
- Biden’s “definitely” vote number is lower at least in part because his large current margins include winning over many swing voters, who might be more casual about politics. If you apply the “definitely” vote numbers to where each candidate is currently polling in that survey (in which Biden led overall 53-43), it translates to 39 percent of people supporting Biden and definitely voting, compared to 37 percent for Trump. Similarly, the Monmouth poll released Wednesday shows 40 percent of people are definitely voting for Biden, while just 34 percent are definitely voting for Trump.
- Asking about enthusiasm for your candidate may not be the right question in 2020, given Democrats’ enthusiasm seems to be mostly derived not from voting for Biden, but from voting against Trump. As The Post’s Jose A. Del Real writes today, a new New York Times-Siena College poll of Arizona and Florida shows that while 80 percent of Trump voters say their vote is more of a vote for Trump than a vote against Biden, 60 percent of Biden voters said their vote was mostly against the president. And as Trump’s approval numbers show, a huge number of Americans are passionately against him.
President Trump’s [uncontested primary vote totals] have dwarfed not just Obama’s, but Bush’s as well. In Wisconsin in 2020, the president received more than 616,000 votes — compared with Obama’s 293,914 and Bush’s 158,933 votes received in 2004. In Georgia, the president hit almost 1 million primary votes this year, compared with Obama’s 139,273 and Bush’s 161,374.
There may be something to say for how many voters have turned out to show their support for Trump in his largely uncontested primary. But to put it bluntly, comparing Trump to Obama and Bush in these two states is ridiculous.
In Wisconsin, the GOP presidential primary in April was on the same ballot as a hotly contested state Supreme Court race. There were no other marquee or even statewide races on the 2012 ballot for Obama or on the 2004 ballot for Bush. In other words, there was a big reason to turn out to vote in 2020 besides Trump, in way there simply wasn’t for Obama or for Bush.
In Georgia, the same holds. Its June presidential primary this year coincided with all the state’s other primaries, including several contested GOP primaries for Congress. By contrast, both its 2012 and 2004 presidential primaries were held in March, separately from all those other races. (There was a state flag referendum on the ballot in March 2004, but it wasn’t at all competitive.)
Comparing turnout from elections with other competitive races to elections with none to speak of is something any respected political strategist should know is foolhardy.
None of this is to say Trump can’t or won’t win in 2020. He still can. It’s just that the reasons Parscale cites for that don’t exactly support what he alleges. And the fact that these are the kinds of things Parscale is hanging his hat on suggests he doesn’t have a whole lot to work with — and/or that he’s trying too hard to paint a picture that the boss will like.
This post has been updated with new polling data from Monmouth University.