First things first: The theme song of the week is John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” from the NBA on NBC.
Poll of the week: A Pew Research Center poll released this week finds that 29% of Americans think President Donald Trump’s presidency will be successful in the long term, 47% think it’ll be unsuccessful and 23% say it is too early to tell.
What’s the point: The fact that more Americans think Trump will ultimately be an unsuccessful president than believe he’ll be a successful one makes sense. The 18-point margin on that lines up nearly perfectly with his -22 point net approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) in the same poll.
What is notable is how many people have already made up their minds on Trump being unsuccessful. The 47% who said that are basically saying not just that they don’t like the President now, but also that there’s a very good chance they’ll never like him. It gives Trump very little wiggle room in trying to bring up his low approval rating before his re-election.
Last year, the gap between successful and unsuccessful was the same as it is now (18 points). The overall percentage of who thought Trump would be unsuccessful, though, was 6 points lower, at 41%. That is, Trump had more room to grow in the past. Now, people are settling in on their opinions of the President.
The lack of people undecided on Trump is truly unusual. The other three presidents about whom this question was asked elicited much higher percentages of “too early to tell” than Trump. At this point in their presidencies, between 43% and 47% of Americans said it was too early to know if the president would be successful. Trump, at 23%, is 20 points below the lower part of this range.
More amazing is what we see when we examine all the times Pew has asked this question. Even at the ends of the last three presidents’ second terms, at least 26% of Americans still said it was too early to tell if those presidents were going to be successful. In other words, people are more locked in on their opinions of Trump now than they were at the ends of the second terms of the last three presidents. The 47% who say Trump’s presidency will be unsuccessful is also higher than ever measured at any point in any term in the last 25 years for any president.
The idea that people seem more decided on Trump than previous presidents is backed up by the approval trend line over his presidency. As Gallup recently noted, his approval rating over the first two years of his presidency was more stable than it was for any other president over his first years. Pew’s future-looking question suggests that stability will continue.
Indeed, a different question also points to the difficulty Trump will face going forward. His strongly disapprove rating in the Marist poll, at 45% this week, tied his previous all-time high for that pollster. By the Quinnipiac University poll’s reading, his strongly disapprove rating stands at 50%. These are very high strong disapproval ratings. Trump is as strongly disliked now as President Richard Nixon was when he resigned in 1974.
The high percentage of people who strongly disapprove would come close to dooming Trump if it holds for 2020. While people can vote for candidates they somewhat disapprove of, they rarely vote for those they strongly disapprove of. In the last two presidential elections – the only ones for which we have exit poll data on this question – the president won just 2% (in 2004) and 1% (in 2012) of those who strongly disapproved of his job performance.
About the only good news for Trump in this data is that we’re still nearly two years away from the 2020 election. The Pew poll is not a guarantee that the President won’t get his approval rating to rise meaningfully. It does probably mean that Trump is going to have a harder time than we might think in becoming more popular based solely on his approval rating.