“The Gallup Poll has just come out with the incredible finding that 56% of you say that you are better off today, during a pandemic, than you were four years ago (OBiden),” tweeted President Donald Trump on Friday morning. “Highest number on record! Pretty amazing!”
Which, on its face, is true!
The Gallup data – taken from a poll in the field from September 14 to September 29 – shows that 56% of Americans said they consider themselves “better off” today than they were four years ago. (Roughly one in three – 32% – said they were worse off.)
And as Trump notes, that number is higher than the past times that Gallup has asked the question. In December 2012, 45% said they were better off than four years prior. In October 2004, it was 47%. And, going all the way back to July 1984, that number was at 44%.
In an email touting the “are you better off” numbers, Trump spokesman Steve Guest said, “This is a direct result of President Trump’s policies. The American people are resilient, and they know they have a fighter in President Trump at the White House who spends every day working for them.”
But here’s the thing that both Trump and his campaign seem to miss: It is an incredibly damning indictment of Trump personally that, in a country where a majority of the people believe they are better off than they were four years ago, the incumbent President is currently losing badly in his bid for a second term.
What the Gallup numbers suggest is that even though people feel better off than they were at this time in 2016 – a somewhat remarkable finding given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – they don’t ascribe that better feeling to Trump and his policies. Or even if they do give Trump credit for feeling “better off” – usually a measure of economic stability, optimism and well-being – there are other things they prioritize when it comes to choosing the next president.
(Important note: The Gallup poll was conducted before the first presidential debate – and Trump’s erratic performance. It was also in the field prior to Trump’s diagnosis last week with Covid-19.)
Consider Gallup’s other findings as they relate to Trump. His job approval for the month of September in Gallup polling is 44%. (That compares to 49% for Barack Obama in September 2012, 53% for George w. Bush in September 2004 and 60% for Bill Clinton in September 1996.) His personal favorability rating is 41% in Gallup’s September data; at this time in 2012, Obama’s personal favorable rating was 55%.
The message voters are sending is pretty clear: Many of them just don’t like Trump personally.
That should be extremely worrisome for the President and his team. A majority of people feel better about their own lives than they did four years ago. With any past president, that would be a near-guarantee of a second term. Voters who feel like their own lives – typically judged by their economic successes (or failures) – are getting better have little interest in changing out the president.
But that’s not the case here. A majority of voters are satisfied with where they are and, according to all swing state and national polling, want to replace Trump with former Vice President Joe Biden. (Biden leads Trump 53% to 42% in CNN’s poll of polls.)
That’s a very, very tough nut for Trump to crack – even if he had two years to do it. But he doesn’t have two years. He has 25 days. Essentially he has to figure out a way to get credit for voters’ positive feelings about their personal status while also somehow convincing them to prioritize that feeling over their personal dislike for him and the way he conducts himself in office.
What that Gallup poll that Trump and his campaign have touted actually tells us is that if Trump had been, well, a whole lot less Trump-y, he might be in a strong position to win a second term. But because Trump is Trump, he has managed to separate out voters’ positive feelings about their lives from their feelings about him. People feel good about their situations, and Trump doesn’t benefit.
Rather than pumping up that poll as proof of his successes, Trump should see the Gallup numbers for what they actually are: A blaring warning sign that he is headed toward a loss on November 3.