Donald Trump's very weird polling problem

There's an old political cliche that goes like this: Presidents get too much credit when the economy is going well --...

Posted: Aug 1, 2018 12:53 AM
Updated: Aug 1, 2018 12:53 AM

There's an old political cliche that goes like this: Presidents get too much credit when the economy is going well -- and too much blame when it's going poorly.

That cliche begets this political reality: When the economy is good and/or people believe the economy is good, a president is usually popular. And when the economy is weak (or perceived to be weak), a president is almost always struggling in the polls.

Which is why Donald Trump's current situation is super weird.

All current polling suggests that people not only feel good about the economy but give Trump credit for its success. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released last week, 50% of Americans approved of the job Trump was doing with the economy while only 34% disapproved. Those numbers on the economy were far better than how people said Trump was handling immigration (41% approve/51% disapprove) or the US relationship with Russia (26% approve/51% disapprove).

And yet, in that same NBC-WSJ poll, just 45% approved of Trump's performance as President overall while 52% disapproved.

That disconnect isn't a fluke. In the Real Clear Politics aggregate of polls, 50.4% approve of Trump's handling of the economy while 42.3% disapprove. The RCP average of Trump's overall job performance produces this: 43.3% approve, 52.9% disapprove.

Just how anomalous are high economic approval ratings -- and positive jobs numbers like 4.1% economic growth in the 2nd quarter of 2018 -- with middling overall job approval numbers, historically speaking?

The short answer is VERY.

Here's the long answer -- via CNN's Harry Enten -- who compared presidential job approval with approval of a president's handling of the economy at around the same time in their terms as Trump is now:

The only two presidents with significantly higher approval ratings on the economy as compared to their overall approval were Trump now and Bill Clinton in July 1998. The Clinton result is easily explained: He was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. So people liked how the economy was doing (and gave him credit for it) but were less willing to say they approved of him as heartily. The Trump example is less simple to understand.

My working theory is that voters don't like Trump personally but do like the state of the economy. So they are willing to give Trump credit for the economy specifically but when it comes to his overall job approval their feelings are much more determined by their feelings about Trump, the person. That's a trend that was apparent as far back as the 2016 election. Sixty-four percent of the electorate said that Trump was neither "honest" nor "trustworthy" but 1 in every 5 of those people voted for him, according to exit polling. Fully 63% said Trump didn't have the temperament to be president but, despite that, one in five in that bloc voted for him.

Regardless of the "why" of Trump's economy/overall approval disparity, it's clear that if he could simply disappear -- like, literally just stay in the White House and never tweet -- his overall approval numbers would likely improve. People seem to be reacting negatively to the full package of Trump, which crowds out their positive reaction to the job he is doing on the economy. If, he could take the focus off his tweets, the Russia investigation and the like -- and steer all of his rhetorical firepower onto the state of the economy, he and the Republican Party he leads would likely be in a much better place today.

Of course, that sort of message discipline isn't Trump. And if we've learned anything these last three years, it's that Trump is going to Trump. Always.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 493832

Reported Deaths: 33418
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Queens760577290
Kings743397382
Bronx548924985
Nassau492032208
Suffolk485622019
Westchester400411470
New York356103192
Rockland17635683
Richmond170041094
Orange13413505
Erie12782713
Monroe7070300
Dutchess5421163
Onondaga5277207
Albany3549136
Broome333083
Oneida2670128
Ulster245995
Niagara2032101
Putnam178863
Sullivan172548
Chemung15443
Schenectady153950
Saratoga129517
Rensselaer107342
Steuben95157
Chautauqua87713
Columbia66938
Ontario63535
Oswego6094
Tompkins5930
Madison55717
Tioga54930
Cortland4960
Greene48918
Cattaraugus4556
Warren44833
Wayne4325
Orleans38554
Herkimer38410
Otsego3845
St. Lawrence3824
Genesee3795
Chenango3657
Fulton36124
Cayuga3522
Washington33014
Livingston2728
Allegany2691
Montgomery2614
Clinton2365
Jefferson1990
Essex1960
Wyoming1795
Delaware1687
Seneca1403
Schuyler1150
Yates1117
Schoharie1070
Lewis920
Franklin790
Hamilton160
Unassigned020
Utica
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 37°
Oneonta
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 38°
Herkimer
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 37°
Thendara
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 37°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Click here to learn more about A Healthier Mohawk Valley
VOTE OCTOBER 22-30
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
WKTV Golf Card - Under 150 left