Friday, February 09, 2018

Trump Ceiling

Over the past year, with Trump's approval ratings moving from the mid-to-low 40s to the mid-to-high 30s, there has been some talk about what Trump's floor is. There is some percentage of the country that will support this President no matter what. What percentage is that? The past year suggests that the number is around 33-35% (shockingly high for this particular president, but no matter what he has done the lowest point he has ever reached in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll was 33% in late October).

Personally, I think the floor will lower if the economy really goes South. Trump's approval has been stuck in the 30s for most of the past 6 months during a fairly strong economy. When things go bad, people blame the president and, I suspect if that happens during this presidency, we will see his approval get down to the high 20s. (That is what happened to W when the global economy was in crisis in the second half of 2008).

But enough about the floor. What about Trump's ceiling? Just as there is a certain percentage of the country that will support him no matter what, there is another percentage of the country that will never support him no matter how well other things are going. I am definitely in that group and so are a lot of other people I know. I don't think any poll has shown Trump with an approval of 50% since he came into office. I don't think he ever will. A lot of people cannot stand Trump and their opinion is already set.

I can't imagine Trump's approval spiking up to 90% like W's did after 9/11. Bush already had majority approval before the terrorist attack and it was early enough in his presidency that a lot of people had not yet solidified their opinion of him. Most importantly, this was pre-Katrina and the public did not have a sense of just how incompetent the Bush Administration was. When the country was scared after 9/11, they rallied to Bush because his administration was viewed as a competent protector. Pundits gushed about how glad they were that the "adults were in charge" (as opposed to the distracted philandering Clinton).

Despite what Trump might think would happen if the U.S. were attacked during his presidency, I just can't see the public rallying to him as a competent leader who will keep them safe like they did with Bush. While W surrounding himself with Republican stalwarts who (wrongly, as it later became clear) were viewed as intelligent and competent administrators, the Trump Administration has had a rotating cast of awful scandal-ridden people. One of my friends calculated the Trump White House has averaged a resignation every 13 days in his first year. Nothing about his leadership style projects competence or a steady hand. Even Trump's supporters acknowledge their president is impulsive and might not think things through. If something bad happened to this country, I would be more scared knowing that Trump was in charge, not less. I suspect that is what most people would think too.

For the past year, the media has had an endless fascination with the Trump true-believer, the people who are still sticking with Trump no matter how incompetent, stupid, and evil his administration has turned out to be. One question behind those articles is: how many of these loyal Trumpers are there? Is there anything that could make them change their minds? What is the floor to Trump's approval? But the more significant question in terms of real-world consequences is not about Trump's floor, it is about his ceiling. To stop a Democratic takeover of Congress and to win reelection, Trump and his party need to get more supporters, not just hold on to the 1/3 of the country that are still loyal. Because of the Trump ceiling, I don't think that is possible no matter what happens.