Friday, February 15, 2019


Nate Silver does a deeper dive into recent polls than I recently did, and he concludes that President Trump is harming his chances of a 2020 victory:
Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

... If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it right as his job-approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

... Polls as tracked by show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed.

... the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.
That's Silver's first point: that Trump caved, yet his base stuck with him.
... Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged. Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.
That's Silver's second point: that when Trump does unpopular stuff, like forcing a government shutdown, independent voters turn against him.

As Silver notes, Trump needs independents to win in 2020:
Trump won independents by 4 points in 2016 — 46 percent went to him and 42 percent went for Hillary Clinton. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.
So he should stop doing stuff that alienates independents, because their support is conditional -- unlike the support of the base, which is unwavering.

The emergency declaration is just the kind of thing that alienates independents, Silver says. But is it? The shutdown touched a lot of ordinary Americans' lives -- air travel was disrupted, national parks were closed, and so on. Americans not a government payroll who are living paycheck to paycheck could relate to unpaid government workers who couldn't make the rent.

The emergency declaration isn't like that. It's an abstraction, and it'll probably be blocked in court, at least for a while. It won't stir up active outrage.

On the other hand, Trump needed to do something to persuade his base that he's still determined to build a wall. He could have just said he'd scrape together some other appropriations; his base would have bought that. But, as Axios's Jonathan Swan says, "President Trump liked the idea of declaring a national emergency because it's the maximalist, most dramatic option." Swan says that Trump believes "the reprogramming of funds to allow more wall spending, without declaring an emergency, would have been complicated to explain to voters." This is wrong -- if Trump said that was his brilliant plan to get the wall, the base would have believed it. In any case, he chose drama.

I think Silver's analysis is basically correct: Trump will continue to do whatever fires up the base, even if it alienates independents. That seems good for Democrats going into 2020. But Trump's political instincts aren't terrible -- he grasped that a second shutdown wouldn't play well, even though the base would have been delighted. And I think he has intuited that the emergency declaration might poll badly but won't inspire a visceral reaction among wary independents.

I could be wrong about this. But I predict that if he sinks his reelection chances, it will be as a result of other base-friendly behaviors, and that this won't be a factor.

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