I’ve been waiting almost three years to see some significant slippage in the president’s approval numbers among Republicans, and I’ve been consistently disappointed. This isn’t political disappointment. It’s more about maintaining some small amount of faith that humanity can survive through the end of my son’s natural lifetime without a class of scientists culling the herd and moving out to colonize space.
I need some sign that the mass of humanity has a future, and Republicans who respond to surveys just don’t afford that kind of confidence. But I got a glimmer of hope with my morning coffee on Friday morning. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll (see full results here) provided what I’ve been looking for:
Trump is the first president since the early days of modern polling more than 70 years ago never to have achieved majority approval in office, and his average rating is 21 points below the average for his predecessors dating to Harry Truman at this point in their presidencies. Closest to Trump was Jimmy Carter, at 48 percent average approval.
Trump’s falloff from 44 percent approval in July to 38 percent now (it also was 38 percent in September) includes the drop among Republicans, noted above, from 87 to 74 percent. He’s also at just 22 percent approval among 18- to 29-year olds, matching the low…
…Along with Republicans, conservatives are Trump’s obvious mainstay, and another group to watch. From 77 percent job approval among conservatives in July, he’s gone to 67 percent today.
The precise numbers in this survey don’t interest me all that much. There are other polls that show Trump’s approval numbers still in the low-forties and I have no particular reason to believe one poll of this type over another. What I look for instead is how the numbers move within the same poll over time, because as long as the methodology remains consistent it can be flawed and still accurately detect changes in public opinion. I have more faith that this survey is correct in finding an erosion of support in Trump’s base than that they’ve nailed his absolute level of support.
Backed by similar numbers in their September results, the October ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates that the formal launch of an impeachment inquiry did what nothing else could–it began to chip away at the confidence conservatives and Republicans have in Donald Trump.
There are some other data points of interest in this survey. A narrow 49 percent-47 percent plurality already supports removing Trump from office even though the House has not yet held a single public hearing. In fact, half the public seems to have accepted the Republicans’ complaint about transparency, with 50 percent disapproving of how the Democrats have handled the inquiry so far. Unfortunately for Trump, that number is unlikely to hold steady as the process becomes completely and painfully transparent in the weeks ahead. As it is, 58 percent of respondents “disapprove of the way Trump has responded to the impeachment inquiry.”
This is not a good starting point for the president. He also has to be concerned that 60 percent think it was inappropriate to deputize Rudy Giuliani to conduct foreign policy and 55 percent believe Trump did “something wrong” in his dealings with Ukraine and 47 percent characterize it as “seriously wrong.”
None of this means that your average Republican lawmaker can feel safe expressing any serious doubts or displeasure about Trump’s performance in office. The prerequisite for that is that Trump’s numbers weaken substantially in his strongholds. Dropping from the high-eighties to the mid-seventies in approval among Republicans is not enough to change the attitude of congressional Republicans. But you have to drop into the seventies before you can drop into the sixties, and that is what we’ve seen here. In fact, he’s only getting approval from two out of three self-described “conservatives,” suggesting a bit counterintuitively that his support is currently higher among moderate Republicans.
It’s probably safe to assume that the impeachment hearings will continue to bring Trump’s numbers down even as they spur a burst of energy into his dwindling base of support. As broad popular opinion moves more strongly in favor of removal, the first casualty will be the GOP’s hope of winning back seats that were lost two and four years ago. The next casualty will be the Republican officeholders who narrowly survived those elections. Then we’ll see polls showing even strong Republican seats looking vulnerable.
If the Republicans acquit in the face of strong public consensus in favor of removal, they’ll next have to rally around and renominate Trump, which will only further infuriate the public. Their only hope in such a situation is that their base sticks with them and limits their losses, but Trump’s base may already be getting emotionally prepared to abandon him.
There could be some hope for humanity after all.