Sunday, February 18, 2018

BTRTN: On Florida and a Simply Hideous Week

Tom with the “SaturData Review” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week. 

The horrific killing of 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida dominated the news this week, eclipsing all other stories.  From a strictly political standpoint, perhaps the most compelling aspect of this all-too-often repeated agony were the statements by the surviving students, poignant and articulate, demanding that the government do something – something – to better protect students from future calamities.  And these calls were not for better mental health screening or more armor at schools – they were for gun control.   Will Parkland be the inflection point in this hideous stalemate?  Or will the GOP follow the predictable script yet again, insisting in the immediate aftermath that “this is not a time to discuss politics,” and then laying low until the raw emotions fade?  Action now seems unlikely – if not Newtown, if not Las Vegas (bum stocks are still just fine), then why Parkland?  But the inflection point of the civil rights’ movement was when Bull Connor turned the attack dogs and fire hoses on the children of Birmingham, Alabama on national television – perhaps the voices of these children can do the same.

Trump himself offered no “Nixon in China” hope that he would lead this charge; his message on Florida contained not a single mention of gun laws (this despite polls that consistently show that the vast majority of Americans of each party favor all sorts of potentially productive gun control legislation, including stronger background checks and closing the gun show loophole.)  Without Trump’s leadership, the GOP can stay in its gun-protection hole until it is politically safer to come out.

Trump’s war on the FBI received a boost with the news that the agency essentially ignored not one, but two separate red flags they had received about the killer, and it is only a matter of time until the adjective “beleaguered” is permanently attached the FBI Director Christopher Wray, in the same manner that the same word defines his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The events in Florida did indeed move a number of major political stories into the background, which worked well for Trump.  The outrage against the White House and Chief of Staff John Kelly over the Porter affair was growing, not fading, and actually metastasizing into concern over the number of Trump staffers who, like Porter, do not as yet have the full security clearance required for their jobs – over 100 as of last November.

Congress and the White House failed to come to agreement on meaningful immigration reform, dooming the Dreamers to continued purgatory, for now.  This could have been another “Nixon in China” moment for Trump, a chance to do what Bush and Obama failed to do, by providing cover to the right and embracing a more far-reaching compromise.  But by sticking to a series of hardline reforms with the fig leaf of a path to citizenship, that kind of leadership was nowhere to be found. 

The Trump White House increasingly looks like the biggest swamp of them all, as Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was called out by the inspector general for a stunning abuse of taxpayer money, charging us for various luxury expenses (Wimbledon, anyone?) incurred in bringing his wife to Paris.  And Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, was discovered to have received clearance to fly first class carte blanche at taxpayer expense, because his sensitive ears could not handle the displeasure he faced from his fellow Americans, in coach, on how he was doing his job. And Trump himself, King of the Swamp, was dogged by a steady stream of credible charges of infidelity.

And the week ended with Robert Mueller’s stunning indictment of 13 Russians of conspiring to disrupt the American electoral process in a sophisticated operation that amounted to “information warfare” on the United States.  While the indictments indicated no willing collusion between the Russians and the Trump Administration, they did not touch on the areas of potential collusion under the most scrutiny, such as the hacking and distribution of DNC emails.  The final verdict on the Trump campaign’s potential criminal involvement with the Russians remains open.  Nor of course did this involve the obstruction of justice and money laundering avenues also under investigation.  The spectacular breadth of Mueller’s probe becomes more apparent with each bombshell announcement, and it has become clear that his shop is virtually leak-proof.  And, of course, the findings shattered Trump’s insistence that there is nothing to the “Russia involvement” story.

All in all, this was not a good week for Trump, and again he seemed oddly quiet in the face of this stunning array of major stories.  Trump’s approval rating dropped a point, from 44% to 43%, a verdict that  should make him reasonably happy, as it could have been worse.

(A note on methodology: BTRTN calculates our weekly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.)

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Feb 9
Wk ending   Feb 16
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
44%
43%
-1 pp
-5 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
54%
53%
-1 pp
+9 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-10 pp
-10 pp
0 pp
-14 pp






Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
D + 6
D + 7
D + 7
0 pp
+1 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+11%
+13%
+2 pp
+13 pp
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
13%
Consumer Confidence
114
125
125
0%
10%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.75
2.72
1%
-12%
Dow-Jones
19,732
24,190
25,219
4%
28%
Most recent GDP
2.1
2.6
2.6
0%
24%

The generic ballot held steady in the Democrats’ favor, at +7 over the GOP in this week’s polling.  This margin, if it held until November, would translate to a +49 seat pickup in November for the Dems (according to our BTRTN proprietary regression equation), far more than the +24 they need to take over the House, and enough to withstand a “discounting” of the outcome due to intense GOP gerrymandering.

(For the generic ballot, we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.)

The stock market rebound and a drop in gas prices led to an uptick in the Trumpometer from +11 to +13, meaning that our five leading economic indicators have, on average, increased by 13% since Trump’s Inauguration on January 20, 2017.  This remains a good story for Trump despite the volatility and drop in the stock market over the last few weeks.

(The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.)


POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK

There is a new study conducted by Ipsos in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center of Politics on presidential ratings of modern Presidents, using a simple 1-10 scale where 1 is “terrible” and 10 is “excellent.”

The ratings, summarized below, show that JFK is the highest rated modern president (the ratings cover presidencies from Eisenhower to Trump), just ahead of Reagan and Obama.  Obama is the highest rated among Democrats, and Reagan highest among Republicans.

Trump is grouped among the most reviled of Presidents, below Carter and Ford, even with LBJ, and above Nixon. 

Bush 43 fared surprisingly well, in my opinion, with a rating even with his father and Bill Clinton.  I suspect that his stock is rising in part due to his obvious personality and value contrasts with Trump.

I added a column that shows the “gap,” in absolute terms, between the Democrats and Republicans.  Not surprisingly, Obama and Trump have the greatest gaps, just over 5 points (on a 10-point scale!).  LBJ, JFK and Ike have the smallest gaps, less than a point, reflecting, undoubtedly, a less polarized time in our political history, and also a certain historical fogginess setting in over these three “longest ago” modern presidencies.

PRESIDENTIAL RATING (1 = terrible, 10 = excellent)

Average
Dem
GOP
Ind
D/R GAP
Kennedy
6.6
7.1
6.2
6.6
0.9
Reagan
6.3
5.2
8.0
6.2
2.9
Obama
6.2
8.7
3.5
6.1
5.2
Clinton
5.7
7.2
4.3
5.8
2.9
Bush 41
5.5
5.0
6.5
5.3
1.6
Bush 43
5.5
4.9
6.7
5.1
1.9
Eisenhower
5.0
4.8
5.7
5.0
0.8
Carter
4.7
5.5
4.2
4.7
1.3
Ford
4.5
4.3
5.0
4.2
0.7
Trump
4.2
2.1
7.2
3.8
5.1
Johnson
4.2
4.6
4.3
3.9
0.3
Nixon
3.8
3.3
4.7
3.7
1.4