Swing State Pres

Friday, March 30, 2018

BTRTN: The Glass Floor... Why Trump's Approval Rating Never Budges


Despite raging wild firings and stormy weather in D.C., Donald Trump’s approval rating is sailing straight and steady.  Steve unravels the mystery of the unmovable approval rating.  

It is with ever-increasing horror that progressives fixate on Donald Trump’s frozen approval rating, which appears to have been hermetically sealed and preserved in amber like a dinosaur embryo, locked between 38% to 43%, with polls mathematically centered at 42%. 

Democrats have watched the Trump parade careen from racism to misogyny and from shitholes to porn stars. They have seen a President who consistently fails to deliver what he promised to his voters, who enacts a tax plan that favors the rich over his base, and who favors an approach to healthcare that hurts his loyal flock more than it helps. They have been stunned to watch a Republican President demonize and undermine the very institutions that preserve law and order, once the defining values of a vast “silent majority” of Nixonian Republicans.  Finally, the same party that claims that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by blasting his Soviet counterpart to “tear down this wall” is now led by a man who simply cannot say a bad word about the most ruthless Russian tyrant since Stalin.

Progressives rage at the reality that if Barack Obama had done any of the tasteless, ignorant stunts that Donald Trump pulls before lunchtime, Republicans wouldn’t have bothered with outrage, preferring to skip directly to impeachment.

And lefties suffered the indignity of 60 Minutes, when an articulate and credible porn star spanked us with the nauseating details of her sexual encounter with the President… and yet, once again, Trump’s approval rating did not move a micron. Gag me! 

Call it the glass floor. It is invisible and yet seemingly so impenetrable. What gives? Liberals spit out the words through clenched teeth: “What will it take to make those uneducated Red State morons finally change their minds? What atrocity must Trump commit that will actually lower that approval rating?” 

Contrarians at our core, it is our duty and burden here at BTRTN to challenge the premise and reframe the question. 

It is indeed frustrating and galling to speculate what it will take to make Republicans think less of Donald Trump. But it also may miss the point. It is, we believe, more educational to ask what this president is doing to have earned the absolute blind and untouchable loyalty and devotion of 42% of the population. The question is not “what must he do wrong to alienate this core,” but “what is the fix that keeps these addicts coming back for more?” My fellow Americans, ask not what is appalling to liberals, ask what is so implausibly enthralling to red necks. 

Let’s start with the obvious. In the 2016 election – and most American elections since such surveys were conducted – the single issue that the most people tend to rate as “very important” to them was the economy. Yes, twenty-five years later, it is still the economy, stupid. Sure, it is nauseating to watch Donald Trump take credit for the economic recovery and subsequent boom engineered by Barack Obama, which does remind us of Texas Governor Ann Richards’ switchblade slash at Bush the Elder: “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Trump was sworn in to a swelling stock market and has thrown in a couple of cheap, short-term tricks which have sustained momentum. There’s no question that the state of the economy is buoying his support. 

Here’s the key point, though. The economy has been strong since Donald Trump took office, and therefore the sensitivity of his approval rating to an economic downturn has never been tested.  By this logic, Trump’s gamble on tariffs is an extremely risky move.  But for all the people who are primarily motivated by the state of the economy and don’t care much about how that came to be, Donald Trump grades out just fine.

Then there’s the second explanation for a significant percentage of Trump’s intransigent base: single issue voters. Single issue voters are a fascinating phenomenon: they care so intensely about one particular issue that they will make their voting decision on how candidates line up on that issue and that issue only. They will essentially ignore everything else – qualifications, morality, integrity, everything – in order to vote in a person who sides with them on the only issue they care about. 

This, in short, is how you end up with Christian conservatives standing by their philandering man, blithely dismissing Donald Trump’s sleazy bimbo eruptions as they piously file into Sunday service. As long as Trump is in the Oval Office and appointing the likes of Neil Gorsuch to buttress their religion’s pro-life stance, these people couldn’t care what happened in that Moscow hotel.

While there are small percentages of people who identify themselves as “single-issue voters” on matters related to the environment or animal rights, the vast majority of “single-issue voters” line up on opposing sides on the three major social issues of our time… abortion rights, gun rights, and immigration.

 A Gallup survey says that a stunning 17% of Americans are single-issue voters on the matter of abortion rights, and that a higher percentage of pro-life voters are “single issue voters” (21%) than “pro-choice” voters (15%). So right off the bat you have a large group of voters who would cast their ballot for any Presidential candidate whose name is next to the box marked “Republican” because of the party's stance on abortion. Why, these people would even vote for Donald Trump.

A mathematician writing commentary for ABC News identified that fifteen percent of voters are “single issue” voters on the issue preserving their right to bear arms. Those favoring their absolute right to hunt with an AR 15 are much more likely (by a factor of four to one) to be single-issue voters than those who seek restrictions on gun ownership. Let’s hope those Parkland kids can change those stats. 

Trolling the internet did not produce a satisfying statistic on the number of single-issue voters on immigration, but a Nate Silver 538 column quoted a 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election study that “found that 73 percent of Trump voters said immigration was of ‘very high importance’ to them, compared with 24 percent of Clinton voters.” It’s the same dynamic: Republicans appear much more intensely motivated by the part than the whole. They are much more likely to vote on a candidate’s position on a specific single issue rather than by an attempt to measure the gestalt of the candidate on a range of issues, including policy, personality, and qualifications.

The math is crude and directional, but it appears clear that Republicans are more likely to be single issue voters than Democrats. As long as Donald Trump doesn’t actually do anything significant about guns, and as long as he toes the conservative line on Roe v. Wade, and as long as he keeps pretending that Mexico will pay for the wall, there actually is a hard surface under his approval rating. That's a big part of the “glass floor.” The percentage of “single issue voters” on the conservative side of these issues could alone take Donald Trump’s approval rating to the low thirties.  

Beyond the economy and single-issue voters, there is the fascinating fact that mainstream Republican voters never actually hear that much negative reporting about Donald Trump. During Watergate, two vibrant forces in a healthy democracy brought Richard Nixon down. One was the influence of the free press: the Washington Post was certainly perceived to be a liberally-leaning if not actually biased newspaper, but government leaders did not attack, dismiss, and demean its factual reporting as “fake news.” The other was the fact that our leaders put country over party: it was Republican leaders who marched from the Capital to the Oval Office to tell Richard Nixon that his party was abandoning him. A Supreme Court with a number of conservative justices nonetheless voted 8-0 to demand that Nixon release the tapes. And there was the amazing bipartisan work of the Senate Watergate Committee, where the legendary question – “What does the President know, and when did he know it?” – was posed by  Senator Howard Baker… a Republican.
 
Today, of course, Trump loyalists learn what is happening from the Twitterer-in-Chief, from the Trump sycophants at Fox News, and from Republican leaders who speak only in the seventh-octave voice range of the castrati. Everyone who actually has a platform to reach Trump voters is now maintaining that platform by sucking up to Donald Trump.

Small wonder even Stormy Daniels can’t put a dent in Trump’s approval rating.

We will momentarily depart from any reference to statistics to hypothesize two final binding agents in the chemical formula that has frozen Trump’s approval rating.

This may appall you, lefty, but lots of people just like Donald Trump. They like him for pretty much the reason that All in the Family was a top-rated television show. Trump, like Archie Bunker, is crass, boorish, and given to immediately express whatever crude, uninformed, and usually misspelled mind-fart is expelled when his brain synapses failed to achieve cruising altitude. Enough people mistake this for "refreshing candor" that it is broadly tallied as likeability. Add in the fact that Trump is neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton, and this guy actually wins the popularity contest at the Red State Prom.

There is, sadly, one final issue that seems to be at play in the ferocious Republican commitment to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump legitimizes an immensely broad range of repulsive beliefs and attitudes that have long lingered under the surface of our country, shunned and disgraced in the eras of more enlightened leaders. For a certain portion of our population, Donald Trump makes it permissible to voice racist rage. He makes cheaters feel validated, whether they are cheating on their taxes, their spouses, or their employers. He gives liars permission to lie. Hey, you can practically hear them say, it’s o.k. I’m just doing what the President is doing.

For a certain portion of that shatter-proof glass floor eternally stuck at 42%, Donald Trump is the redeemer of sin. Far from aghast or horrified or disappointed or shocked by his behavior, they revel in the fact that one of their own is calling the shots. Stormy Daniels is not to be viewed as a shameful chapter in the life of a serial sexual predator, she is the symbol of the illicit affair that the spouse back at home never knew about. Trump is the greatest enabler of bigotry and hatred yet produced in the Twenty First Century. You can practically hear the eagerly embraced justifications rising from the poverty and ignorance: Those asshole liberal protesters in Charlottesville? Hey, there was blame on many sides. You know what else? I happen to think a lot of Mexicans are rapists. I think Hillary Clinton should be in jail for Benghazi. I think Barack Obama wasn’t qualified to be President because he was born in Africa.  And now the President of the United States is telling me that I am right.

If you want to know why that approval rating won’t budge, stop imagining that there must be some heinous thing Trump could do that would finally cause it to collapse. Stop thinking about what he could do to make it go down. 

Start thinking about all the things he does to keep it as high as it is.

There is, however, a silver lining in all this for those who search to find it.

Think about this: all of those single-issue voters are not for Donald Trump. They are for guns. They are against abortions. They hate immigrants

The minute Donald Trump proves ineffective at defending their single-issue concerns, his utility to these people ends.  Which is to say this: if Donald Trump leads his party to catastrophic mid-terms and is judged by his own party to be D.O.A. in 2020, single-issue voters will be the first to dump Trump. 

Sure, a certain percentage of them will stand by Trump, and see him as a victim of the do-nothing Congress or the “deep state.” But if his brand proves toxic in the mid-terms, the gun crazies will choose guns over Trump. It was not that they wanted Donald Trump as their President. It was that they want unlimited access to assault rifles and bullets.

It’s not that Christian conservatives want Donald Trump as their President. They just want someone in the White House who will appoint the next Anthony Scalia. If Trump is destined to fail in 2020, the right-to-lifers will choose policy over president. 

Yes, the very thing that will bring down Donald Trump’s approval rating is when single-issue voters suddenly learn that Donald Trump can no longer be counted on to defend their cause. The mid-terms will brand Donald Trump as a loser. And no racist rant, no serial misogyny, no shithole slander, no Robert Mueller, and no Stormy Daniels can ever do the damage to his approval rating as having been proven to be a loser.

Donald Trump will indeed remain unfailingly popular with all those people who love him because he is the redeemer of their sins. But come November, Donald Trump will learn exactly how small that number really is.

Once again, friends, it all comes down to the mid-terms. If we want to see a death spiral in Donald Trump's approval rating, he must be revealed to be a toxic loser  in an historic mid-term defeat. 

If you are frustrated by the glass floor, that is how to shatter it.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

BTRTN: Lawyers, Neocons and Bunnies

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

THE WEEK

The Warren Zevon song title that inspired the headline of this piece falls short of encapsulating the week, by a long shot.  There were indeed lawyers (John Dowd departing), neocons (John Bolton arriving) and a bunny (Playboy’s Karen McDougall unloading), but also so much more – a total of eight major stories populating a week that, even by Trumpworld standards, was overloaded, almost entirely due to Trump’s own actions.

We will cover it all as pithily as possible below.  But first we must report that, continuing an incredible pattern (under the circumstances) Donald Trump’s approval rating was unchanged last week at 42%, in the same general range it has been stuck in since last May, the high 30s/low40s, cold but not frigid.  His approval among Republicans remained in the 80% range, demonstrating that our GOP friends have an amazing tolerance for aberrant behavior, or an even more remarkable capacity to compartmentalize the policy Trump (or what passes for it) from the personal.  Or, they actually like him.

The late night, last minute, pension-denying firing of Andrew McCabe turned out to be the first sign of a distinct change of strategy in Trump’s handling of the Robert Mueller investigation.  It was shortly followed by a Trump Twitter-rant that directly assaulted Mueller, the first time Trump had mentioned Mueller by name, and a radical departure from the “if you’re so innocent, you should cooperate with Mueller” strategy championed by Trump lawyers Dowd and the wonderfully named Ty Cobb.  (Cobb has played the conciliator among the lawyer corps serving Trump, which is a shame because the identically-named legendary baseball player was infamous for pugnacity, sliding spikes high.) 

Not surprisingly, Dowd promptly resigned, or was more likely booted, just days later, the latest in a dizzying series of departures, and not the last one of the week.  The resignation was preceded by the hiring of a new attorney, Joseph deGenova, who believes, and I quote, that “…there was a brazen plot {within the Justice Department} to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.”  DeGenova clearly hails from the Anthony Scaramucci school of subtlety.

While this McCabe/Mueller/Dowd/deGenova drama unfolded, the only major story of the week that was not directly the result of Trump actions exploded with the revelation that Facebook had provided Mercer-supported Cambridge Analytics with the personal data of 57 million users, without their knowledge.  The firm then used the data for targeted messages on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, which has surely surpassed Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 congressional win in Texas for perhaps the most corrupt election of all time.  (Johnson saved his political career by defeating Coke Richardson in that race by a handful of votes, largely supplied by “Ballot Box 13” voters who shared the remarkable characteristic of being dead long before election day.)

What next?  Oh yes, Trump decided to set off a potential global trade war by announcing the imposition of tariffs on some $60 billion of Chinese goods.  While the market absorbed this development – with an abrupt 700-point sell-off – Trump quietly emasculated his steel and aluminum tariff of just a week ago by carving out allies Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico (and others) from the tariff. Since these four are the largest importers of steel to the U.S., alone accounting for roughly half of U.S. steel imports, one has to wonder what was the point to begin with.

Image result for DO NOT CONGRATULATETrump also decided to give Vladimir Putin a call to congratulate him on killing campaigning his way to his latest “electoral” win.  We’re not sure what is more remarkable, Putin’s manipulation of his own election to garner 77% of the vote, or his manipulation of the 2016 U.S. election to get Trump to 48%.  Regardless, this might have been a minor story (after all, Barack Obama, in a different geopolitical era, called Putin in 2012 to do the same) had not word leaked that H.R. McMaster’s national security team had recommended that Trump not call Putin, with the colorful detail that they had stamped DO NOT CONGRATULATE on his morning briefing papers (the latest evidence that the White House is, indeed, a day care facility with Trump as Chief Child).  This leak itself became news, because only a very small group of people would have known this tidbit, and one of them leaked it within hours of the briefing reaching Trump’s desk, indeed within hours of the call itself. 

This leak (and the ignored advice that inspired it) might have been the fatal blow for H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, but he had been a dead man walking for weeks, if not for the entire year-plus since he replaced – remember this guy? – Michael Flynn.  McMaster’s briefing style never meshed with Trump’s briefing style, in that McMaster’s job, traditionally, was to give briefings and Trump simply does not like being briefed. Neocon flame-thrower John Bolton came off the shelf to replace McMaster; Bolton has recently advocated pre-emptively bombing both Iran and North Korea, so now we are faced with the prospect that the last voice (supposedly) in Trump’s ear prior to such decisions will be Bolton.  Trump may not think twice before acting on impulses, but Bolton does not even appear to think once.  Oh, great.

Now it was Karen McDougall’s turn, the second recent semi-notorious woman, after Stormy Daniels, to be linked with Trump romantically while he was married, to be paid off for her silence about their exertions, and then to seek relief from the contractual relationship.  If Mueller fails to nail Trump, McDougall, Daniels and/or Summer Zervos, the “Apprentice” contestant who has sued Trump over unwanted sexual advances, may do the deed.  Their cases could very well involve Trump depositions, hardly a happy prospect for the libidinous president.

On to policy!  Congress finally passed an omnibus spending bill and promptly took to the hills before one million anti-gun activists, led by the Parkland survivors, march on Washington, D.C. today to protest their inaction on gun control.  They left with the assurance of OMB Director Mark Mulvaney that Trump would sign the bill.  No sooner had they left that Trump instead threatened to veto the bill, which would shut down the government for two weeks.  This was clearly designed to be a bid for attention, since he apparently did not get enough for the week.  (He signed the bill yesterday just hours after this threat.)

I’m exhausted just writing this.  On to the numbers, which were, as mentioned, still as a pond on a lazy summer day.

THE NUMBERS

Trump’s approval rating was unchanged in the last week, holding at 42%.  The Dems continued to hold a commanding +6 point lead on the generic ballot, albeit 1-point closer than the week before and that would be enough to indicate a flip of the House in September of it held.   The Trumpometer dropped -2 points to +11, its lowest level since July, in the wake of the sharp drop of the stock market in response to the China tariff announcement, as well as an uptick in gas prices.  This means that our five economic indicators – the Dow, the unemployment rate, the price of gas, Consumer Confidence and the GDP -- are, on average, up 11% since Trump’s Inaugural in January, 2017. (The full chart and methodology explanations are at the bottom of this article.) 

SaturData Review
Jan '17   Inaug.
Jan '18 Year 1
Last 4 Weeks
Wk ending   Mar 3
Wk ending   Mar 10
Wk ending   Mar 17
Wk ending   Mar 24
Trump Approval
48%
41%
43%
41%
42%
42%
Net Approval
+4 pp
-14 pp
-11 pp
-13 pp
-13 pp
-12 pp
Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 6
D + 4
D + 7
D + 7
D + 6
Trumpometer
0%
+19%
+12%
+13%
+13%
+11%

POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK

The national debt surpassed $21 trillion just one week ago, a 4% bump in just six months, since the end of the last fiscal year in September, 2017, or an 8% increase annualized.  Candidate Donald Trump promised to eliminate the entire $20 trillion debt he inherited from Barack Obama by the end of his presupposed two-term presidency.  He appears to be off to a bad start.  And he did not even get his Wall.

*******************************************************
Here is the complete SaturData chart with accompanying methodology explanations:

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Mar 17
Wk ending   Mar 24
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
42%
42%
+0 pp
-6 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
55%
54%
-1 pp
-10 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-13 pp
-12 pp
-1 pp
-16 pp






Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 7
D + 6
+0 pp
0 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+13%
+11%
-2 pp
+11 pp
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
-13%
Consumer Confidence
114
131
131
0%
15%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.68
2.72
-1%
11%
Dow-Jones
19,732
24,978
23,960
-4%
21%
Most recent GDP
2.1
2.5
2.5
0%
19%


Methodology notes:

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.

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 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.