The midterms show Trump does not defy political gravity
Posted November 10, 2018 8:07 a.m. EST
(CNN) — First things first: The theme song of the week is CNN's America's Choice.
Poll of the week: The network exit polls found on Tuesday that President Donald Trump's approval rating was just 45%. His disapproval rating was 54%.
This was in line with pre-election polling pegging his approval rating in the mid-40s among voters.
What's the point: It turns out that Trump does not walk on political water. He does not defy political gravity. This is very bad news for him heading into the 2020 campaign.
Trump was elected President with the worst favorable rating ever. This led many to speculate that traditional measures of gauging a politician's popularity had been rendered obsolete by him.
Such a view ignored a key factor of the 2016 campaign: Hillary Clinton. Clinton was the second least liked major-party nominee of all time. Nearly 20% of 2016 voters held unfavorable views of Clinton and Trump. Among these voters, Trump won overwhelmingly. That is, he was seen as the lesser of two evils.
The 2018 midterm elections were the key test over whether the Republican Party could do well with an unpopular Trump and without an unpopular Clinton in the political arena. The answer was a resounding no.
House Republicans' projected national House margin (-7 points) matched Trump's net approval rating in the exit polls (-9 points) nearly perfectly.
Indeed, as I pointed out on Wednesday, the exit polls showed that voter choices this election were more highly correlated this midterm than in any midterm dating back to the first time the exit poll asked about the president's approval rating.
There has also been a question as to whether there is hidden Trump support not picked up by the polling. There wasn't on Tuesday.
The President's approval rating in the exit polls matched those of the pre-election polls of voters. At least nationally, there were no shy Trump voters. This would help to explain why the national congressional generic ballot average before the election predicted the national House vote well.
The good news for Trump is that the pre-election polls among adults that had his approval rating in the low 40s did not come to fruition in the exit polls. That's not surprising given that the voting population tends to be older and less diverse than the adult population at large.
Still, a 45% approval rating is not very good. As the 2018 midterms showed, it would probably lead to his defeat in 2020.
Of course, we're still two years away from that election. The President's approval rating could climb higher over the next two years. If it gets to 50%, for example, he'd be a favorite for re-election.
The bad news for Trump is that unlike presidents before him, he's never hit 50% approval among voters. In fact, with the exception of the honeymoon period immediately following his inauguration, Trump's approval rating has always been below his disapproval rating.
The best word to describe his support among the electorate is "consistent." He earned 46% of the national vote in 2016 and a 45% approval rating on election night 2018.
Unless the Democratic Party nominates someone as disliked as Clinton in 2020, an unpopular Trump won't be able to count on enough voters going with a third party candidate to allow him to sneak by in the Electoral College.
That's probably why Trump starts off the 2020 campaign as an underdog.