Lots of buzz yesterday about a new Quinnipiac University poll showing dismal numbers for President Trump. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Trump’s job performance; 61 percent said they disapproved.
“This is President Trump’s lowest approval and highest disapproval number since he was inaugurated,” Quinnipiac said. “American voters say 54 – 26 percent that they are embarrassed rather than proud to have Trump as president. Voters say 57 – 40 percent he is abusing the powers of his office.”
The poll’s nearly 2-to-1 unfavorable rating is striking, but it’s not an outlier: Every major national poll conducted last month shows Americans disapproving of Trump’s performance by double-digit margins, RealClearPolitics says. Even in Arkansas — which voted overwhelmingly for Trump — the president’s approval rating slipped from 60 percent in February to 50 percent in July, according to polling by Talk Business & Politics / Hendrix College. (His disapproval rate rose from 35 percent to 47 between those two months.)
Beyond schadenfreude, the poll numbers are important for one simple reason. Congressional Republicans’ willingness to challenge the president — including potentially removing him from office, should it come to that — depends largely on his perceived popularity. That’s not to say GOP lawmakers will suddenly clamor for impeachment should Trump’s poll numbers reach some magic low — but as the Russia investigation proceeds, they’ll weigh their response to each new revelation in the context of public opinion. A president who owes his election to a populist wave is uniquely vulnerable to popular sentiment.
Yet it may not matter much whether the country writ large sees Trump as an embarrassment as long as Republican voters keep rallying behind him. What motivates members is reelection, and House races tend to be won these days by preaching to the party base. The recent Quinnipiac poll found the president’s standing among Republicans declined significantly last month, from 84 percent in June to 76 percent in July — which means over three-fourths of Republicans polled continue to like Trump’s job performance. And that’s coming immediately after the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare; Republican support could rebound quickly with a few turns of the news cycle. The safe bet for a gunshy congressional Republican is still to steer clear of criticizing Trump, for now and probably for a while to come.
The only public opinion metric that truly matters between now and the 2018 primary season may be Republican voters’ willingness to keep backing Trump. Until that number erodes further, expect members of Congress to stick with Trump too.
(Side note: The Talk Business poll found just 67 percent of Arkansas Republican voters approved of Trump, 9 points lower than Quinnipiac’s national figure. Why might a smaller proportion of Arkansas Republicans approve of the president? Perhaps it’s a quirk related to many Arkansas voters’ ongoing reluctance to self-identify as Republicans, despite the electorate’s shift toward the GOP; the Talk Business poll found strong approval for Trump among Arkansas independents. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of methodology.)