All things considered, I’d rather be a challenger than an incumbent hovering under 50 approval amid a roaring economy. A sprawling Democratic field should allow an incumbent President to focus on the merits of his tenure. But then again, no President has been like Trump. The Muller Report, the President’s inability to get out of his own way and a non-stop series of gaffes have locked the President at a 45 percent approval (if that).
On top of these doldrums, a series of polls have come out showing the President being destroyed next November. The most notable was a Quinnipiac survey finding the President locked at 42 percent and losing to every Democratic nominee, including Bernie Sanders by nine points and Joe Biden by 13. Asked about the results, Trump said the the fake media was attacking his tenure. Not soon after, and unsurprisingly, being played up much on left-wing blogs (think Slate and Daily Kos), the President’s own internal surveys of key states show him losing in key states. Though, in a place like Florida, where Republicans out-performed the nation by 10 points, it is hard to believe even some of the campaign’s internals.
Recent disastrous survey results beg the question just how predictive are these surveys 18 months out. Sure, at the end of 2016 national polls missed the mark only by a point or two but early on they were massively off the mark. For example, who can forget CNN showing Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by 50-32.
FiveThirtyEight, both the left and right’s favorite data crunching boogeyman, worked to find out just that. Crunching Presidential surveys from 1948 to 2012 they found the average variance was 11 points off the final result. It should be noted surveys have been getting more accurate, from an initial variance of 28 percent in 1964 to a three point variance today.
This is just looking at national polls. State polls were significantly further from the mark in 2016, and to some degree state polls will reflect national results. It is unsurprisingly, then, if national polls are showing a landslide state polls will mimic such findings. The question is whether they last. And we cannot forget there are reasons beyond polling accuracy to question these findings.
In politics, a month is an eternity so imagine how much things can change in 17 months. Consider, Trump has been defined over the last three years for better or worse. Many of the Democratic candidates running, let alone on the debate stage, have been defined beyond old, one-sided elections and are benefiting from either low name ID or post-Obama feelings (Biden). It is hard to not see their support whittle in some corners as the campaign drags on.
Then there is this gem from USA Today. All Presidents benefit from incumbency and the power of organization but after Trump ran the most unorthodox and undisciplined campaign in history, his reelection team seems to be settling on a rather traditional strategy for reelection; raise a ton of dough, saturate the airwaves, organize, organize, organize, bring out their base and convince swing voters. In swing states the polls obviously indicate this strategy has yet to pay off but it could.
A traditional campaign might ironically be the way for the Trump campaign to go. Blue-collar whites still carry more weight in swing states than the nation as a whole. Combined with Trump’s 90 percent approval among Republicans and the chance to grow his support among conservative Independents and the having a campaign able to turn out his supporters might matter at the margins in key states.
Still, these explanations cannot paper over the fact Trump starts his reelection with some serious disadvantages. Republicans lost Independents by 12 points last November whereas Trump won them by four points two years prior. No matter how many Republicans Trump wins and can turn out the fact remains the President cannot afford to lose them by 12 points (let alone by plus 20 like in the Quinnipiac survey).
Seventeen months is an eternity in politics and we know many things will change over the course of the campaign due to some things we know (the debates, the issues, etc.) and some things we don’t. Either way, it will be a wild ride!