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Trump's unconventional presidency is hurting his 2020 chances

First things first: The theme song of the week is Angela, the...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 1:25 AM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 1:26 AM

First things first: The theme song of the week is Angela, the theme song to Taxi, by Bob James.

Poll of the week: A CBS News poll finds that President Donald Trump's approval rating on his handling of the economy is 52%. His disapproval rating on this metric is 41%.

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The same poll shows that Trump's overall job approval rating stands at just 39% to a disapproval rating of 55%.

Put another way, his net approval rating on the economy is +11 points and his net approval overall is -16 points, which makes for a difference of -27 points.

What's the point: The CBS News poll is merely the latest one to show that a majority of Americans approve of how Trump is doing on the economy, while a majority disapprove of his overall performance.

It's not difficult to figure out why there would be a split. Americans are far less likely to approve of the President on other issues such as foreign policy and immigration.

That Trump cannot get his overall approval rating up, however, despite what Americans see as a strong economy, is not a great sign for the President heading into his reelection campaign.

Indeed, the difference between Trump's net economic approval rating and net overall approval rating is astonishingly high when put in a historical context. I looked up every single president's overall and economic net approval ratings right around each midterm since 1978.

No other president has done this much worse overall than his economic ratings would suggest. On average, their overall net approval rating has actually run 17 points better than their economic net approval rating. Trump is running 27 points worse. The only president to come close to Trump's negative differential was Bill Clinton in 1998. That was when Clinton was getting impeached.

Trump is not the first president to have a bad midterm. A number who had a bad first term went on to win reelection two years later.

Many of those prior presidents, however, were seen as having mismanaged the economy heading to the midterm, according to CBS News polls dating back to the late 1970s (when CBS News first asked the question).

That was true for Ronald Reagan in 1982 (net economic approval rating of -3 points), Clinton in 1994 (net economic approval rating of -19 points) and Barack Obama in 2010 (net economic approval rating -13 points).

By the next presidential election, all of these presidents saw their net economic approval rating climb 10 points or more in the CBS News poll. With that, the overall approval rating of all of these presidents went up by double-digits as well.

Trump is in a very different situation. People believe he is doing well on the economy, but that isn't translating to a stronger overall approval rating.

Could Trump turn it around in time for 2020? Of course. Two years is an eternity in politics. For Trump to be a favorite for reelection, he probably needs one of three things to happen.

Option one is for Trump to not do anything and hope his overall approval rating comes into closer alignment with his economic approval rating on its own. Now the past is often not prologue when it comes to electoral politics (see the fact that Trump became president). That said, Trump's overall approval rating has continually run behind his economic approval rating. This is not some new phenomenon.

Option two is that the economy gets even better, so that even if his overall approval rating lags his economic approval rating, both can rise to the point where his overall approval rating makes him a favorite for reelection. This is possible, but remember the economy is already really strong. The unemployment rate is 3.7%. It has dipped only 0.4 points over the last year.

Option three is that Trump acts more like a conventional president to allow voters' economic views to more closely match their overall views of Trump. Trump's tweets, attacks on the media and improvisational style may be fodder for his base, but they don't seem to be working on the electorate at-large. A Monmouth University poll earlier this year found that the vast majority of Americans said Trump ran a less conventional administration than normal, and by a 21-point margin, they said that was a bad thing.

Of these options, only the third one is really in Trump's immediate control. The question is how does option three actually happen? Trump's been president for nearly two years now, and at no point has he really shown any sign that he's willing to get out of his own way.

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