For the first six months of his presidency, Donald Trump has always been able to count on a "floor" of public support of around 40 percent. Through thick and thin, four-in-ten Americans approved of the job he was doing. That seems to now be changing. For the first time, his own base is starting to become disillusioned with Trump. So far the change is slight, but the trendline doesn't look good for the near future for the president.
Today Trump hit several milestones on the Real Clear Politics poll tracking page. His job approval average is now 38.2 percent, which is the lowest he's ever seen. His job disapproval rate now stands at 56.9 percent, the highest it's ever been. That's a spread of 18.7 points (below water), which is also the largest it has ever been. But when you take a dive into the poll numbers which make up that average, things look even worse for Trump.
For the past two and a half months, Trump charted a remarkably consistent line. His job approval hovered close to 40 percent for this entire period, only fluctuating roughly one point on either side. During this time, the outlier polls which lean left showed Trump as low as 35 percent, while the polls which lean right charted numbers up to 45 percent. This evened out in the average, which stayed steadily around 40 percent.
For the past two weeks, however, Trump hasn't charted a single number higher than 39 percent. One poll now has him down to 33 percent job approval. Today's slide is a reflection of this, but it may go lower still. Real Clear Politics aggregates recent polls, and included in today's average are five polls that are pretty outdated (taken from 7/12 through 7/18). They're all buoying Trump's overall average up, since all five of these polls put his approval between 39 percent and 41 percent. This used to be right in the middle of the spread, but it is now at the extreme high end of the spread. When these polls drop out of the rolling daily average, Trump's numbers will likely go even lower.
Of the five more-recent polls, taken from 7/25 until now, Trump's showing is pretty dismal:
- Economist/YouGov -- 39 percent approval / 55 percent disapproval
- Gallup -- 36 / 60
- Rasmussen -- 38 / 62
- Quinnipiac -- 33 / 61
- Reuters/Ipsos -- 35 / 59
Average these numbers out to get a most-recent picture of where Trump stands, and you get 36.2 percent approval and 59.4 percent disapproval. That's a full two points worse than where his overall average stands today, which is why the trendline isn't going to be Trump's friend any time soon.
This is remarkable and notable because it is the first time Trump has sunk far below that 40 percent barrier. Trump's poll numbers eroding now are not the result of liberal Democrats or true independents turning away from him, in other words, because they've been against him for a while now. No, what these numbers mean is that Trump's core base is now beginning to turn away from him. The difference between 40 percent support and 36 percent support is an enormous one, in other words, because it came about because people who voted for Trump are now not happy with him.
Democrats have long wondered what it would take for Trump to lose his base support, of course. It's too early to say what caused the change, because the past two weeks were pretty eventful ones, even for the Trump administration. Multiple major staff shakeups happened, the profanity-laden tenure of Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci ran its entire 10-day course, and perhaps most significantly, Trump lost his "repeal and replace Obamacare" battle in the Senate. There was a lot of chaos, but his base has stuck with him through previous chaotic weeks. My gut feeling is that Trump is losing support right now because conservative voters are upset that the whole "repeal and replace" effort crashed and burned so spectacularly. They were promised this for eight years of Republican campaigns, but even holding both houses of Congress and the White House was not enough to get it done. That's a major letdown for them.
While it certainly will be interesting to see how low Trump goes on his current slide in the polls, what will be more significant is whether he ever regains this lost support. This could be a momentary blip in the polling which eventually bounces back. But it also could be a mark of exasperation as Trump voters throw up their hands and say "Enough!" So far, it doesn't seem like Trump is doing much to woo them back. Here's an astonishing excerpt from the transcript of a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Trump, where he shows a breathtaking ignorance of his own base supporters' lives. Trump began by saying how wonderful it was that Foxconn was going to build new factories in America, then tells his own base voters what they should do in response:
But I said... you go to certain sections and you're going to need people to work in these massive plants that we're getting, that are moving in. Where do we have the people? You know where we have the people? In New York state that can't get jobs, in many other places that can't get jobs. And people are going to have to start moving. They're going to move to Colorado and they're going to move to Iowa and Wisconsin and places where -- like if Foxconn goes to Wisconsin, which is one of the places they're very strongly considering -- but if Foxconn goes to Wisconsin and they have a very low rate and the governor's done an excellent job, you're going to have a situation where you got to get the people. But they're going to start moving. And I'm going to start explaining to people when you have an area that just isn't working -- like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt -- and then you'll have another area 500 miles away where you can't -- you can't get people, I'm going to explain you can leave, it's OK, don't worry about your house. You know, a lot of them don't leave because of their house. Because they say, gee, my house, I thought it was worth 70,000 [dollars] and now it's worth nothing. It's OK. Go, cut your losses, right?
Trump is sending a clear message here: "That house you've spent your entire life paying for? Just abandon it. That life you built up for yourself in upstate New York? Scrap it, and move! Wisconsin's really nice, have you heard? Just cut your losses, because when you're down the big banks will bail you out with millions of dollars -- I mean, that's been my experience, anyway." Perhaps that message -- that Trump really has no concept what most of his voters' lives are actually like -- is finally beginning to sink in.
Or perhaps not. Again, this could be a temporary downswing in Trump's approval. His voters may eventually decide that Trump wasn't to blame for Obamacare not being conquered, and rally behind him once again. But if the downswing is more permanent, then Trump's "floor" of approval will settle in to a much lower point than 40 percent.
This is going to exacerbate a problem Trump is already beginning to feel. Republicans in Congress just aren't that afraid of Trump anymore. They used to be a lot more fearful that Trump voters would make them pay at the ballot box, but if Trump's floor of support is only 35 or 36 percent, that threat is going to fade even further. Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican that Trump has repeatedly targeted with threats of a primary challenger, just released a new book that decries Trump and Trumpism in pretty strong and unequivocal language. Flake is betting that being anti-Trump is going to win him more votes than being pro-Trump, which is a decision that is getting easier for a lot of other Republicans by the day.
It's still too early to know how significant this week's downturn in the polls will be for Donald Trump's presidency. For at least the next few days, it is quite likely that Trump's "lowest job approval ever" mark will continue to move lower. Where it bottoms out and what happens next may change the course of his entire presidency. If it bounces back up, it'll eventually be seen as no big deal. If it plateaus at a new floor, then Trump will continue, albeit in a much weaker political position. If it continues downward, then even Republicans may stop paying all that much attention to what Trump wants. So the next month or so of polling could be crucial for the remainder of Trump's term in office. Once a politician loses his base support, it can be awfully hard to get it back -- just ask George W. Bush.
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