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The poll numbers that explain why Republican office holders are loath to criticize Trump

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump is more popular — WAY more popular (among Republicans) — than the collective Republicans in the House.

In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll among self-identified Republicans, Donald Trump is more popular (78 percent positive/13 percent negative) than the Republican Party itself (61 positive/16 negative).

I think I’ve been in denial. I knew he had his admirers, but I believed that a lot more than 13 percent of Republicans found him objectionable in various ways but voted for him out of party loyalty and because they had been convinced that however sub-par Trump was, Hillary Clinton would be worse. But, according to at least this poll:

Trump is also more popular — WAY more popular (among Republicans) — than the collective Republicans in the House (49 positive/21 negative) or the Senate (41/25) or Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (23/21). NBC didn’t poll on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Sen. John McCain — who in addition to being one of the U.S. Senate's senior Republicans, a former Republican presidential nominee and a war hero who Trump insulted during the campaign (because he “was captured”) — actually gets a net negative popularity rating among Republicans nationally (35 positive/44 negative) in the poll, posted yesterday by Meet the Press as their daily “First Read” item.

If you are by any chance disgusted by the unwillingness of Republican office holders to distance themselves from the current incumbent when he takes positions different from the traditional Republican positions, or criticize him even when he behaves in ways that are boorish or worse, you (and I) should try to remember these numbers.

You have probably noticed that those who have criticized him or broken ranks with him have often simultaneously decided not to seek another term (such as Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake). Because of the numbers above, they felt they had to choose between their political future and their conscience (or, possibly, they had already concluded that they had no political future).

The others, to overgeneralize, are not worried about losing to a Democrat if they fail to criticize Trump. They are worried about losing a Republican primary to a pro-Trumpier alternative if they do criticize Mr. Trump. And all the smart political observers seem to agree that they are correct to worry about that.

I confess, it is difficult for me to retain my understanding of numbers like these for more than a few minutes before I slip back into an older understanding of the kind of person Republicans admire: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and the first Republican President, Abe Lincoln. (Okay, I’m sort of joking about Lincoln, and, luckily, this poll didn’t ask about him, but you get the point.)

Perhaps it occurs to you to wonder why, if the current incumbent is so popular, why are his approval ratings the worst ever in the history of approval ratings for a president this early in his term. But of course, you know the answer: Trump’s approval rating among independents is very, very bad, and among Democrats it is close to zero. You of course expect most Democrats to hold a negative view of a Republican president (not Ike), but not this negative.

Among the full panel of poll respondents, mixing Republicans, Democrats and Independents together, Trump gets a net negative rating of 34 percent positive, 53 percent negative.

Among the full panel, the Democratic Party also gets a net negative rating, 32 positive/42 negative; the Republican Party gets an even more net negative rating 27/46; and the only entity or person who received a net positive rating from the combined Democrats, Republicans and independents in this poll is John McCain (43 positive/28 negative), which is pretty freaking amazing when you consider that McCain was nine points underwater among members of his own party.

But, as strong as that sounds, I think I get it.

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Comments (114)

Interesting Story

I found this point illuminating:

But it’s also possible that it’s not a person’s age that is important, but rather which generation they belong to. Older generations of voters, who were brought up in different circumstances to younger voters, could vote differently as a result.

Yes, it is a possibility that

Yes, it is a possibility that the author considered and then he did some study and found that aging does make people more conservative – not much but over time it’s significant.

Studying Up

Political opinions and aging do not happen in a vacuum. To say that aging is the primary factor in turning people conservative, you would have to compare political opinions of several different generations, and in several different cultures.

My parents were children during the great depression, and my father served in World War II and the Korean War. I came of age decades later, in a different cultural and political milieu. I don't see how you can compare our situations.

I don’t know how the author

I don’t know how the author of the study did this but he did. But it is not the age, in my opinion, which makes people more conservative, it’s the experience. By the way, this reference was the first that appeared when I googled “people get more conservative when they get older” and there were many more references proving it.

At least in Britain

The article itself describes some of the possible confounds (did you read the whole article?).
In addition, the rich live longer than the middle class or poor, so a sample of 80 year olds will contain relatively more rich people than a sample of 30 year olds.
I wouldn't call this hard evidence. It needs some very carefully stratified sampling, and that's expensive.

Of course I did – it refers

Of course I did – it refers to the author’s study that proves this point… It is science which we all have to live by.

Where are the Numbers?

Just anecdotally, I found myself moving towards the political center in my 30s, and am now back to the left end of the spectrum. That real-world "when I have to work for my living" experience is what did it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go tell some kids to get off my lawn.

it might help

... if Republicans would stay tethered to reality when they discuss public affairs. But they don't - witness the "huge middle class tax cut" that is - in this reality - a give-away to really wealthy citizens and major corporate shareholders. Mr. Trump's supporters have no taste for facts, in part, because Republicans don't use those in political discussions with integrity, haven't since Newt and his poisoned tongue held the Speaker gavel

I do not see anything odd

I do not see anything odd about this poll results because Mr. Black puts more into it than there is there. Trump was elected as anti-establishment candidate so it’s only natural that Republicans approve him more than the establishment; otherwise, they would have elected an establishment candidate. They also see the current events as Trump’s trying to fulfill his promises (which he is) with establishment not letting him do it, which reinforces the original sentiment even more.

On the other hand, this poll result doesn’t mean that all those who said that they approve his job (that is how the question was formulated) do not find him objectionable; they do, and quite possible, on many levels, but they still see him trying to change things against the flow of the establishment (read: Republican Party). McCain is seen as the face of the establishment (I guess just short several years ago he was considered a “maverick”) and therefore his rating is the opposite of Trump, which, of course, gives him the overall positive rating.

On side notes, I would guess that Republican Party overall negative rating is the result of bad rating among Republicans while Democratic Party overall poor rating was caused more by independent voters. I would also like to know why McCain and Republican leaders were included but Democratic leaders were not…


Define anti-establishment!
Definition: a business organization, public institution, or household.
So: Anti big business? Anti blue blood rich? Anti-free market? Anti Democratic? Anti-education?, Anti truth, anti-American etc. etc.

Establishment, as most people

Establishment, as most people think of, are the people in Washington, DC


I am not most people:

Then who is establishment for

Then who is establishment for you?

Kingstad and the "spectrum"

Mr. Kingstad wrote a nice comment a while back about the political spectrum being more circular than linear, thus explaining some similarities between the extremes on both "sides".

However the circular spectrum misses the mark in the end because the whole idea of a "spectrum" circular or otherwise is an artificial construct. In reality we don't have a "spectrum" of political thought ranging from left to right. Rather we have a political landscape that's populated by a variety of participants that share more or less similarities. The "spectrum" was always a poor metaphor because it wasn't based on the actual qualities of any ideology, it simply dropped participants on a line based on historical continuums that diverge rather than converge. So for instance, Stalin and Lenin end up on the left when they have few if any liberal credentials. The similarity between Stalin and Hitler isn't based on their proximity on a circular spectrum, the similarity is the their totalitarianism which, it's an intrinsic quality of their ideology and political mentality, not their orientation relative so some other place on an artificial spectrum.

As a general rule it's more informative to simply describe an ideology rather than try to locate an actor on an artificial spectrum of some kind. The quality Stalin and other dictators share is their reactionary and dictatorial nature. On the other hand while Anarchist and Libertarians might share some ideas regarding the necessity of "government", they are very different mentalities that simply cannot be compared or understood with the use of a "spectrum" of any kind, you just have to look at their qualities.

The illusion of "spectrums" by they way is one reason that "centrism" is incoherent. Obviously striving for the middle of a "spectrum" that doesn't actually exist is project based on delusion. Centrism can't find the "center" of anything, it can only mix and match different ideas and qualities drawn from other actors on the landscape. Those pretending to be "centrist" on the American political landscape aren't in the middle of anything; since they draw more inspiration from conservative actors than liberal actors they simply end up being moderate Republicans. To the extent that moderate Republicans run the Democratic Party, we have to liberal representation on the American political landscape.

Libertarians, to the extent that they've adopted Ayn Rand mentalities, are simply incoherent. The problem with Libertarians is that their "ideology" is based on sooooo many fallacies that it simply cannot be converted into a sensible agenda. From human nature to the US Constitution Libertarians and Rand are submerged in fallacy and misunderstanding. Rand herself never managed to produce a legitimate "philosophy". "Objectivism" is a stolen term, and it's "principles" are a mish-mash of bad and misunderstood ideas stolen from a variety of unacknowledged sources. Libertarians exist on the American political landscape, but unfortunately their mostly useless, and they have little in common with Anarchist on an intellectual or historical level.

Two major actors on the political landscape have been "liberals" and "Conservatives". Again, to understand these actors it make little sense to put them next to each other on a spectrum, you have to look at their actual qualities. One qualitative difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives tend to place more value on what they "believe" while liberals tend to value they "know". The danger of liberalism is that sometimes you don't know what you think you know, and you don't know what you don't know. The danger of Conservatives is that they frequently get confused regarding the difference between "knowledge" and "faith". Conservative have a habit of assuming that what they "believe" and what is "known" are the same thing. We see this reflected in the conservative mentalities that claim to be: "Orginalist" or "Constitutionalists" who assume that their "beliefs" regarding the US Constitution, it's history, and its authors, are historically reliable and infallible facts. The truth is that few people are as confused and misinformed as those claiming to be conservative champions of the US Constitution. That fact makes their claim to be the great defenders of "Freedom" in American a dangerous fantasy. In fact, "Constitutionalist" are actors most likely to tear up the "real" Constitution and replace it with a dictatorial authorization. We've seen this impulse clearly with Trump who obviously has not regard for rule of law yet claims to be acting on behalf of American freedom and liberty.

Stalin and Hitler ended up

Stalin and Hitler ended up next to each other exactly because they closed the circle. And of course Lenin was on the left because he was a follower of Marx who was obviously to the left of his contemporary traditional liberal parties… If anything, one can question if Hitler was on the right considering that his party was called National-Socialist…

Sure, the circle analogy is not perfect as any analogy. But it probably is the best way to classify political movements and classification is what people always do. Who are anarchists? I don’t know but historically they always lined themselves up with the left so in this case we should, as you suggested, look at their qualities.

As for libertarians, it is actually the most logical approach possible which combines maximum personal freedom (isn’t it what liberals want?) with the government that does what it’s supposed to do – provide safety and security (which is what conservatives want) so in this sense they are truly in the center. Yes, they have some flaws in thinking but the discussion has to be quantitative, not qualitative.

“The danger of liberalism is that sometimes you don't know what you think you know, and you don't know what you don't know. The danger of Conservatives is that they frequently get confused regarding the difference between "knowledge" and "faith".” An interesting thought even though in reality the danger is really the same because thinking that you know when you don’t is the same as believing and, thus, confusing “knowledge” and “faith.”

Not really

There was nothing liberal about either Stalin or Hitler. Nor were they particularly "conservative". They were just dictatorial monsters.

Absolutely – nothing liberal

Absolutely – nothing liberal in either Stalin or Hitler nor did I ever say that there was. I just said that Stalin for sure was on a far left end of the political spectrum where he met Hitler… So I am glad that we now agree on everything…

You're statement is incoherent

Basically your saying that Stalin was sooooo far left.... he was right, and Hitler was sooooo far right.... he was left. Any "spectrum" that can't actually place actors at a discrete location is incoherent. Bending the spectrum into a circle doesn't give it more explanatory power, it simply changes the shape of an incoherent model, being a circle or flat line makes no difference.

And yes Ilya, you're always claiming that Stalin was essentially a liberal monster, that's why you place him on the "left" when according to your own claim about circular spectrums you could just as easily describe Stalin as an extreme right wing phenomena. After all... according to the circular spectrum, if you keep going to the right, on the far side of Hitler... you find Stalin.

“Any "spectrum" that can't

“Any "spectrum" that can't actually place actors at a discrete location is incoherent.” So is science which can’t define both location and speed of something at the same time incoherent? Nature is complicated and not everything can be determined precisely.

No, I never said that Stalin was a liberal monster; he was a leftist monster. I hope you don’t think that “liberal” and “left” are always the same things… Liberals are moving more to the left lately but it is not a pre-determined thing…

“After all... according to the circular spectrum, if you keep going to the right, on the far side of Hitler... you find Stalin” You can take I94 or I35/I80 from Minneapolis to get to Chicago but when you are there, you will still have I94 and I80/I35… Whatever is left is left and whatever is right is right, even if they meet at some point.


# 1 "It is very difficult to tell whether it is getting older, or being born at a certain time, that causes people to have different political preferences"

#2 No neat answer: "Explanations of electoral change based on generational shifts may be neat, but they are not necessarily accurate" .

# 3 Can a study of the Brits be used as a De-facto study of America? .

Questions 1 and 2 are

Questions 1 and 2 are answered by the study’s author later in his piece. The answer to question 3 is obvious unless you think that either Americans or Brits are not humans…

Not obvious!

Simple Example:
Brits have gun control, USA does not.
Gun control = Liberal: Seems there is a conflict on what conservative in UK vs Conservative in USA looks like!

The Family of Man

Americans and Brits are, indeed, both humans. They are humans who live in different political and social cultures.

Politics and culture cannot be isolated.