“Revulsion at Trump is now the driving force in American politics,” E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post wrote in his column this week.
For some of us, this is easy to believe. But we have to watch out for the powers of selective perception and confirmation bias, which cause us to see what we want to see so we can believe what we want to believe.
Revulsion at President Trump certainly exists in the land. I see no evidence that this revulsion, the existence of which certainly dates back to before the 2016 election, is shrinking. But if it were growing, if the ranks of Trump dislikers were expanding, wouldn’t you expect the change to show up in his approval ratings?
Basically, it hasn’t. Yes, this is my occasional look at the president’s approval numbers. And I must report that they are improving slightly and have been improving very slowly since about Dec. 11, when they were at their all-time worst. From that worst day, they are up about 5 percentage points, which borders on statistical significance, and which, for the cadres of Trump disapprovers who see in the news little other than confirmation of their disapproval, it is hard to believe.
Unlike Trump himself, who ignores the bad polls and exaggerates the good ones, (or the good one, as I documented earlier this month) it’s best not to engage in selective perception. So I follow Gallup (which polls on Trump’s approval every week and which currently shows Trump with his highest approval number (41 percent) since last May, and HuffPost Pollster, which averages his ratings as measured by many different pollsters.
The current HuffPost average – approval 42.2 percent; disapproval 52.2 – confirms that his numbers, while very bad on balance, have been drifting slightly upward since December and are nonetheless at their best levels since the relative honeymoon period during his first four months in office. (It was not a happy honeymoon, since Trump’s approval number have been “below water,” meaning more disapprovers than approvers, since a few days after his inauguration.)
So, to belabor, Trump’s approval ratings are bad, but, at present, less bad than they have been for many months. (Understanding how this can be is beyond my poor powers.) And, to the degree that his approval numbers are improving, they clash somewhat with Dionne’s statement quoted above.
But Dionne’s follow-up point is that Trump has created “a vicious cycle that could be disastrous for the Republican Party this fall. So far, Trump has failed to stir his base, but he has become, unintentionally, one of the most effective organizers of progressive activism and commitment in the country’s history.”
I don’t doubt that. Anti-Trumpism is spurring progressive activism. I have expressed my caution about assuming that anti-Trump enthusiasm will enable the Democrats to take over Congress in November’s midterm elections. But that question leads me to one other point that I’ve been mulling since I read this recent New York Times op-ed by Henry Olsen.
Olsen tortured the exit poll numbers long enough until they (the numbers) confessed that, of those who voted in the 2016 election:
“18 percent of Americans did not like either Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump owes his victory to the fact that he beat her among this group by a 17-point margin, 47 percent to 30 percent (the remainder voted for a third party or write-in candidate). Multiplying Mr. Trump’s percentage among this group by the group’s share of the electorate yields a startling fact: Nearly one-fifth of all Trump voters didn’t like him.”
I dislike likabilty, at least as a reason for voting. You’re not going to “have a beer” with either of the nominees, so you shouldn’t vote for the one with whom you think you would rather have one.
But, my dislike notwithstanding, likability is a factor. And “likability” was one of Clinton’s big weaknesses, so big that millions of Americans who disliked Trump voted for him anyway, apparently because they disliked Clinton more. Trump continues to tactlessly and ludicrously bring up his former opponent, perhaps in hopes of continuing to remind Americans that he is not the least likable politician they ever knew.
When it comes to the 2018 midterm election, neither Trump nor Clinton will be on the ballot. Trump might try to turn it into a second referendum on Hillary Clinton, but it won’t — or at least it shouldn’t — work.
Trump’s name won’t be on the ballot either. But I suspect a lot of Americans will use their ballots to express their feelings about him.