The Democratic candidates for president have controversial positions on a number of key issues as they lean left to secure the nomination to face President Donald Trump in November 2020. Yet one issue stands above the others to most Democrats: Which of the contenders can defeat Trump?
To date, polls show Democrats and independents believe former Vice President Joe Biden is the best bet. Yet to believe polling regarding the president, just about any Democrat should defeat him.
A new poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows about 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump's overall job performance. Just 36% of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president; 62% disapprove.
The numbers for Trump are consistent. His approval rating has never dipped below 32% or risen above 42% in AP-NORC polls since he took office.
No other president has stayed within so narrow a band. Since Gallup began measuring presidential approval, Trump is the only president whose rating has never been above 50%. Still, several — Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — logged ratings worse than Trump's lowest rating so far at some point during their time in office.
But when the smoke clears from the Democratic battlefield and Trump has an opponent, things could change. Poll numbers today are good for political analysis, but they really mean little as a predictor of what will happen in November 2020. There’s a long way to go.
A key for Trump is the economy. The AP-NORC poll gave the president his best marks on handling of the economy. Should the economy spiral downward, his chances of re-election go down. History shows that.
Reporting for Bloomberg news, Sahil Kapur writes: “Since World War II, presidents have won a second term unless they oversaw a recession on the road to Election Day — George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 were felled by a downturn.”
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Trump’s central focus from now to Election Day 2020 should be the economy. A good economy and the prospects of what a Democratic winner would mean for taxation alone will make some Americans otherwise opposed to Trump decide to vote for the status quo.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Sarah Matthews this past week accused the president's critics of "actively rooting for a recession solely to stop President Trump," but added that the U.S. economy is "thriving" thanks to his policies and took aim at "Democrats' big government socialism and job-killing policies."
Look for the president and his team to ram up the rhetoric about what a Democratic victory would mean, contending that no matter what happens with the economy over the coming year, things would be worse if Trump loses.
It could be a winning strategy for a president that according to Kapur “could very well win in November 2020. He's raising more money than any Democrat and has the backing of a Republican Party apparatus that is working to define his foes as radical and out of touch.”
Kapur states: “Trump needn't worry too much about those (poll) numbers — general election polls this far out from Election Day are often poor predictors. In the summer before 2016, Hillary Clinton was dominating head-to-head polls against Trump. In the summer of 1979, Carter led Ronald Reagan in some polls before losing in a landslide.”
Nationwide polls mean little anyway. The real battle is state by state for electoral votes. And there, Trump has an advantage.
Here’s how an analysis by David Wasserman for NBC News sums it up:
“The bulk of the nation's demographic transformation is taking place in states that matter the least in deciding the Electoral College. Democrats' worst nightmare came true in November 2016 when Hillary Clinton captured 2.9 million more votes than Donald Trump but he still comfortably prevailed in the Electoral College, 306 to 232. As much as they would like to purge that outcome from memory, Democrats would be unwise to write it off as a fluke: In 2020, it's possible Trump could win 5 million fewer votes than his opponent — and still win a second term.”