President Trump’s approval rating in the latest Fox News Channel poll is one point higher than President Obama’s approval in late July 2011. Does this mean he, too, will win a second term? Not necessarily. Karlyn Bowman and Eleanor O’Neil of the American Enterprise Institute note some differences between the two presidents in the latest edition of the AEI Political Report.
For one thing, while their approval ratings are about the same, Trump’s disapproval (51 percent) is higher than Obama’s (46 percent) at this point in his term. Bowman and O’Neil also note that in the May 2019 Fox News poll, “higher percentages of registered voters have said they definitely plan to vote against Donald Trump in 2020 than said the same about Barack Obama at a comparable time in the 2012 election cycle.”
Forty-six percent of registered voters told Fox News they would definitely vote for someone else in 2020. Forty-four percent said the same in August 2011. Similarly, in the May–June NPR/Marist poll, 51 percent of registered voters said they definitely plan to vote against Trump. Thirty-six percent said the same of Obama in June 2011.
Trump begins his reelection campaign with about half of registered voters dead-set against him. It’s a situation he’s used to! One problem for Democrats, though, is that the voters who express high disapproval of Trump and who say they are certain to vote against him tend to be clustered in already blue states. That is why you see some recent analyses highlighting the possibility of another split between the Electoral College and popular vote next year.
Today’s polling data may not tell us much about what will happen in November 2020 — it’s far too early in the cycle. But it does remind us that Barack Obama and Donald Trump are in some sense mirror images: Not only in public policy, but also in political polarization.