We are nearly 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, and the most remarkable aspect of it thus far is that the political environment hasn’t changed much at all. The same media that largely ignored the widespread dissatisfaction with the political establishment and wrote off Trump’s electoral chances continue looking for evidence that the president has lost traction with the people who elected him. The effort to write the Trump-remorse narrative began in the Republican primaries, when analysts and the media expected GOP voters to eventually rally around a Trump alternative, and continues even now. But still, reality continues to confound those efforts.
So what evidence do observers offer that Trump voters have buyer’s remorse?
First, last night’s special election in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff came out of seemingly nowhere in recent weeks, and ended up capturing 48 percent of the vote in a splintered field. But because he failed to eclipse 50 percent, Ossoff now faces Republican Karen Handel in a June run-off. Despite his strong performance Tuesday, Ossoff is now all but assured to lose in a one-on-one race in this deep-red district. No one should read too much into this one idiosyncratic congressional election. It was not a referendum on Trump.
Exhibit B in the buyer’s remorse case: A tough special election in Kansas to fill the empty House seat of now-CIA director Mike Pompeo gave media analysts an opening to tie the tight race to Trump. Republican Mike Estes ended up in a virtual tie in late polling against Democrat James Thompson, and the suddenly close contest in a district with a Cook index of Republican +15 forced national Republicans to dump late cash and attention on the race. Estes wound up winning by seven points in the special election, a result which caused some Democrats to declare a moral victory.
“If we can make Republicans go into full-on freakout mode in a ruby red Kansas congressional district now,” one progressive activist declared, “we have the power to rip the gavel out of Paul Ryan’s hands in November 2018.” The Washington Post described the election result as “the best evidence we’ve got that right now, voters in traditionally Republican districts aren’t thrilled with Trump.” Even the conservative Washington Examiner called the result “a warning sign for the House Republican majority less than 100 days into the Trump administration.”
But was it? Estes ran for the seat while serving as the incumbent state treasurer for Kansas in the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback (R). Brownback’s fortunes have declined sharply in his second term, and he is now one of the most unpopular governors in the country, with an approval rating of 27 percent — just getting edged out of last place by Chris Christie’s 25 percent in New Jersey. The local reporting on Estes’ struggles focused much more on his connections to Brownback than President Trump. In fact, the final push from national Republicans came from Paul Ryan and Trump himself, who recorded a message for voters in Kansas’ 4th congressional district assuring voters that Estes had his full endorsement.
Rather than the special election amounting to a referendum on Trump, the sequence of events tends to show that Trump can get voters to the polls even late in the game.
Exhibit C: A New York Times feature of a swing district in Pennsylvania offered up anecdotal evidence of a loss of confidence, but not much data otherwise. The headline of the story framed Trump voters at a loss for “when the ‘winning’ will start,” but only one person in the story seemed to have actually changed her mind about Trump. The 8th congressional district lies mainly within Bucks County, where Hillary Clinton actually edged out Trump in November by 3,000 votes, despite the R+2 advantage, and even though Pat Toomey won his Senate race there by over 18,000 votes. A handful of precincts in PA-08 come from Montgomery County, where Clinton won 59-37, making PA-08 an odd choice for an argument about a post-inaugural letdown.
Next up in the Trump remorse case: A new Gallup survey also posited a retreat by Trump voters that appears illusory. In a follow-up to a February poll taken immediately after Trump’s inauguration, Gallup measured voter assessment of six personal qualities of Trump, and found erosion on all six. The most significant erosion was on “image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises,” their analysis noted, “falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent.” That indicates, Gallup concluded, that “Trump has lost significant ground with a public that only two months ago credited him with having one of the key characteristics of a successful president.”
Perhaps that’s a signal for potential problems ahead, but that conclusion misses a rather important point. Trump’s overall job approval in the February survey was 46 percent — just a single point about the latest iteration of the same survey, 45 percent, statistically no change over two months. Overall, voters appear to express a consistent view of Trump’s performance.
Finally, a new Pew poll taken at roughly the same time shows a similarly consistent — if low — approval rating of 39 percent in both February and April. Pew takes readers through some negative demographic results, including a dismal 33/60 among women. Later, though, the analysis explains why Trump’s support remains stable in polling. “Overall, 59 percent say Trump has done about as they expected, while 20 percent say he’s done worse than they expected and 19 percent say he’s done better,” Pew notes. Combined, 78 percent believe Trump has performed at expectations or above them, even with the demographic struggles and low personal-quality polling.
Perhaps there will come a time when Trump voters actually do turn on him and either vote for Democrats or don’t turn out at all. So far, though, there is no actual evidence that’s happening now. There is enough polling and anecdotal evidence to conclude that Trump voters have enough patience to give their candidate more than 90 days to get his agenda accomplished. They seem to have more patience than the media does in jumping to conclusions, at any rate.