Findings from a CNN poll released last week contained both good and bad news for President Trump.
First, the bad news. In every hypothetical 2020 matchup against a Democratic contender except one, the poll had Trump losing.
The poll, which surveyed registered voters, had Trump losing to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (50 percent to 44 percent), former Vice President Joe Biden (51 to 45), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (47 to 44), California Sen. Kamala Harris (49 to 45) and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas (52 to 42). The one exception was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who the poll had Trump beating 48-47.
A few thoughts about these results.
First, it’s still early in the 2020 cycle, with the election still about 18 months away, and many voters don’t know a whole lot about some of these challengers, including whatever warts they may be bringing with them into the race. Second, I think Trump is likely to outperform his polling at the ballot box because I think many people are reluctant to tell pollsters, or anyone in a public setting, they support Donald Trump for fear of being judged. That was obviously the case in 2016, and I think it will be again in 2020 as well. Third, we don’t know how any of these Democratic challengers will hold up in the heat of a general election campaign. Trump has already passed that test once against the supposedly unbeatable Hillary Clinton.
Still, Trump and his team can’t be thrilled with the results of the poll, no matter how much they may want to dismiss it.
The poll did have a few bright spots for the president, however. It showed 56 percent of voters approve of the way Trump is handling the economy. Asked whether the president had done a good job of keeping the important promises he made during the 2016 campaign, 50 percent said yes, compared to 46 percent who said no.
So, in total, what do all these numbers mean?
For a long time, I’ve thought the 2020 election will come down to what voters think is more important, what the president has done or what he has said, and the results of this poll have done nothing to change my theory.
That Trump gets high marks on the economy is no surprise, as figures released last week show it is booming. According to a CNBC report, numbers from the Labor Department showed the U.S. added 263,000 new hires in April, beating Wall Street expectations of 190,000, and unemployment nationwide dropped from 3.8 percent to 3.6 percent, its lowest mark since December 1969.
CNBC also reported GDP grew to 3.2 percent in the first quarter, exceeding expectations, and pending home sales rose 3.8 percent in March.
When it comes to factors that help or hurt a president’s political health, none are more important that the economy. Take for example, former President George H.W. Bush. President Bush entered the 1992 election cycle fresh off a victory in the first Gulf War. He was a man who was liked and admired by many Americans, but still, they voted him out of office in favor of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, in large part because of concerns about an economy that had been in recession.
If the economy stays strong, it should be Trump’s No. 1 weapon in his fight for re-election next year. His biggest liability? The unconventional method by which he has conducted his term in office. His in-your-face, blunt public style plays well with some but is a turnoff to others. Same with his management style, which has created plenty of turnover on the Trump team.
The challenge for Trump and his team is going to be convincing swing voters that, while his methods have been unconventional, this president has a long list of accomplishments he can point to. From an historic tax cut to historically low jobless rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian Americans, women and youth, to the successful confirmation of two conservative judges to the Supreme Court to a new trade deal with Mexico to replace NAFTA, etc., Trump has plenty he can point to in arguing his time in the Oval Office has been time well spent.
But if he can’t get the voters to focus on those things, Trump may have a difficult time preventing those head-to-head CNN numbers from becoming a reality.
Lew Gilliland is assistant editor of The Daily Home. Reach him at email@example.com.