President Donald Trump is facing some very difficult polling numbers for his re-election campaign. It’s not an impossible gambit, but the chances of him winning again in the 2020 general election this November are slim — at least, when you consider past presidential results based on polling at the start of an election year.
According to a report from FiveThirtyEight.com, Trump’s polling numbers are the worst ever seen by an incumbent president at the start of an election year since Gerald Ford in 1976. In that year, Ford polled at just under 40 percent in January surveys, going on to lose the general election in November to Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.
A loss for Trump, however, isn’t a sure thing: other presidents with similarly low approval ratings have won the presidency before. Harry Truman, for example, had a 39.6 approval rating average in January 1948, but went on to upset his Republican challenger Thomas Dewey in November.
— Brian 💸 Ries (@moneyries) January 7, 2020
The short of it is that approval ratings don’t necessarily equate to election wins or losses. A president with a lower approval rating has a harder time to win re-election, to be sure, but their strategy changes, from one of promoting themselves to also denouncing their opponent in a big way. In the end, it’s about looking better than your opponent more than looking good as a president.
Trump will have a difficult time doing that, it seems, but it won’t be altogether impossible. Still, it’s a very high uphill climb for the incumbent — in December, a Quinnipiac University poll found his approval rating sitting at 43 percent, with 52 percent voicing disapproval. And Trump faces something unique to his campaign alone in presidential election years for incumbents: he was impeached by the House of Representatives, something no other president in history has faced in their first term in office, aside from Andrew Johnson in the late 1860s.
Within that Quinnipiac poll, a majority (51 percent) of respondents said they wanted Trump removed from office through an impeachment trial in the Senate. That doesn’t bode well as a sign of his re-election chances, either.
Other polls show Trump lagging far behind potential Democratic challengers. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from November, for instance, showed Trump behind three Democratic candidates by double-digit margins (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders), and behind a fourth candidate by a significant (if not double-digit) spread (Pete Buttigieg, who led Trump by 9 points in the poll).
Eleven months is a lifetime in presidential politics, and things could change for Trump that could benefit his chances on Election Day. But as it stands right now, the president is deep underwater, with regard to his chances to win another term in office.
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