Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen a plethora of polls surrounding the 2020 presidential race, and they all show presumptive Democratic nominee ahead of the incumbent, Donald Trump. Some suggest Biden is leading by six points. Others say Biden’s margin is closer to a 10-point spread. And a few more recent polls have told us that Biden is up by 12 to 14 points, leading in key battleground states, and gaining the support of independents and so-called “swing” voters who cast a ballot for Trump four years ago but had previously supported Barack Obama.
However, hidden beneath the headline-grabbing horse race numbers is an even more important figure that suggests while the election remains four months away, Trump may already be on the verge of a historic electoral loss in November.
What is that number? It’s the approval rating for an incumbent president, and in modern election history (i.e. the last 50 years), it has never been wrong in predicting the outcome of a race for the White House involving an incumbent. Most recently, it told us that both George W. Bush and Obama would indeed win second terms, which they did, and by impressive margins.
The flip side, however, is that it also told us exactly what would happen to Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, both of whom went down in history as one-term heads of state. Carter and Bush also both had approval ratings that dipped below 40 percent.
Where does Donald Trump stand on job approval? The most recent Gallup tracking poll shows he too has fallen below the magical 40 percent number, to 39 percent and fading fast.
As Frank Bruni of The New York Times notes in a recent column, we may be watching a presidential contest that is utterly devoid of any drama:
“The cusp of summer has been a mean season for Trump, who has never flailed more pathetically or lashed out more desperately and who just experienced the Carter-Bush dip. According to Gallup, his approval rating fell to 39 percent in early June from 49 a month earlier. So if Carter and Bush are harbingers, Trump is toast.”
However, we’ve all heard the expression not to put all your eggs in one basket, so it pays to look beyond the Gallup poll and see what others portend for Trump. Once again, as Bruni reports, they also show that Trump will lose:
“The Times and Siena College that were published last week suggested that in key swing states, as well as nationally, he’s the limping dead, trailing Joe Biden by double digits. That assessment is mostly consistent with other modeling and projections since the economy turned on Trump.”
In politics, nothing is guaranteed, as any favorite who later lost can tell you. But based on job approval, Trump is the weakest incumbent president since Jimmy Carter in 1980. And in case you were wondering, Carter’s approval rating was 34 percent when he lost to Ronald Reagan.
Four months is a lifetime in the political world. But if Trump remains below 40 percent approval on the day of the election, he’d best start packing his bags, because he’s going to be a one-term president, too.