Holding the base

An oft repeated talking point holds that Donald Trump’s supporters remain firm in backing the president.

It’s neither as true, nor as electorally important, as it sounds.

In November, Trump garnered a minority of the votes cast—46.4 percent — while 53.6 percent voted for someone else.

Just after his inauguration Huffpost Pollster’s average put approval of Trump’s performance at 44 percent, with disapproval at 42 percent.

Today, on average, 41 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove.

Somewhat fewer people approve of his performance today than voted for him in November.

Moreover, the number who approve of the job he is doing as president is lower today, and the number who disapprove is appreciably higher, than it was at the time he assumed office.

Necessarily, therefore, at least some who were supportive of him earlier no longer reside in that category.

So why all the talk about his support remaining rock solid?

Much of it stems from survey questions asking people who claimed to have voted for him whether they would still do so. For example, an ABC/Washington Post poll at the end of April found 96 percent of those who supported him in November asserting they would do so again.

That does seem pretty solid. But it’s worth noting that while over 46 percent of voters cast ballots for Trump in November, only 43 percent claimed to have done so in this poll. That’s well within the margin of error, but it does suggest some real deterioration.

Trump’s vote total was 3 points lower than it was on election day, and nearly another 2 percent of the total would not cast a ballot for him again. That is a total drop of about 5 points — more than 10 percent of his original total.

These are small numbers, but they provide further evidence that his support fell from an already low 46  percent to an even lower 41 percent.

Recall, only three presidents since the dawn of the 20th century have entered the White House with a lower percentage of the vote than Trump received in November. None in that period have won with less support than he enjoys now. These are low numbers.

Forty percent approval may not seem so low, but in practice, what seems like a zero to 100 scale is not. No president has gone below 22 percent or above 90 percent.

On average presidents have earned the approval of about 57 percent of Americans. Trump is more than 15 points below average.

More important, approval ratings as low as Trump’s have real world consequences.

Precisely because his approval is already so low, Trump does not need to fall further to be an albatross around his party’s neck.

Only three presidents have gone into midterm elections with approval ratings at or below the level Trump now elicits.

In 1946, Harry Truman was at 27 percent approval and lost 45 House seats, while in 1950 his approval rating equaled Trump’s current standing and Truman’s party lost 29 seats.

Barack Obama also matched Trump’s current rating in 2014, when Democrats lost 13 seats.

In 2014, George W. Bush’s approval rating stood a bit below Trump’s current rating at 37 percent, and it cost the GOP 30 seats.

Of course, presidents with somewhat higher approval ratings suffered even greater losses. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson’s approval was a couple points higher than Trump’s, and his Democrats lost 47 seats.

Ronald Reagan’s approval reached 42 percent in 1982, and he lost 26 seats.

A few weeks ago, I noted that if I were a Republican House member I would be starting to panic.

Events since then have only reinforced that conclusion.

Hanging on to the bromide that Trump’s base hasn’t deserted him in wholesale fashion is cold comfort.

Mellman is President of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House Members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic Leaders foxr over 20 years. The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Whether winning for you means getting more votes than your opponent, selling more product, changing public policy, raising more money or generating more activism, The Mellman Group transforms data into winning strategies.