In normal political times, a president with a 40% Job Approval rating would be a tremendous drag on his party in the midterm elections. But these are not normal times. A look back at what happened on Election Day last November suggests that President Trump’s low ratings will not necessarily doom his party in 2018.
To begin with, just 38% of voters had a favorable opinion of Donald Trump on the day he was elected. And, only 40% said they would be optimistic if he won the presidency. Yet, despite that distinct lack of enthusiasm, 46% of all voters cast their ballot to elect Donald Trump.
One big factor is that his opponent was also viewed with apprehension. In fact, a majority of voters said they would be either concerned or scared if Hillary Clinton became president. Overall, nearly one out of five voters disliked both major party candidates. When it came time to choose between the lesser of two evils, these voters overwhelmingly preferred Trump.
Looking ahead to 2018, it is quite possible that many voters unhappy with President Trump will still consider the Democrats an even bigger concern.
And, it’s also possible that many political junkies are overestimating the importance of behavior they view as unpresidential. On the day he was elected president, just 38% of voters believed Donald Trump was qualified to be president and only 35% believed he had the right temperament for the job. But 10% of all voters considered Trump unqualified yet voted for him anyway. So did 12% who voted for the current president despite believing he didn’t have the temperament for the job.
It seems that voters were looking for something bigger than what the political elites believe are appropriate characteristics for a president.
Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters said the most important characteristic was a candidate’s ability to bring about change. That’s not surprising given that 69% were either dissatisfied or angry with the federal government. Donald Trump won these voters overwhelmingly. The last thing they want to see is business as usual.
With all this as background for the president’s first six months in office, it seems reasonable to conclude that President Trump has met expectations. Sure, he’s unpresidential at times but most voters expected him to be. For many, though, that’s a small price to pay for adding Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Obviously, I have no idea what will happen between now and November 2018. If the president can somehow get the Republicans in Congress to repeal a significant portion of Obamacare, the GOP prospects might improve. If the economy keeps gaining steam, that’s even better news for the president’s party. Things could just as easily head in the opposite direction.
But these are not ordinary political times and Donald Trump is not an ordinary president. It would therefore be a mistake to assume that the midterm election results might be impacted in an ordinary way by the president’s job approval rating. There are far too many voters who disapprove of the president but disapprove of Democrats more.