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February 19, 2019

WOLF: Trump’s poll numbers and electoral future: Foreboding reality or ‘fake news’?

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump


I was most impressed with the level of detail in Ochieng’ Kanyadudi’s discussion of the rise and rule (so far) of US President Donald Trump last week’s Weekend Star (‘Trump’s trade policy will unite the world against United States’, Siasa p. 4), in which he begins by referring to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent official visit to the White House.

As he points out, the former Reality TV star’s nabbing of the Republic party’s presidential nomination – to say nothing of his defeat of the Democrats’ Hilary Clinton in the presidential election itself – took everyone by surprise; indeed, according to several accounts, even Trump never expected to win.

But one assertion Kanyadudi makes invites further exploration in the light of recent polling data: that the US President “is looking for his reelection and he will win it on his terms.”  Indeed, as if to echo his assertion, speaking at a town-meeting/rally just this week, the President trumpeted:  “Our poll numbers are great.  And guess what? Nobody is going to come close to beating me in 2020 because of what we’ve done.”

Yet as Washington Post opinion writer Paul Waldman pointed out, Trump’s current poll numbers are nearly the worst since he assumed office, and also near historic lows for any president. 

Three of them show the President’s approval rating at below 40 percent, and his disapproval rating at an all-time high (60 percent).  Perhaps even more worrying for him is statistically similar figure (63 percent) of support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the alleged collusion/conspiracy of his campaign team (including close family members, if not Trump himself) with the Russians, an investigation which has since broadened to include the obstruction of justice, notwithstanding Trump’s unrelenting attacks on it, and on Mueller as a person.   

Such figures (released after Kanyadudi’s piece was published) come in the wake not just of numerous indictments (of both Americans and Russians), guilty pleas, and even (already) a few convictions), but also the outpouring of support for an starkly contrasting type of national politics and leadership expressed at Senator John McCain’s memorial service last weekend, to say nothing of the subsequent publicity of much of the content of renowned investigative journalist Robert Woodward’s new explosive (and highly negative) book (‘Fear: Trump in the White House’).

Of course, with the next presidential election more than two years away, I would not be so foolish as to pronounce Trump’s defeat in 2020 as a ‘done deal’.  Incumbency does have massive advantages, especially if the extremely positive macro-economic numbers hold, and the Democrats fail to identify a credible alternative.  

But other current poll numbers now portend massive losses for the Republicans in the November mid-term congressional elections.  52 percent of likely voters now saying they shall vote for Democratic candidates, as opposed to only 38 percent who have committed themselves to vote Republican, while other polls are showing record-high voter turn-out figures among Democrats, a clear reflection as to how Trump’s performance so far has energized those who always were, or who have since turned, against him.

The importance of re-taking the House of Representatives for Trump’s future cannot be overstated.  True, the Democrats need to ‘flip’ about 24 seats to do this, and according to most estimates they have a 60-65 percent chance of doing so.  But if they do, this will – among other things – put them into the Chairs of all congressional committees, enabling them to put substantial pressure on the White House to release heretofore unavailable documents that could greatly increase Trump’s vulnerability, even if his new highly conservative Supreme Court pick wins Senate confirmation in the common weeks.

In brief, there are thus four possible routes to a single term presidency: resignation, impeachment, failing to obtain the Republican party’s nomination, and obtaining it, but running and losing.  I would thus advise Kanyadudi not to bet on a second Trump term.  Though based on his carefully crafted analysis of the President’s policies and their unfolding impact both domestically and globally, I am guessing such an exit would not cause him undue anguish.


Tom Wolf is a research analyst, Ipsos-Kenya


(Dr. Wolf offers these views in his personal capacity.)

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