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That 46% approval rating for Trump is misleading

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Trump’s polls are up. According to the Real Clear Politics average of ten national polls, he’s at 46% job approval, which is, I believe, the highest of his presidency. Of those ten polls, three—Gallup, Rasmussen and The Hill/Harris– have him the highest, at 49% (!!). However, eight of the ten polls show a majority (50%+) disapproving of him. Still, it’s a wonder why the events of the last few months have not driven his approval ratings down to where they should be, in the low 40s.

National polls are one thing; state polls are more important, since we elect presidents by the Electoral College, not the national popular vote. So how’s Trump doing in all-important swing states?

Michigan has some really interesting numbers. There, according to Quinnipiac, all six major Democratic candidates—Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren and Klobuchar—are beating Trump by anywhere from one to five points. That’s good news! Trump very narrowly won Michigan in 2016 (by a mere three-tenths of one percent), so a Democratic victory there would go a long way toward electing whomever the Democratic nominee is. In Wisconsin, by contrast, the situation is less rosy: Trump is trouncing all six Democrats (by anywhere from seven to eleven points). However, things are decidedly better in Pennsylvania, which Trump also won (by seven-tenths of a percent) in 2016.

There, Quinnipiac again shows all six Democratic contenders beating him (from three points to eight points, with Biden doing the best). If Democrats can take Michigan and Pennsylvania (which together have 36 electoral votes), it’s very hard to see a road forward for Trump.

(Segue: In my calculations, the Democratic candidate is more or less guaranteed to get 240 electoral votes, thirty short of the 270 required to win. These Democratic states (and the District of Columbia) are NY, CA, WA, OR, CO, CN, DE, D.C., HI, IL, MD, MA, NV, NJ, PA, RI, VT (Hillary carried it last time) and VA. So where are the other 30 electoral votes? Michigan is the biggest trove: 16 votes. That leaves 14 more to find. Arizona, with 11 electoral votes, could do it. But so could New Mexico, with 5–and keep in mind that Hillary won New Mexico in 2016 by a pretty solid margin on 8.3 points.)

Much attention has in fact been paid to Arizona. That state seems to be experiencing the same modest pro-Trump bump that his national job approval rating suggests. In the latest Public Policy Polling (which admittedly is a bit out of date, since it’s from January), in Arizona Trump is beating three leading Democratic candidates (Buttgieg, Sanders, Warren) by one, two or three points, while things are even between him and Biden. However, Arizona also is going to be important in its Senate race, one of the most hotly-contested in the country. The super-conservative Martha McSally, a devoted Trump acolyte, is losing to the former astronaut, Mark Kelly.

Indeed, in the most recent Arizona poll (reported Feb. 20), she trails Kelly badly, 46% to 39.3%, a seemingly insurmountable gap, although this far out, anything can happen, obviously. Arizona is going to be a vital factor in whether Democrats can regain control of the Senate, and oust the contemptible Mitch McConnell from the leadership. But it’s not out of the question for the Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona in November.

Anyway, this brief tour d’horizon of the election provides some hope for Democrats who were demoralized by Trump’s surprising 46% approval rating. It’s not what we expected, but victory is in the details: and right now, the details don’t look good for Trump.

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