No, Trump's Polling Position Isn't 'Better Right Now' Than Reagan's Was in 1980

Posted: Apr 15, 2016 10:20 AM
No, Trump's Polling Position Isn't 'Better Right Now' Than Reagan's Was in 1980

Whenever Donald Trump and his followers are confronted with his evidence of his abysmally terrible polling numbers on personal favorability and versus Hillary Clinton, they typically respond with a pair of deflections. First, they say that Trump "hasn't even started" attacking Hillary yet. Setting aside the fact that Trump has taken many hard jabs at Mrs. Clinton over a span of months, this line of thinking requires a logical leap: That once he does train virtually all of his fire on her, it will both hurt her and help him. American voters have been subjected to endlessTrump coverage since last spring, over which time his approach to politics has been made abundantly clear. They don't like what they've seen. His unfavorability rating has soared, especially among women. And we're supposed to believe he'll rectify this problem by...relentlessly attacking his female opponent, inevitably deploying personal insults along the way? By the way, if you think he'll be able to resist this sort of petty nastiness in the general election setting, you haven't been paying attention. His barrage of criticism against Hillary might put a dent in her (weak) favorability numbers, but he desperately needs to resurrect his catastrophically bad public image. Being an impulsive attack dog, his default setting, isn't likely to get him there.

The next rationalization we often hear is that it's silly to worry about bad polling at this stage of the race. It's way too early. Just look at 1980! Jimmy Carter was crushing Reagan in the spring, yet all we know how that election turned out. Trump himself loves this argument, which he advanced at a rally in New York this week. Politifact, a left-leaning fact-checking outfit dove into the data and found that -- surprise -- Trump is wrong on this point. They point to a summary of nine available public polling taken in March and April of 1980. Carter led Regan in seven of the surveys, with Reagan ahead by nine points in one, plus a tie. On average, Carter held a five-point lead at this juncture of the contest, and his lead was shrinking. In mid-April of 2016, Hillary Clinton's advantage is growing. She has topped Trump in 15 consecutive polls, and her average lead is approximately double what Carter's was over a parallel stretch:

That chart didn't include Fox News' latest survey, which shows Trump down seven (with Cruz virtually tied and Kasich up nine). Politifact's analysis goes on, delving into the measure of favorability ratings:

We didn’t find many questions on favorability in the Roper database, but one April 1980 poll from Cambridge Reports found Reagan at 39 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable. That’s five percentage points "under water" -- favorable minus unfavorable. By contrast, Trump’s poll averages for favorability in 2015 and 2016 have -- at their best -- been 17 points under water. Currently, they are at 64 percent unfavorable, 30 percent favorable, according to HuffPost Pollster. That’s 34 points under water, far worse than Reagan’s in the spring of 1980.

This is a more important indicator than the head-to-head scores, which are easier to dismiss (though less so as time wears on, particularly given the universal name recognition Trump and Clinton enjoy). Reagan was never, ever even remotely as disliked as Trump is now. And as we discussed yesterday, his image problems aren't improving. In fact, they've managed to get worse with female voters, who comprise more than half of the electorate.  To wit:

In summary: In the spring of 1980, Jimmy Carter's once-large polling lead had waned considerably against a then-mildly unpopular Ronald Reagan.  Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton's once-modest polling lead has grown substantially against an increasingly and historically unpopular Donald Trump.  All of the trajectories are wrong for Trump fans, and the actual numbers don't support the story they love to tell.  Which means they'll keep telling it, louder than ever.  I'll leave you with this gentle reminder:

He also financially supported Kerry over Bush, and donated multiple times to...Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008.

Yet another new data point, via CBS News:

The survey shows Trump losing to Hillary among young voters by 40, among independents by 18 and among women by 27.

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