There's a lot to unpack in yesterday's fresh Fox News national poll, starting with the data point that 50 percent of respondents -- a bare majority -- now say they believe the Trump campaign did, in fact, coordinate with Russia's electoral interference efforts. By a six-point margin, voters believe Team Trump colluded with Moscow during the 2016 campaign, a seven-point net swing from when the same question was asked a year ago. What happened in the interim? Robert Mueller's team published an extensive report explicitly stating that evidence of any such collaboration could not be established:
Mueller addresses the use of the terms 'conspiracy' and 'coordination' vs. 'collusion.' The first is a legal term, the latter two are terms of art. Mueller found no conspiracy or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. pic.twitter.com/fDBjW4bBkp— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) April 18, 2019
Elsewhere in the report, Mueller reiterated that his probe "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." This is a settled matter. So why would public opinion move away from reality? One theory I had was Trump's controversial comments to George Stephanopoulos on ABC News, which he mopped up the next day, may have caused a bunch of people to rethink the issue. Maybe Mueller didn't prove it, but if Trump is still defending taking information from foreign governments, he must have done it. But that theory doesn't hold water because the survey was in the field June 9-12, and the ABC clip didn't start to circulate until the evening of the 12th. Opinions shifted before Trump's much-discussed interview. Let's see if this is a trend or an outlier. Interestingly, the poll also shows an increased appetite for impeachment, although a solid majority don't believe it will happen:
Views are mixed on impeachment: 43 percent of voters want Trump impeached and removed from office, 7 percent say he should be impeached, but not removed from office, and 48 percent oppose impeaching Trump... Support for impeachment is up five points among Democrats since June 2018 (69 percent vs. 74 percent now) and up 15 among independents (25 percent to 40 percent today). About 9 in 10 Republicans have consistently opposed impeachment. But most think there’s no chance impeachment will happen. Fifty-six percent of voters say it is “not at all” likely that Trump will be impeached and another 26 percent think it is only “somewhat” likely. Only 12 percent feel impeachment is “extremely” (7 percent) or “very” (5 percent) likely. Even among those favoring impeachment, only 23 percent expect it to happen.
So exactly 50 percent, the same number who believe without evidence that Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin, would like to see the president impeached and/or removed from office. But by nearly a 20-point margin, people don't expect that to actually happen. It's the erosion among independents that should worry Trump's 2020 re-election operation. Speaking of which, the Fox poll shows Joe Biden remaining head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Socialist Bernie Sanders (this is quite an appalling detail about him) slipping to just 13 percent support. Asked about his slide by anchor Chris Wallace, Sanders cited another survey result showing that he's theoretically well-positioned to defeat Trump in a general election. But according to the numbers, so is virtually every Democrat in the upper tier of candidates. It's Trump's low floor that jumps out:
Another poll — this one from Fox News — showing Trump stuck at 39% to 41% in ballot tests against major Democratic hopefuls.— Stuart Rothenberg (@StuPolitics) June 16, 2019
Extremely premature to be worrying about hypothetical head-to-heads and margins at this point. But a red flag for Trump's 2020 team is his consistent level of support around 40 percent, which is a serious danger zone for an incumbent with universal name recognition. pic.twitter.com/gvYWCo70Ti— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) June 16, 2019
I'm going to keep saying it: Trump will be a one-term president if he cannot expand his base of support. It's not even close to too late for him, of course, but it's a challenge moving forward. But before the president's opponents get cocky or triumphalist, here are a few timely reminders: First, head-to-head polls taken more than 300 days before a presidential election are basically statistically useless. So everything we see on that front between now and next winter is mostly garbage. Second:
check this out:— Mara Liasson (@MaraLiasson) June 15, 2019
-June 1983: Mondale 49%, Reagan 39%
-June 1991: George H.W. Bush 51%, Democrat 28%, Don't know 21%
-June 1995: Dole 48%, Clinton 44%
-June 2011: Republican 44%, Obama 39% https://t.co/vqaXmtMm00
Some people objected to these historical snapshot comparisons by pointing out (correctly) that none of these previous incumbents' job approval ratings were significantly underwater for the entire duration of their respective first terms. That's true, but none of those previous incumbents had a 60 percent unfavorability score on election day...then won. What does that mean for 2020? It's unclear. On one hand, Trump has shown that he can defy conventional wisdom and defy the odds. On the other, we've also learned that he's not immune to the political laws of gravity; look at the 2018 'national' Democratic vote share versus the president's job approval, for instance. I'll leave you with the latest indicator of what should be Trump's strongest asset heading into next year:
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the gap between Trump's economic job approval and his overall rating (and starting next year, his re-elect number) will be a significant issue if he can't close it. And before you cry "fake polls," notice that Trump has reportedly fired his own internal pollster for leaking ugly numbers that are said to show the president trailing Joe Biden in 11 battleground states.