Trump Went to Europe and the Polls Didn’t Like It

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Time to check in on how President Donald Trump’s European trip affected his popularity. Quick answer: It really might have hurt him a little. Maybe.

Here are the numbers. Trump left for the NATO portion of his trip on July 10. The next day, FiveThirtyEight’s estimate of his approval rating was 42 percent. It’s tricky to get exact figures, because what FiveThirtyEight reports for any particular date, such as July 10, are the polls released by that date — which usually were surveys taken in the days just before. (Rather than trying to estimate exactly how popular Trump was on any particular day, they’re trying to tell us how popular we would think Trump was on that day if we properly understood all the polls that had been released by then.) 

So we’re now almost three weeks out from when he left for Europe, and two weeks from the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And today, FiveThirtyEight’s estimate fell to 41.2 percent. It hasn’t been that low since May 1, and it’s nearly a full percentage point down from before Europe and about 1 ½ percentage points off of his 2018 peak. And it’s still falling. On the other hand, Trump spent about six months of 2017 under 40 percent approval, bottoming out at 36.4 percent, so he’s lost only a fraction of his gains since then. 

Remember too that these are estimates: Averaging polls yields much better results than only looking at those from any particular outfit, but there are still all sorts of reasons the current estimate could be off a little (in either direction). 

It’s worth mentioning that Trump is no longer the least popular president at this point. Harry Truman’s approval was much lower through 556 days of his presidency, and Jimmy Carter’s was a little lower — and Trump narrowly trails Ronald Reagan, with Gerald Ford, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton just a little better than Reagan. Just looking at the elected presidents from that list (if we want to only look at those at the end of June of their second year), two things stand out. One is there is still plenty of time for Trump to recover (or collapse further) before November 2020. The other is that while those who had relatively similar approval ratings at this point had all kinds of different outcomes in their re-election year, all of them had brutal midterms for their parties. 

So yes, Trump probably has taken a bit of a popularity hit, but certainly not a large one. We can’t know for sure that it was the European trip, given that there are plenty of other overlapping events, some probably bad for him (such as developments in other scandals) and some good (such as the second quarter GDP result). But the trip and its aftermath did generate a lot of publicity, so it’s at least plausible it was responsible. At any rate, we’re still only talking a single percentage point. As I said at the time, however, he really can’t afford to lose very much popularity at all, so if he’s now drifting downward, that’s pretty troubling for him. 

1. Laura Seay at the Monkey Cage discusses a new book on envy in politics.

2. Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter on the gender gap

3. Also at Cook: David Wasserman on the Republican House open seats

5. And Paul Waldman argues that Democrats are better off if all of them run for president. He should be happy: They are! So far. But they won’t all be running six months from now. Of the 20 or 25 or however many are doing candidate-like things now, I’d guess that maybe half, two-thirds at most, will formally announce and keep going up until the Iowa caucuses. Winnowing has already begun, and it will keep going. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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