OFF TO THE RACES

Let's Take a Breath on the Mueller Report's Political Ramifications

President Trump's most ardent supporters and detractors probably aren't suddenly changing their minds.

Attorney General William Barr alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (right) and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan (left) during Thursday's news conference
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
April 18, 2019, 8 p.m.

It’s now time to practice deep breathing exercises.

In the 818 days since President Trump took the oath of office, we have heard over-caffeinated pundits and others say, “today is a decisive day for Trump” dozens of times. We’ll almost certainly hear it again and again in the 565 days between now and the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

I roll my eyes every time I hear it. Each time, including here in the wake of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, will definitely be incredibly decisive—at least until the next incredibly decisive day comes along, usually within a week or two, maybe three.

It’s consistent with the other bad habit of seeing everything as binary—either a zero or a one, huge or nothing. In terms of partisans, deniers and bed-wetters exist in each party, while more-nuanced or qualified opinions are considerably fewer.

The fact is, what is going on changes very little from day to day, week to week, even month to month.

A Fox News Poll conducted April 14-16 of 1,005 registered voters and released Wednesday night demonstrates just how little elasticity exists in terms of Trump. The overall numbers were 45 percent approving and 51 percent disapproving, each precisely 1 point off of his average in the 23 Fox News polls conducted since Trump took office: 44 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval.

His highest approval rating among those nearly two-dozen polls was in February 2017—the month after he took office—when 48 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved. His worst was the following October, when 38 percent approved and 57 percent disapproved.

That 10-point range in Fox News Poll approvals over his more than two years in the White House is comparable, for example, to his range in Gallup polling, in which his lowest approval was 35 percent and highest was 45 percent.

But there is also an interesting factoid to keep in mind when considering all of the twists and turns in that time, both good and bad for the president. In the 11 ABC News/Washington Post, 17 CBS News, 22 CNN, 23 Fox News, 106 Gallup, 22 NBC News/Wall Street Journal, and 12 Pew Research Center polls, the president’s approval rating was upside down (higher disapprovals than approvals) in all but one of them—that February 2017 Fox News Poll.

To reiterate: That’s 212 out of 213 polls showing upside-down approval ratings for Trump.

He couldn’t even add to that meager total if we included the 22 Kaiser Family Foundation, 29 Marist, 14 Monmouth, and 41 Quinnipiac national polls. That’s 318 out of 319 major national polls.

Democrats and liberals should understand that whatever you may think of Fox News programming, particularly in prime time, the cable network’s poll is quite good.

Drilling down into its most recent one, 27 percent strongly approved of Trump, 18 percent somewhat approved, 9 percent somewhat disapproved, and 42 percent strongly disapproved. His more-hardened disapproval isn’t new: The ratio of strong disapproves to strong approves over the past six months has ranged from as low as 1.4-to-1 in February to as high as 1.6-to-1 in December, January, March, and April. Don’t expect that to change now.

With that in mind, ask yourself this question: How many voters who either strongly approve or strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance are likely to change their minds on him, one way or the other, as a result of Thursday morning's release of the redacted Mueller report? The answer is very few.

The point of all of this is to try to step back and appreciate that a lot of this hyperventilating is pointless. Of the 25 to 30 percent of the electorate that is malleable at all, they weren’t paying attention before this week, they aren’t paying attention this week, and they won’t pay attention—if at all—until the last few weeks before the election.

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