Republicans have made no bones about hoping that Donald Trump’s alleged “vindication” by Robert Mueller (as reported by Attorney General William Barr) would be just the springboard he needs to finally boost his approval ratings into the territory normally associated with reelected presidents.
But nine days after Barr’s letter to Congress revealing Mueller’s legal conclusions was transmitted and released, a growing number of public opinion surveys are showing virtually no change in Trump’s famously stable (or stagnant, depending on how you look at it) approval ratings. His average approval rating according to RealClearPolitics was 43.6 percent on March 24, the day the Barr letter was released, and was 43.2 percent on April 1. At FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s average approval rating was an identical 42.1 percent on March 24 and April 1.
Nate Silver notes that there’s quite a bit of data supporting a “no game-changer” read on the Barr letter:
While I’d urge a little bit of caution on these numbers — sometimes there’s a lag before a news event is fully reflected in the polls — there’s actually been quite a bit of polling since Barr’s letter came out, including polls from high-quality organizations such as Marist College, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Quinnipiac University and the Pew Research Center which were conducted wholly or partially after the Barr letter was published. Some of these polls showed slight improvements in Trump’s approval rating, but others showed slight declines. Unless you’re willing to do a lot of cherry-picking, there just isn’t anything to make the case that much has changed.
In terms of explaining this result, Silver offers an assortment of possible interpretations, but the one that makes the most intuitive sense is that the only people who really cared whether Trump colluded with the Russians were Democrats, who aren’t going to turn around and praise his presidency even if they are convinced he didn’t commit one of many horrific acts:
[I]f (a) only partisan Democrats cared very much about Russia and (b) those Democrats have plenty of other reasons to dislike Trump anyway and (c) they aren’t likely to be persuaded by the Barr letter besides that, you can see why the end of the investigation hasn’t moved the needle much in terms of Trump’s overall approval.
For the same reason, the full Mueller report isn’t likely to cut much ice in public opinion, either, whether it supports or undermines the positive claims Trump and his allies have been making with every breath. And it’s another indication that opinions of the 45th president are so sharply polarized that it will be difficult to change them, which means the identity of his 2020 opponent and the degree of enthusiasm he can inspire in the MAGA crowd may determine his fate. Since the Trump campaign and Republicans generally have already preemptively been pounding the 2020 Democratic field as a bright-red landscape of unremitting socialism, infanticide, and political correctness, while encouraging his supporters to approach the campaign season in a hate rage, the Mueller report and Barr’s summary probably won’t change his reelection strategy, either.