There’s been a lot of arguing back and forth about the net political impact of the president’s recent lurch into explicit racism (as imposed to incessantly implicit racism, which is his usual M.O.). For what it is worth, the first week of polling after he told nonwhite members of Congress to “go back where you came from” didn’t show much in the way of movement. At FiveThirtyEight, the 11 public polls (with results adjusted for quality and partisan bias) taken since July 14’s tweets show Trump’s approval rating going up by 0.4 percent, and very much within the narrow band of popularity he’s enjoyed throughout his presidency.
One thing that has become clear, however, is that Trump – or if you think the problem is more systemic, the Trump Era – has slowly and steadily polarized public opinion along partisan lines to an amazing extent. A new NPR/Marist poll released yesterday, which was in the field from July 15-17, showed 90 percent of self-identified Republicans approving of the job the president is doing, and a precisely equal 90 percent of Democrats disapproving. These are not casual judgments, moreover: 80 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Trump while 72 percent of Republicans strongly approve.
Yes, self-identified independents are less adamant, but even 39 percent of them strongly disapprove of Trump, while 22 percent strongly approve. So basically, nearly all Democrats and Republicans and nearly two-thirds of independents, either love or hate the man. No wonder he (like many Democrats and observers generally) think 2020 is going to be about base mobilization and turnout. Long before the white-hot frenzy of the general election campaign melts ambivalence while driving truly nonpartisan voters into aggressive plague-on-both-your-houses disengagement, it’s already hard to be neutral about the 45th president. There are going to be many millions of Americans very upset on November 4, 2020–or whenever this intense high-stakes contest finally ends.