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Trump’s approval numbers continue to rise while Democrats clobber one another in Wednesday’s presidential debate

by | Feb 20, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

“Now that the stage is narrowed to six candidates, we encourage each of you to directly engage with each other on the issues.”– Lester Holt, chief moderator of 9th Democratic debate

Holt got his wish…and much, much more.

With one conspicuous exception, last night’s debate in Las Vegas was exactly what you would have expected. Michael Bloomberg’s treasure trove of liabilities was exposed in the first five minutes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, constantly told by the media that she was too gentle, turned attack dog, eviscerating Bloomberg but also taking some hard shots at former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (whose animosity toward one another was palpable). 

Former Vice President Joe Biden? Well, Joe was…..Joe.

While four of the five Democrats took the opportunity to hammer front runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (Buttigieg was particularly effective), the aforementioned exception was that Warren didn’t. Presumably this is part of a calculated strategy. (We’ll return to last night’s debate in just a moment.)

Meanwhile President Trump was in Phoenix, Arizona, where he drew a massive crowd. Granted, it was his campaign manager who furnished the numbers, but, according to Brad Parscale,

  •        67,516 Tickets 
  •        29,990 Voters Identified (87% from AZ) 
  •        26% Didn’t Vote in 2016 
  •        18% Democrats

Meanwhile, President Trump’s approval numbers continue to get better and better and better in polls ranging from Emerson, ABC News/Washington Post, to NBC News/ Wall Street Journal.

I’ve been waiting to see the latest Gallup Poll . You may remember back on February 4 when Gallup reported that  President Trump’s approval ratings had risen to 49%, it shocked the commentariat. What would the next survey from Gallup—not a friend of President Trump’s—tell us?

It turns out, even better news! Jeffrey M. Jones writes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump’s job approval remains elevated at 49% in the latest Gallup poll, the same as in the previous poll and up five points from an early January poll conducted before Trump was acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial.

Take note that President Trump’s disapproval number was 50% in the prior Gallup poll . It is down to 48% in the current survey, conveniently not mentioned. Here are other important results.

*“Forty-three percent of independents approve of Trump, the highest rating for him among the group to date.”

*The Republican party: “Gallup has observed an increase in the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans (32% in the past two surveys, up from 28% in the prior two surveys), along with a decline in the percentage identifying as independents (41%, down from 43%) and Democrats (27%, down from 28%).” To clarify, a +4 improvement for the GOP, a -1 for Democrats.

*National mood. “Trump’s elevated job approval rating comes at a time when Americans are increasingly positive about the state of the nation. The percentage who are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. had already improved from 36% to 41% in a Jan. 3-16 poll, before the rise in Trump’s job approval rating in late January. The latest survey finds a further increase in national satisfaction, with 45% now satisfied, the highest since February 2005. (Emphasis added.)

Jones labors furiously to minimize or explain away the President’s steadily improving approval numbers (possible errors in sampling or “weighting” party identification, etc.). The best explanation comes later. 

We read something very interesting: that “Gallup probes initial ‘Don’t know’ responses to see if people might have a leaning in one direction or the other, which likely explains why Gallup tends to have fewer expressing no opinion in its polls compared with other organizations,” Jones writes. “It is possible that soft attitudes toward Trump in recent weeks have been more favorable toward him than usual, explaining why those initial “Don’t know” respondents are disproportionately willing to rate Trump positively when probed.”

In English, there is a part of the public that, for a combination of reasons, has chosen to avoid giving a direct answer one way or the other. They are now moving in the President’s direction.

Back to last night wrestlemania to make just two additional points. Two, that is, in addition to the near-hysteria that a self-described Democratic Socialist is the clear frontrunner.

First, (in that vein)  Dan Balz of the Washington Post writes

Everything that was on display Wednesday night — as well as everyone on the stage — showed the tension that now exists and the sense of urgency that time is running out on some of them. Sanders’s rise has raised fears that, if he were the nominee, his brand of democratic socialism could doom the party to defeat against President Trump, along with many candidates for House and Senate.

One measure of how rapidly things are changing is this: In barely a week, the question has shifted from whether Sanders has a ceiling, based on the fact that he managed just a quarter of the vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, to whether he can be stopped. The answer to that question could be known as early as Super Tuesday, less than two weeks away.

Second, for the first time in forever, it is realistic to believe that no one will have accumulated a majority of delegates prior to the convention. In that scenario, the potential for chaos in Milwaukee is almost limitless. Balz ends his story with this ominous warning:

The candidates were asked whether the person with the most pledged delegates, even if not a majority, should be rewarded with a first-ballot victory at the national convention or should the convention decide at that moment what to do. Everyone but Sanders said the convention should be allowed to work its will. Sanders stood alone on the other side.

That is what awaits the Democrats in the coming months.

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