Trump trails Democrats, but approval near highs
President Trump’s approval rating is hovering near its all-time high on the strength of voter optimism about the economy, but his weakness among female voters has him trailing Democratic rivals early in his reelection bid, according to a new poll.
The latest Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey finds Trump’s job approval rating at 46 percent, just shy of his all-time high of 49 percent in the survey, achieved in early 2017.
There is a clear and persistent gender gap — 53 percent of men approve of the job Trump is doing, compared with only 40 percent of women. Trump’s job approval is at 42 percent among independents, 35 percent among Latinos and 22 percent among black voters.
The economy is Trump’s greatest asset at the moment, with 60 percent approving of the job he’s doing.
Fifty-one percent of voters say the economy is on the right track, including 60 percent of men and 44 percent of women. Forty-six percent of independents say the economy is on the right track.
Seventy-four percent of voters described the economy as strong or very strong, and a plurality, 47 percent, believe the economy will stay the same over the next six months. Thirty-one percent predicted a recession, and 22 percent said they believe the economy will improve.
Forty percent of voters said their personal financial situation is improving, and 36 percent said they’re doing just as well. Only 20 percent said they are worse off than before.
However, the strong economy is not enough at the moment to boost Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up with the Democrats.
The poll found 45 percent of voters say they will definitely or probably vote for the Democrat, compared with 39 percent who said they will definitely or probably vote for Trump. Still, that is a 4-point move in Trump’s favor from the same poll in July.
“Trump’s prospects have surprisingly increased throughout impeachment,” said Mark Penn, the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll polling director. “His strong support has increased and performance on the economy increased to 60 percent approval. On the other hand, his re-elect is relatively weak and so this is a race that is like the Super Bowl — each side here has the ability to punch through in a campaign.”
Among the factors that appear to be driving Trump down: Only 39 percent of voters say the country as a whole is on the right track, compared to 53 percent who say it is on the wrong track.
While 46 percent of men say the country is headed in the right direction, only 32 percent of women say the same, underscoring a key weakness for the president as he seeks reelection. In addition, only 31 percent of independents say the country is on the right track.
Voters tend to have a dim view of Trump as a person — only 30 percent said they like him personally. Twenty-three percent of women view Trump favorably.
On the issues, Trump is above the 50 percent mark on the economy, stimulating jobs and fighting terrorism. He is underwater on immigration, foreign affairs and administering the government.
The poll did not test the individual Democratic candidates in a head-to-head match-up with Trump.
However, former Vice President Joe Biden is widely viewed by most voters as having the greatest chance to defeat Trump.
When asked who is likeliest to win in a head-to-head match-up with Trump, 31 percent said Biden, followed by 23 percent who said none of the candidates. Fourteen percent said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has the best shot, while 6 percent said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Polls find Biden and Sanders routinely perform the best in a one-on-one against Trump, with little difference separating them.
Some Democrats are warning that the party risks disaster by nominating Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist and is pushing for significant reforms. However, Sanders has the most enthusiastic and engaged supporters, and many believe that embracing that energy is the surefire way for Democrats to defeat Trump in November.
The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey found that more voters are likely to support a moderate Democratic platform against Trump than a platform that includes big-ticket progressive items, such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.
“The chances of a Democrat winning are diminished if they are too far to the left,” said Penn. “The more extreme platforms of the left-leaning Democrats fall behind the president’s issues while more moderate stances meet equal public approval.”
Biden leads nationally in the survey of Democratic candidates, taking 31 percent support, followed by Sanders at 20 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 13 percent, Warren at 12 percent and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent.
The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey was conducted online within the U.S. among a representative sample of 2,527 registered voters from Jan. 27 to Jan. 29 by The Harris Poll.
Penn is an opinion contributor for The Hill.
Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, education, political party and political ideology where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.