Liberals' intensity advantage is vanishing ahead of the midterms

Liberals' intensity advantage is vanishing ahead of the midterms
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Less than a month before midterms, liberals’ intensity advantage has disappeared.

Almost since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE’s inauguration, the prevailing thought has been that the left’s “outrage edge” would swamp Republicans beneath November 2018’s blue wave. Instead, Trump’s strong opposition has subsided, his strong support risen and the former gap is gone.

On Monday, Rasmussen released its daily tracking poll showing Trump’s job approval held an advantage (51 to 47 percent) over disapproval. That scant 4-percent advantage was his highest in 19 months.


Inside these broader approval numbers, lay even more significant “strong” ones. In addition to its overall job approval rating, Rasmussen also breaks out strong approval and disapproval. 

This is a perfect barometer of voter intensity, and intensity is important because November’s blue-wave predictions have been predicated on overwhelming anti-Trump sentiment. In Rasmussen’s Monday poll, President Trump’s strong ratings — positive and negative — were tied at 38 percent. 

The intensity gap’s vanishing act is a big detail because it was once very large. President Trump hit his nadir on Aug. 3, 2017 when he recorded a 26-percent net negative rating. Critics did not need a crystal ball to see what was clear: Republicans were in store for a midterm debacle.

President Trump’s "strong" return has been remarkable. A year ago, his strong rating was a net -19 percent. At the beginning of 2018, it was -15 percent. Just a month ago, it was still -10 percent.  Just a week ago, it stood at -8 percent. 

From his lowest point, President Trump has erased a 26-percent "strong" deficit. He has done so by taking 11 percent off his strong disapproval and putting 15 percent on his strong approval, with 8 percent coming in the last week alone.

This is not only a dramatic improvement, but a stark contrast to Obama eight years ago. On Oct. 8, 2010, Obama’s "strong" rating ratio was 29/41 percent. Trump’s 12-percent net advantage over Obama comes from significantly higher strong approval and slightly lower strong disapproval.  

Considering the large recovery, his comparative advantage over Obama and, most importantly, the enormous emphasis commentators have put on the intensity gap’s ramifications, it begs the question: What happened?

It could simply be that Americans have returned to their ideological and political moorings. According to 2016 exit polling, Republicans made up 33 percent of the electorate and conservatives 35 percent; Democrats were 36 percent and liberals 26 percent. The sides are close, so balancing over a Republican president is not inherently surprising.  

However, these groups were no less evenly split when this Republican president’s strong ratings were abysmal. If they are just “coming home,” at least it can be said that Trump’s performance is not stopping them — as he had until recently.  

More positively, President Trump’s performance could have proactively brought conservatives and Republicans “home.” A strong economy and two conservative Supreme Court justice confirmations in two years are just starters for both groups. 

But it is also very likely that the left itself is to blame for the president’s strong recovery. The price liberals have paid for keeping themselves enraged has been getting conservatives and moderates engaged for President Trump. There is clear evidence this is true.  

For one thing, eliminating his deepest strong deficit could not have been done simply by switching opponents to supporters. Together, both "strong" categories accounted for only 72 percent of respondents. When Trump pulled even at 38/38 percent, 76 percent were now identifying themselves as strong respondents — a 4-percent increase.  

For another, look at Rasmussen’s overall Trump job performance rating of 51/47 percent. The difference between strong and overall respondents is 22 percent. This 22-percent can be categorized as unaligned or moderate voters. 

To get to his overall rating, Trump had to garner 13 percent, while losing 9 percent, which means taking almost six out of 10 from this swing group.  

Liberals’ price for continuing to inflame themselves is consolidating conservatives and swinging a decided majority of moderates to President Trump. In short, liberals are setting America up for a second Trump term.  


J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.