Trump by the numbers: 2024 isn’t simple

2022 is a critical year for Donald Trump. By wading into primary race after primary race, he has put a vital asset on the line: the perception that he is a winner. A strong year for Trump will set the stage for running in 2024, an announcement he is clearly itching to make.

So, how is Trump doing in the polls? Well, it’s a mixed bag.

Good news for Trump

The good news for Trump is mostly about bad news for Joe Biden.

Biden’s approval began to nosedive with the Afghanistan withdrawal, and it has continued to drift downward. From a high of 55 percent approval, the FiveThirtyEight average now puts Biden at 42.5 percent, with 52.1 percent disapproving. The Republican-friendly Rassmussen poll has Biden at only 38 percent.

And there is little to indicate that will improve in the near future. Putin and Russia will be a continuing problem. Inflation continues. Biden’s progressive grab-bag (also known as “Build Back Better”), voting rights legislation, and changes in the filibuster are all dead-on-arrival. Worse for Biden, the progressive faction in the Democratic Party is unwilling to face reality on these issues and are forcing him to flail away ineffectively.

Democratic voters are looking for someone other than Biden to carry their standard in 2024: 41 percent want “someone else,” while only 32 percent want Biden and 27 percent aren’t sure. But for the 68 percent of Democrats who’ve either gone off Biden or are at least starting to look around, there is not much to pick from. Gaffe-prone Kamala Harris is polling as badly as Biden with a FiveThirtyEight approval average of just 36 percent. When the University of Massachusetts at Amherst asked Democratic voters their preferences for 2024, 40 percent remained loyal to Biden — with 80-year-old Bernie Sanders the most popular choice after Biden at 18 percent, and Harris tied with Elizabeth Warren in third at just 10 percent. In a Harvard/Harris poll, Biden retained just 36 percent loyalty and Harris came in second at 16 percent. If Biden were not to run in 2024, Harris led Sanders in that poll 31 percent to 15 percent as Democrats’ first choice — with no one else in double-digits.

Trump has generally pulled ahead of Biden in the 2024 ballot test. The RealClearPolitics average has Trump leading Biden by nearly 5 points at 46 percent to 41 percent, with Insider Advantage giving Trump a lead of 8 points. Polling from YouGov and Redfield and Wilton has vacillated, but show Trump — on average — with a small lead.

And Trump does not appear to have a problem within his own party. Most Republicans want Trump to run (53 percent, according to YouGov). Trump leads significantly in all putative GOP primary polls with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis taking second across the board. The Dec. 13 YouGov poll is closest with Trump leading DeSantis 44 percent to 23 percent, but other YouGov polls have Trump in the mid 50s, leading DeSantis by over 35 points. TIPP gives Trump a 60 percent to 11 percent advantage.

Bad news for Trump

It’s not all sunshine for Trump. 

When you dig into the numbers, he has significant problems. For one thing, his approval rating is just as bad as Biden’s. The latest FiveThirtyEight average has Trump at 43 percent approval. In addition, most Americans don’t want to see Trump run again — even more than oppose a Biden candidacy. According to YouGov, 59 percent do not want Trump to run, while 57 percent are against Biden running.

In that same YouGov poll, 30 percent of Republicans want someone other than Trump to seek the GOP nomination — which points to a worrying trend among Republican voters. Simply put, Trump’s support is not as strong as it seems. Trump routinely polls approval in the 80s among Republicans. The most recent January YouGov poll has Trump at 81 percent favorable among Republicans. Morning Consult has Trump at 83 percent favorable. Yet in both polls, Biden’s overall approval numbers are better than Trump’s — although both are negative.

More concerning for Trump is how much his primary test vote falls off from his approval ratings. Trump sees a 25-point to 35-point fall-off from his approval ratings when Republicans are asked if they actually want to vote for him. His disapproval numbers among Republicans hover in the mid-teens, yet the percentage of Republicans who do not want him to run ranges from 23 to 30 percent.

What makes these numbers really problematic for Trump is that there is virtually no public opposition to him among high-profile Republicans. Only a few GOP elected officials and the generally discredited “Never Trumpers” have publicly broken with him. Some high-profile Republicans have bucked him on key issues or simply declined to kowtow to him, but none has made a public break. 

The upshot is that Trump is essentially running unopposed for the Republican presidential nomination, yet a significant proportion of Republicans are still looking for someone else.

And Trump is concerned, as evidenced by his aggression against DeSantis.

Trump is repeating his playbook from 2020: Attack the first face he sees in the rearview mirror. Should DeSantis decide to mount a challenge — or another Republican espousing Trump’s issues (like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem), Trump could well have his hands full.

Several issues loom in the background for Trump. Any among the swirl of investigations could result in an indictment. His indiscipline when it comes to messaging and refusal to walk away from his “stolen election” claims has prevented him from lasering in on the many failings of the Biden administration. Trump is also weighing in on Republican primaries, alienating portions of the GOP base, and — more importantly — putting him at risk of backing losing candidates.

Much of Trump’s strength has to do with the perception that he is a winner and his ability to dominate media coverage.

One thing Trump knows is how to keep the spotlight on himself — and that has drawn all the oxygen out of the Republican Party, making it nearly impossible for anyone else to establish themselves as a real challenger.

It’s a shrewd strategy, but Trump is walking a perilous path.

In spite of all the fumbles from Biden and the Democrats, Trump cannot clear 50 percent approval in any poll. Trump’s ratings have not improved, leaving his fortunes at the mercy of Democratic incompetence. Unless Trump can raise his approval numbers, he will be at risk of any even modest improvement in the fortunes of the Democrats.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

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