Maybe Give Those Tea Leaves a Rest for Now

A lot of hay is being made over President Trump’s approval ratings. Yes, he has the lowest at his point in his Presidency than any of the last umpteenth Presidents. Yes, he’s underwater in both job approval and favorability. But beyond these very obvious and very true points, there is a growing amount of tea leaf reading into what his numbers will mean for the upcoming elections. Some have tried to dampen this a tad with thoughtful reviews of the special elections, complete with the cold splash of water that these often have little predictive value for a midterm. But others are going to ratchet up every poll release (and state special elections) as the proof that the opposition is building.

Within the realm of the political, every single movement, moment, gaffe, act and byte is the best/worst/game-changing thing. Except most of these things that get hyped in our 140-character news cycle aren’t any of these things. The President’s favorability numbers since assuming office have gone from -8.1% net favorable to -8.5% net favorable. The public’s perception of Trump hasn’t really changed all that much, despite what either Republicans or Democrats say. When you move beyond him, and start looking at how the public feels about its own fortunes, the overall political picture gets muddled. The February WSJ/NBC Poll, which found the President sporting a 44%/48% negative job approval, had an interesting result on the “right track/wrong track” question. It found a majority of adults feeling the country was on the wrong track-51%. But that number is down significantly from July of 2016, when it hit 73%. The percentage feeling the country was heading in the right direction has grown twenty-two points since then, and has grown in every survey since the election. Indeed, that 40% mark is the highest registered by WSJ/NBC in over four years.

Over time, all of these numbers, combined with the various election polling data that builds as we leave the dead space of the post-Presidential period, could give us some insight into how the voters are feeling and behaving as we approach the Midterms and, eventually, the next Presidential election. But the key word there is time. It’s going to be a long eighteen months, and an even longer forty-two.