Donatelli Explores Campaign Clues in Trump’s Approval Rating

April 8, 2019

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McGuireWoods Consulting senior advisor, Frank Donatelli, analyzes the reasons behind Trump’s stagnant approval rating – regardless of the day’s headlines – and how this largely unmoving number may provide insight into Trump’s 2020 campaign.

In an April 6 article for Newsweek, Donatelli explored the most discussed political stories of 2019 – the longest federal government shutdown in history and Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller report.

“The first saw strong daily criticism of the Trump Administration from all quarters for the president’s promise to “own” the shutdown. The second provided a substantial morale boost to the president and his supporters for the finding of “no collusion” from Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” Donatelli said. “But there was one common denominator to both stories: The president’s approval rating barely budged.”

The website, “Real Clear Politics,” averages all of the publicly available presidential polls, and placed the President’s approval rating at 41.6 percent at the time of the government shutdown. The rating improved to 42.8 percent ten days before Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller report was released, and rose less than 1 percent to 43.7 percent after the release of the summary letter.

“The spread between the worst presidential news cycle and the very best ten days after the Barr announcement was 2.1 percent,” Donatelli noted.

Although the election outcome is 20 months out, these numbers could indicate that most Americans have already made up their minds about the president.

“[Trump] has a rock-solid base that will stick with him regardless of events and circumstances, and he begins the race with the largest group of supporters of anyone,” Donatelli said. “His campaign will seek to expand the electorate vertically, not horizontally. 

He added that Democrats will need to decide whether to expand their electorate horizontally, by appealing to moderate centrist voters or vertically with progressive activists leading the party.

While Democrats have a statistically bigger voter pool based on the president’s approval rating, they will need to successfully bring these voters under one umbrella.

“A majority of Americans will be open to looking at the out party’s candidate and promises. Democrats will argue for a change in direction. Republicans will contend the Democrats’ change is too radical,” he said. “Voters will be hearing it all– for the next twenty months.”