Trump’s National Emergency Policy Is Unpopular, But Not Really Unpopular

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to build more physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border was generally unpopular, but polls suggest the move has very high support among Republicans. That dynamic could be important as Trump seeks to overcome challenges to his new policy both on Capitol Hill and in the courts.

Two polls conducted entirely after the emergency declaration show a majority of Americans don’t like it: An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll that came out Tuesday showed a 61-36 split against Trump’s policy, and a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Wednesday found 39 percent in support, 51 percent opposed. A HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted the day before and the day of the emergency declaration found similar results — 37 percent of Americans said they approved of the move, compared with 55 percent who disapproved.

These numbers don’t surprise me — they generally mirror Trump’s overall job approval ratings. For much of the past two years, around 40 percent of Americans have approved of the president’s performance, while a clear majority has disapproved. Similarly, overall support for the national emergency declaration is in the upper 30s in the polls we have so far. That’s because Republicans have lined up solidly behind it, according to both polls conducted after the declaration was made — the NPR poll found 85 percent support within the GOP, and the Morning Consult survey found 77 percent support. The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 84 percent of Trump voters supported the declaration, although that poll was already underway when the declaration was made, so some respondents were asked about the move before it became official while others were asked after the announcement.

It’s not surprising that large numbers of Republicans supported Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency — GOP voters overwhelmingly approve of him. But high party support for a Trump policy is not always a given. For example, the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border was significantly more unpopular within the party than the emergency declaration is — a FiveThirtyEight average of polls found that only about half of Republicans were on board with the separations. And while a majority of Republicans supported both the failed 2017 health care bill meant to replace Obamacare (67 percent) and the GOP tax plan passed the same year (64 percent), they did so at rates 10 to 20 points lower than we’re seeing on the national emergency policy.

Being backed only by Republican voters still isn’t great for the president. His base alone likely won’t be sufficient to win re-election. But in terms of policy, Trump tends to reverse himself only if there is a breadth of opposition that encompasses more than just Democrats and independents. That kind of opposition tends to create a feedback loop that’s hard to ignore — so, for example, the media criticizes something Trump does or says, establishment Republicans join in, and then the media prominently features those GOP critics in its coverage. Some Republican elected officials were initially wary of Trump declaring a national emergency, but I wonder if they will reconsider that posture after seeing these polls. And with few prominent Republicans willing to cast the national emergency policy as an “extraordinary violation of constitutional norms,” as The New York Times described it last week, I suspect the media will feel pressured to cover this debate as a traditional partisan dispute and so will back off from sharper condemnations of Trump.

Like the media, the courts are sometimes hesitant to take strong stands on partisan disputes. So they may be more reluctant to strike down Trump’s policy than they would be if it had gotten more of a mixed reaction from both sides of the aisle.

But the biggest reason these polls matter is they can affect what happens on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this week that the House will likely hold a vote to overturn the emergency declaration. If such a measure passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by Trump, Congress would need a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override the veto. That would require 53 Republicans in the House and 20 in the Senate to break with the president. I thought that was unlikely even before these polls came out. Now, seeing almost universal support for Trump’s declaration among Republican voters, it’s even harder to imagine a large bloc of Republicans in Congress breaking with the president, which means this policy is likely to survive.

Other polling nuggets

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not announced whether he will enter the 2020 Democratic presidential race, leads in South Carolina with 36 percent of the vote, according to a new Change Research survey that was provided to the Palmetto State-based Post and Courier newspaper. Also in double digits were Bernie Sanders (14 percent), Kamala Harris (13 percent) and Cory Booker (10 percent). Twelve other Democrats who either have officially entered the race or are rumored to be considering presidential runs were in single digits.
  • Biden is also ahead in New Hampshire, with 28 percent of the vote, according to a University of Massachusetts, Amherst, poll. Sanders is in second place with 20 percent, and Harris is in third with 14 percent. Seven other Democrats that were included in the survey are in single digits.
  • An average of 54 percent of white Democrats identified as politically “liberal” during the six-year period from 2013 to 2018, according to data released by Gallup this week. That compares with 38 percent of Latino Democrats and 33 percent of black Democrats. There was also variation by education level — Democrats with postgraduate degrees were the most likely to describe themselves as liberal (65 percent), followed by Democrats with undergraduate degrees (58 percent), those who attended college but don’t have degrees (45 percent) and those with high school educations or less (32 percent).
  • The same Gallup survey found major differences among liberal and conservative Democrats on a few issues: 81 percent of liberal Democrats think marijuana should be legal, for example, compared with 44 percent of conservative Democrats. Sixty-four percent of liberal Democrats oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder, compared with 39 percent of conservative Democrats.
  • 45 percent of Democrats said they would be somewhat or very unhappy if their son or daughter married a supporter of the Republican Party, according to a PPRI/Atlantic survey released this week. Thirty-five percent of Republicans said they would be unhappy if their child married a Democrat. Higher shares of Republicans were concerned about their child marrying someone of the same gender (58 percent unhappy) or someone who identified as transgender (70 percent).
  • More than 60 percent of Americans said that the government should pursue policies to reduce the wealth gap and that they support a 2 percent tax on wealth above $50 million, according to a survey conducted by SurveyMonkey that was published by The New York Times this week. Opinion is more divided (51 percent support, 45 percent oppose) on a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income above $10 million a year.
  • Just 17 percent of Virginians said they approved of the job performance of the state’s embattled governor, Ralph Northam (who has denied that he was in a racist photo on his page in his medical school yearbook but has admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s), according to an Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics survey released this week. Thirty-four percent said they disapproved of Northam, while 44 percent said they neither approved nor disapproved. The good news for Northam is that only 31 percent of Virginians said they think he should resign, compared with 43 percent who said they don’t think he should resign. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused by two women of sexual assault, has a slightly worse standing — 35 percent of Virginia residents said they think he should resign, while 25 percent said that he shouldn’t. (The other 40 percent are in neither camp.)
  • A new Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia voters found better job approval numbers for Northam (39 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove). And in this poll too, a plurality (48 percent) of Virginians said he shouldn’t resign.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.7 points). At this time last week, 41.5 percent approved and 54.1 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.3 points.


From ABC News:


Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.

Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall

Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border

Pollster Dates Approve/ Support/ Should Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
CNN/SSRS Jan. 30-Feb. 2 31% 66%
Quinnipiac University Jan. 25-28 31 66
Monmouth University Jan. 25-27 34 64
Quinnipiac University Jan. 9-13 32 65
ABC News/Washington Post Jan. 8-11 31 66
Average 32 65

Source: POLLINGREPORT.COM

The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.

And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.

The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.

Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown

Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown

Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Dates Republicans Independents Democrats
Feb. 1-10 89% 38% 5%
Jan. 21-27 88 32 5
Jan. 2-10, 2019 88 31 6
Dec. 17-22 89 39 8
Dec. 10-16 86 37 7
Dec. 3-9 89 38 7
Nov. 26-Dec. 2 89 39 6
Nov. 19-25 86 34 9
Nov. 12-18, 2018 90 37 6

Polls in the shaded rows were conducted mostly or entirely during the government shutdown.

Source: Gallup

Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.

Or things could get a lot worse than that for Trump, and he could lose independents by a wider margin. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost independents by 12 percentage points, contributing to a 40-seat loss in the House. The key facet about the midterms is that turnout was very high, including among the Republican base. But it was also high among the Democratic base, and Republicans badly lost independents. The base alone isn’t enough to win national elections, especially for Republicans, since fewer voters identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

There’s just not a lot more to say about this. If Trump didn’t learn he needs to reach beyond his base from either the midterms or from the shutdown, he probably won’t figure it out in time for 2020.

How Will The Shutdown End?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): In his first prime-time address to the nation, President Trump told Americans on Tuesday night that the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border was a crisis. He did not declare a national emergency to secure funding for his proposed border wall, but he did suggest that he wouldn’t end the partial government shutdown until funding for the wall was approved.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear in their rebuttal that congressional Democrats were not prepared to give Trump what he’s asking for. Congressional leaders from both parties are scheduled to meet with Trump today, but at this stage, it doesn’t seem as though the government will reopen anytime soon.

So, I’m curious, where do we go from here? We seem to be at an impasse. And the stakes are such that neither party can back down. Is that accurate? What would happen if one party compromised? And Is there a way out of the shutdown that doesn’t require either party to compromise?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Can we start by talking about the television theater of the absurd on Tuesday night?

I thought it was a wildly useless exercise by both the president and the congressional leaders.

It was like a public declaration of impasse.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I agree, Clare. In general, research has shown that Oval Office speeches and the like don’t really change minds. Reportedly, even Trump was skeptical that the speech would make a difference!

sarahf: It certainly was a departure from how previous presidents have used an address from the Oval Office. But it wasn’t clear to me who exactly Trump was trying to reach?

clare.malone: The public nature of it did, as you say, up the stakes for backing down. And maybe that was the point from Trump’s/the White House’s end?

It almost felt like he was just trying to remind everyone in America that there’s a shutdown and that the White House and Congress are having a slap fight.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It felt like Trump was making a kind of Hail Mary. A majority of the public (51 percent) think the president deserves most of the blame for the partial shutdown, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll that was released Tuesday. But some Republican senators are balking at Trump’s strategy. That said, an address from the Oval Office is a card he can play that no one else can. But, yes, it was unlikely to work — presidential addresses don’t generally change minds, as Nathaniel noted. Plus, opinions on immigration are pretty entrenched, and Trump is fairly unpopular.

clare.malone: One thing that struck me was how much Trump’s speech echoed both his inaugural address (“American carnage”) and his campaign announcement back in 2015.

He talked about rapists and murderers, but from the Oval Office. It was fascinating from a historical perspective, I guess. The usurpation of a formula, that formula being the dignified, seemingly apolitical Oval Office address.

perry: This take from Vox’s Dara Lind hits on that theme, too. The headline of her piece is: “‘Immigrants are coming over the border to kill you’ is the only speech Trump knows how to give.”

sarahf: There’s this idea floating around that one purpose of last night’s address was to convince Americans that there is a crisis at its southern border. How could we measure if Trump succeeded in convincing Americans that was true?

perry: I tend to be skeptical of the kind of insider, access-based reporting through which we learned that Trump didn’t want to give the speech. Yes, I’m sure Trump said this, but it’s not like someone made him give the address. He is the president.

clare.malone: It was definitely meant to bring the crisis to Americans’ living rooms. But it seems like a move that doesn’t come from a position of strength. It feels more like a last ditch move of negotiation — a high-profile attempt to shift blame.

Not sure that will work …

nrakich: Yeah, the calm demeanor (unusual for Trump) plus the inflammatory words was a weird juxtaposition.

perry: My guess is that Trump will increase the number of Republicans who say we have an immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. That number is 72 percent, according to the latest Morning Consult poll. I could see that becoming 80 percent or 90 percent. But I doubt that he moved anyone else.

sarahf: So there was talk ahead of the address that Trump would use it to declare a national emergency to go around Congress and move ahead on building the wall. But that didn’t happen. Why?

Do we think it might still happen?

clare.malone: That’s an interesting question. It feels like a Rubicon to cross.

nrakich: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says it’s still on the table:

perry: I really think that’s still on the table. The move is legally questionable. There would be lawsuits. It would be seen as another violation of norms by Trump — inflating an emergency to get done what he can’t get done through Congress. But it’s also the easiest way out of this mess for Trump. Democratic lawmakers are very opposed to the wall, and some Republicans in Congress are not that excited about it either. Trump needs a way out of the shutdown without losing the fight, and declaring an emergency might be the cleanest approach. Yet, it’s also not clean at all, of course.

nrakich: Yeah, Jim Acosta of CNN tweeted that Trump has been seeking advice on it but is hearing that it would be on shaky legal ground.

clare.malone: Once again, the Trump era is a great era for lawyers’ billable hours.

nrakich: Question for you, Perry: Is there any way that this ends with Congress overriding a Trump veto on a funding bill?

It feels like there would be enough Republicans who don’t care about the wall to get to two-thirds of each chamber. We’re already seeing members who are up for re-election in 2020, like Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, backing away from the wall and calling for an end to the shutdown.

sarahf: GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado have called for an end to the shutdown, too.

perry: I really don’t see that. I don’t think we are in a place yet where Republican senators or House members will buck Trump like that. It’s more likely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell passes a bill that has, say, $4 billion in border security funding, including $750 million or so for the wall. Maybe that can pass the House and Trump can sign it.

I think McConnell is a potentially big player here. A bipartisan bill passed in the Senate (and it must have 60 votes to pass the Senate, so it would have to be bipartisan) complicates the strategy for both Pelosi and Trump I think.

nrakich: Yeah, it’s almost always the president who “wins” in a government shutdown. Or at least this has been the case in previous shutdowns, but most of those times, presidents won only by making some sort of concession to their congressional agitators.

sarahf: We’ve also written that government shutdowns don’t typically have lasting negative repercussions for the party considered “responsible.” I do wonder, though, whether that could change in this situation, because the fight is over immigration, which is an issue that has become deeply symbolic for both parties — build the wall, don’t build the wall.

To some extent, doesn’t what’s happening now force Democrats to talk about immigration in 2020?

perry: I don’t think anyone will remember this shutdown by the time people are voting next, which is in almost two years, so I’m skeptical that this has much real electoral impact.

nrakich: I’m open to arguments that the political fallout from a record-long shutdown will also last a record-long amount of time, but, yeah, I agree with Perry — not two years.

clare.malone: I think it’s certainly a gauntlet being laid at the beginning of divided government in Washington, as they say.

It’s tone-setting, from both sides.

sarahf: Tell me more, Clare.

clare.malone: I think that neither side wants to lose face right now with their base. Trump obviously reverts to wall talk, but Schumer and Pelosi would be pilloried if they immediately conceded. So they are demonstrating that they now have a foothold of power in government.

It marks an obvious change in tone from the past couple of years. They’re on the offensive a bit more.

perry: Yeah, one unique aspect of this shutdown is that the Democrats now have a “don’t compromise wing,” too. In previous shutdowns, it was the GOP that had to deal with talk radio and Fox News telling them to fight. But now Democrats have groups like Indivisible that will attack Pelosi and Schumer pretty aggressively if they offer wall funding to Trump.

clare.malone: Everyone’s feisty right now.

sarahf: That’s what’s so interesting about this — to some extent, both parties want border security. Democrats were willing to pass $1.3 billion in funding, but because of Trump’s focus on the wall, it has taken on a life of its own that doesn’t leave much room for compromise.

I don’t see how this ends without one of the parties getting egg on their face.

perry: Yeah, if the wall is a monument to Trump or racism or both, as it’s becoming defined on the left, it’s difficult to see a situation where there’s support to give even $1 for it.

sarahf: What are some ways the shutdown impasse could end? Because it has to end relatively soon, right?

perry: I’m not sure it has to end quickly.

I do think that’s one advantage for Trump, in fact. It seems like he thrives on disruption. He doesn’t want to lose, and he views compromise as a sign of weakness. He also thinks federal workers are basically all Democrats, which is wrong. But the fact that he has said that gives you some sense of how Trump views those affected by the shutdown.

But Democrats are the party that tends to be more pro-government, and while I can’t prove this, I suspect that congressional Democrats are uncomfortable with shutdowns in general. So I don’t know how long they can sustain this shutdown posture.

clare.malone: If this shutdown continues, I’m curious about whether the plight of low-wage federal workers will become a real headline and perhaps a motivating facet of public opinion.

That might not happen, but for some people who have low-paying government jobs, this is a devastating few weeks.

nrakich: Apparently there has been a spike in TSA workers (who are about to miss a paycheck) calling in sick.

If there’s a perception that airport security is compromised, or if we start to see serious delays at airports because of understaffing, that could end this thing quick.

clare.malone: Blue flu

perry: How the shutdown could end: 1) Trump folds, and a bill passes with more border security money but no wall funding. 2) Trump declares a national emergency, which he uses for wall funding, and a government funding bill passes without any wall funding. 3) McConnell figures out some kind of compromise bill, it passes the Senate and both Pelosi and Trump accept. I’m assuming Nos. 2 and 3 are more likely than No. 1, but who knows?

clare.malone: Can I make some facile analysis?

I think Trump would want to declare a national emergency more than he’d want McConnell to figure out a compromise. It’s the option with more “boom” to it.

perry: That seems right to me and not facile at all.

clare.malone: Boom. Boom. (Shout-out to Nate Silver’s college band.)

perry: Liberal groups will say an emergency declaration is a breach of power. Trump keeps losing in court — and I think he might lose here, too, although courts do often give deference to a president citing national security as a rationale for his actions. Remember, the Supreme Court upheld the administration’s travel ban.

clare.malone: Yeaahhhh.

Conservative judges do seem aware of preserving executive powers in real ways.

But I have no legal expertise to say whether an emergency declaration would be a bridge too far, even for the executive power people.

sarahf: To Perry’s point on how this government shutdown might end — I’m not sure how something like option No. 3, in which the parties reach a compromise, pans out. I don’t see a clear path for either party to negotiate, and I’m not sure how this will play out in the court of public opinion.

Up until this point, the American public has largely blamed Trump for the government shutdown, but I do wonder as it drags on how public opinion will shift.

nrakich: More Americans are coming to see the shutdown as a “very serious” problem, according to HuffPost polling.

But I still agree with what was said above: that the shutdown’s effect on public opinion will wear off eventually, as has happened with past shutdowns.

perry: I don’t think public opinion will shift at all. Most people will blame Trump, but that will be Democrats and independents. Republican voters overall will remain committed to the wall. I think the questions are: How long will Republicans in Congress sustain the strategy of shutting down the government over a border wall? And what strategies will they develop to end the shutdown that Trump will accept?

That’s the interesting thing here: Republicans in Congress don’t really care about the wall — if they did, I think they would have pushed really hard to pass it when they had control of Congress in 2017 and 2018. But I think they do care about preserving their relationship with Trump.

sarahf: It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, as I don’t think the issue of immigration is going anywhere anytime soon.