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.

Why Trump Blinked

President Trump blinked. The 35-day partial government shutdown appears to be ending.

From the start of the shutdown, congressional Democrats said they would not negotiate regarding Trump’s proposal for a border wall until the government reopened. Trump said he would not agree to legislation opening the government unless it included money for the border wall. That standoff lasted until Friday. Congress is expected to pass a bill that funds the government through Feb. 15 and does not include wall money, and Trump said that he would sign it in a Rose Garden address.

Why did Trump back down? Well, for all of the reasons we’ve been talking about for weeks. Polls consistently showed that the public was largely blaming the president, more than congressional Democrats, for the shutdown. That “blame Trump” view had recently gained more traction:

Moreover, Trump’s approval ratings were declining amid the impasse:

The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.

To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.

For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopularand it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

Why Fights Over Immigration Keep Shutting Down The Government

We’re facing the third government shutdown in less than a year this Friday thanks, in part, to a fight over immigration policy. President Trump wants $5 billion for a border wall — an amount that is unlikely to make it through the Senate. Back in January, a disagreement over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program caused a partial government shutdown.1 So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: Why is immigration such a stumbling block?

After all, it wasn’t always like this. Conservatives once backed more liberal immigration policies, and liberals have at times backed more restrictionist ones. In 1986, for example, Ronald Reagan signed a law that granted amnesty to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants. Reagan and George H.W. Bush both used their executive powers to declare that children of undocumented immigrants affected by the Reagan-era law could not be deported. In 2006, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who were both then senators, voted for 700 miles of additional fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a provision to satisfy conservatives concerned about a rise in illegal immigration.2

But over the past couple of decades — as the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. rose steeply and then began to decline — immigration policy has come to symbolize the two parties’ broader values and electoral coalitions. The battle over immigration policy is about way more than just immigration, in other words, in the same way that the tensions between the two parties on health policy reflect deeper fault lines. The politics of immigration today are notably more divided and partisan than they were 10 or 20 years ago, and there are a few reasons why.

First, there are the party coalitions. Compared to the mid-2000s, the Democratic Party of today includes fewer non-Hispanic white voters: 67 percent people who are or lean toward being Democrats were non-Hispanic whites in 2007, but that number had dropped to 59 percent in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent of self-identified Democrats are now nonwhite. Republicans too have grown more racially diverse, but only barely, and they are still overwhelmingly white: 88 percent in 2007, compared to 83 percent in 2017. About 12 percent of Democrats are Hispanic, roughly double the percentage of Republicans who are of Hispanic descent.

So the Democrats have a huge bloc of people in their party who have racial, ethnic and cultural ties to America’s most recent immigrants, who are largely Asian- and Latino-American. And while “minorities” and “people of color” are fraught terms that often ignore differences both between and within racial and ethnic groups, the Democrats are essentially now the home party for Americans who might feel that U.S. society treats them as “other.”

Secondly, while both parties have undergone ideological shifts, Democrats have shifted more dramatically. Pollsters ask a variety of questions to measure public opinion on immigration, but they all show the same thing: Democrats have become far more pro-immigration in recent years.

According to Pew, in 2006, 37 percent of Democrats3 said that legal immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, compared to 20 percent who said it should increase.4 Pew found a huge reversal in those numbers earlier this year: 40 percent of Democrats back higher immigration levels, compared to 16 percent who want them lowered. According to Gallup, 85 percent of Democrats now feel immigration is a “good thing” for America, compared to 69 percent who said the same in 2006. Republicans haven’t actually become more anti-immigration, according to Pew and Gallup. But, per Pew, there are more Republicans5 who want immigration decreased (33 percent) than who want it increased (22 percent).

As a result, the gap between the parties on questions about immigration has become a chasm:

And immigration is indicative of a broader shift: Democratic voters have grown more liberal on issues of race, gender and identity generally. That includes white Democrats.

The voters are not alone. Elites in each party have moved toward the ideological poles on immigration policy. Liberal-leaning activists and Democratic politicians argue that policies like the wall aren’t just bad or ineffective, they are immoral and racist. Trump and other conservatives have suggested that more immigration could both hurt the U.S. economy and lead to more crime.

Let me avoid making this a both-sides story: For the most part, Democrats are more aligned with overall public opinion on immigration. The majority of voters want undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to be protected from deportation, and Democrats’ demand for that provision that led to last winter’s shutdown. Likewise, most voters don’t support a border wall, but Trump is driving toward a shutdown in pursuit of a wall, an idea that many congressional Republicans are fairly lukewarm about.

That said, America did elect a president (in 2016) and a Senate majority (in 2016 and 2018) who belong to the party that is generally less supportive of immigration, so either there is some appetite for a middle ground or immigration is not a deal-breaker issue for many Americans. Either way, it would be logical for the two sides to find a compromise. But the shifts the parties have undergone in the last 10 or so years make such a compromise hard to execute. Democratic leaders can’t easily sign on to any funding for a wall that their base thinks is a physical monument to racism, particularly since the top Democratic leaders are white but much of the party base is not. Trump can’t easily give up on the wall, since he basically campaigned on the idea that America needs a wall to remain a great nation.

So we’re already at two shutdowns involving immigration policy in the Trump era — and I would not rule out a few more.