Friday, March 30, 2018

BTRTN: The Glass Floor... Why Trump's Approval Rating Never Budges

Despite raging wild firings and stormy weather in D.C., Donald Trump’s approval rating is sailing straight and steady.  Steve unravels the mystery of the unmovable approval rating.  

It is with ever-increasing horror that progressives fixate on Donald Trump’s frozen approval rating, which appears to have been hermetically sealed and preserved in amber like a dinosaur embryo, locked between 38% to 43%, with polls mathematically centered at 42%. 

Democrats have watched the Trump parade careen from racism to misogyny and from shitholes to porn stars. They have seen a President who consistently fails to deliver what he promised to his voters, who enacts a tax plan that favors the rich over his base, and who favors an approach to healthcare that hurts his loyal flock more than it helps. They have been stunned to watch a Republican President demonize and undermine the very institutions that preserve law and order, once the defining values of a vast “silent majority” of Nixonian Republicans.  Finally, the same party that claims that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by blasting his Soviet counterpart to “tear down this wall” is now led by a man who simply cannot say a bad word about the most ruthless Russian tyrant since Stalin.

Progressives rage at the reality that if Barack Obama had done any of the tasteless, ignorant stunts that Donald Trump pulls before lunchtime, Republicans wouldn’t have bothered with outrage, preferring to skip directly to impeachment.

And lefties suffered the indignity of 60 Minutes, when an articulate and credible porn star spanked us with the nauseating details of her sexual encounter with the President… and yet, once again, Trump’s approval rating did not move a micron. Gag me! 

Call it the glass floor. It is invisible and yet seemingly so impenetrable. What gives? Liberals spit out the words through clenched teeth: “What will it take to make those uneducated Red State morons finally change their minds? What atrocity must Trump commit that will actually lower that approval rating?” 

Contrarians at our core, it is our duty and burden here at BTRTN to challenge the premise and reframe the question. 

It is indeed frustrating and galling to speculate what it will take to make Republicans think less of Donald Trump. But it also may miss the point. It is, we believe, more educational to ask what this president is doing to have earned the absolute blind and untouchable loyalty and devotion of 42% of the population. The question is not “what must he do wrong to alienate this core,” but “what is the fix that keeps these addicts coming back for more?” My fellow Americans, ask not what is appalling to liberals, ask what is so implausibly enthralling to red necks. 

Let’s start with the obvious. In the 2016 election – and most American elections since such surveys were conducted – the single issue that the most people tend to rate as “very important” to them was the economy. Yes, twenty-five years later, it is still the economy, stupid. Sure, it is nauseating to watch Donald Trump take credit for the economic recovery and subsequent boom engineered by Barack Obama, which does remind us of Texas Governor Ann Richards’ switchblade slash at Bush the Elder: “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Trump was sworn in to a swelling stock market and has thrown in a couple of cheap, short-term tricks which have sustained momentum. There’s no question that the state of the economy is buoying his support. 

Here’s the key point, though. The economy has been strong since Donald Trump took office, and therefore the sensitivity of his approval rating to an economic downturn has never been tested.  By this logic, Trump’s gamble on tariffs is an extremely risky move.  But for all the people who are primarily motivated by the state of the economy and don’t care much about how that came to be, Donald Trump grades out just fine.

Then there’s the second explanation for a significant percentage of Trump’s intransigent base: single issue voters. Single issue voters are a fascinating phenomenon: they care so intensely about one particular issue that they will make their voting decision on how candidates line up on that issue and that issue only. They will essentially ignore everything else – qualifications, morality, integrity, everything – in order to vote in a person who sides with them on the only issue they care about. 

This, in short, is how you end up with Christian conservatives standing by their philandering man, blithely dismissing Donald Trump’s sleazy bimbo eruptions as they piously file into Sunday service. As long as Trump is in the Oval Office and appointing the likes of Neil Gorsuch to buttress their religion’s pro-life stance, these people couldn’t care what happened in that Moscow hotel.

While there are small percentages of people who identify themselves as “single-issue voters” on matters related to the environment or animal rights, the vast majority of “single-issue voters” line up on opposing sides on the three major social issues of our time… abortion rights, gun rights, and immigration.

 A Gallup survey says that a stunning 17% of Americans are single-issue voters on the matter of abortion rights, and that a higher percentage of pro-life voters are “single issue voters” (21%) than “pro-choice” voters (15%). So right off the bat you have a large group of voters who would cast their ballot for any Presidential candidate whose name is next to the box marked “Republican” because of the party's stance on abortion. Why, these people would even vote for Donald Trump.

A mathematician writing commentary for ABC News identified that fifteen percent of voters are “single issue” voters on the issue preserving their right to bear arms. Those favoring their absolute right to hunt with an AR 15 are much more likely (by a factor of four to one) to be single-issue voters than those who seek restrictions on gun ownership. Let’s hope those Parkland kids can change those stats. 

Trolling the internet did not produce a satisfying statistic on the number of single-issue voters on immigration, but a Nate Silver 538 column quoted a 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election study that “found that 73 percent of Trump voters said immigration was of ‘very high importance’ to them, compared with 24 percent of Clinton voters.” It’s the same dynamic: Republicans appear much more intensely motivated by the part than the whole. They are much more likely to vote on a candidate’s position on a specific single issue rather than by an attempt to measure the gestalt of the candidate on a range of issues, including policy, personality, and qualifications.

The math is crude and directional, but it appears clear that Republicans are more likely to be single issue voters than Democrats. As long as Donald Trump doesn’t actually do anything significant about guns, and as long as he toes the conservative line on Roe v. Wade, and as long as he keeps pretending that Mexico will pay for the wall, there actually is a hard surface under his approval rating. That's a big part of the “glass floor.” The percentage of “single issue voters” on the conservative side of these issues could alone take Donald Trump’s approval rating to the low thirties.  

Beyond the economy and single-issue voters, there is the fascinating fact that mainstream Republican voters never actually hear that much negative reporting about Donald Trump. During Watergate, two vibrant forces in a healthy democracy brought Richard Nixon down. One was the influence of the free press: the Washington Post was certainly perceived to be a liberally-leaning if not actually biased newspaper, but government leaders did not attack, dismiss, and demean its factual reporting as “fake news.” The other was the fact that our leaders put country over party: it was Republican leaders who marched from the Capital to the Oval Office to tell Richard Nixon that his party was abandoning him. A Supreme Court with a number of conservative justices nonetheless voted 8-0 to demand that Nixon release the tapes. And there was the amazing bipartisan work of the Senate Watergate Committee, where the legendary question – “What does the President know, and when did he know it?” – was posed by  Senator Howard Baker… a Republican.
Today, of course, Trump loyalists learn what is happening from the Twitterer-in-Chief, from the Trump sycophants at Fox News, and from Republican leaders who speak only in the seventh-octave voice range of the castrati. Everyone who actually has a platform to reach Trump voters is now maintaining that platform by sucking up to Donald Trump.

Small wonder even Stormy Daniels can’t put a dent in Trump’s approval rating.

We will momentarily depart from any reference to statistics to hypothesize two final binding agents in the chemical formula that has frozen Trump’s approval rating.

This may appall you, lefty, but lots of people just like Donald Trump. They like him for pretty much the reason that All in the Family was a top-rated television show. Trump, like Archie Bunker, is crass, boorish, and given to immediately express whatever crude, uninformed, and usually misspelled mind-fart is expelled when his brain synapses failed to achieve cruising altitude. Enough people mistake this for "refreshing candor" that it is broadly tallied as likeability. Add in the fact that Trump is neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton, and this guy actually wins the popularity contest at the Red State Prom.

There is, sadly, one final issue that seems to be at play in the ferocious Republican commitment to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump legitimizes an immensely broad range of repulsive beliefs and attitudes that have long lingered under the surface of our country, shunned and disgraced in the eras of more enlightened leaders. For a certain portion of our population, Donald Trump makes it permissible to voice racist rage. He makes cheaters feel validated, whether they are cheating on their taxes, their spouses, or their employers. He gives liars permission to lie. Hey, you can practically hear them say, it’s o.k. I’m just doing what the President is doing.

For a certain portion of that shatter-proof glass floor eternally stuck at 42%, Donald Trump is the redeemer of sin. Far from aghast or horrified or disappointed or shocked by his behavior, they revel in the fact that one of their own is calling the shots. Stormy Daniels is not to be viewed as a shameful chapter in the life of a serial sexual predator, she is the symbol of the illicit affair that the spouse back at home never knew about. Trump is the greatest enabler of bigotry and hatred yet produced in the Twenty First Century. You can practically hear the eagerly embraced justifications rising from the poverty and ignorance: Those asshole liberal protesters in Charlottesville? Hey, there was blame on many sides. You know what else? I happen to think a lot of Mexicans are rapists. I think Hillary Clinton should be in jail for Benghazi. I think Barack Obama wasn’t qualified to be President because he was born in Africa.  And now the President of the United States is telling me that I am right.

If you want to know why that approval rating won’t budge, stop imagining that there must be some heinous thing Trump could do that would finally cause it to collapse. Stop thinking about what he could do to make it go down. 

Start thinking about all the things he does to keep it as high as it is.

There is, however, a silver lining in all this for those who search to find it.

Think about this: all of those single-issue voters are not for Donald Trump. They are for guns. They are against abortions. They hate immigrants

The minute Donald Trump proves ineffective at defending their single-issue concerns, his utility to these people ends.  Which is to say this: if Donald Trump leads his party to catastrophic mid-terms and is judged by his own party to be D.O.A. in 2020, single-issue voters will be the first to dump Trump. 

Sure, a certain percentage of them will stand by Trump, and see him as a victim of the do-nothing Congress or the “deep state.” But if his brand proves toxic in the mid-terms, the gun crazies will choose guns over Trump. It was not that they wanted Donald Trump as their President. It was that they want unlimited access to assault rifles and bullets.

It’s not that Christian conservatives want Donald Trump as their President. They just want someone in the White House who will appoint the next Anthony Scalia. If Trump is destined to fail in 2020, the right-to-lifers will choose policy over president. 

Yes, the very thing that will bring down Donald Trump’s approval rating is when single-issue voters suddenly learn that Donald Trump can no longer be counted on to defend their cause. The mid-terms will brand Donald Trump as a loser. And no racist rant, no serial misogyny, no shithole slander, no Robert Mueller, and no Stormy Daniels can ever do the damage to his approval rating as having been proven to be a loser.

Donald Trump will indeed remain unfailingly popular with all those people who love him because he is the redeemer of their sins. But come November, Donald Trump will learn exactly how small that number really is.

Once again, friends, it all comes down to the mid-terms. If we want to see a death spiral in Donald Trump's approval rating, he must be revealed to be a toxic loser  in an historic mid-term defeat. 

If you are frustrated by the glass floor, that is how to shatter it.

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