There are many reasons President Donald Trump might lose reelection in 2020. He is deeply unpopular. Most Americans abhor his bigotry. His administration has been plagued by all manner of scandals. He has failed to live up to his many grandiloquent promises. The country may be sliding into a recession.
Put all of this together, and it’s easy to imagine Democrats riding a big blue wave to the White House next year. But I fear that it is somewhat more likely that Trump will be able to declare victory on November 3, 2020.
Trump’s approval ratings are the most commonly used metric for how likely he is to win reelection. At first sight, they hold a lot of comfort for the president’s opponents. According to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, for example, more Americans believe he is doing a poor job as president than believe he is doing a good one: About 54 percent disapprove of his performance. Only 42 percent approve of it.
Not only is Trump very unpopular, but his unpopularity is also unlikely to reverse anytime soon. After all, his approval ratings have continually been underwater since the second month of his presidency, and have fluctuated remarkably little since then.
But Trump’s persistent unpopularity is not nearly as big a bar to reelection as many assume. It’s striking, for example, that Trump’s approval ratings are, at this point, very similar to those of two recent presidents who went on to win reelection by resounding margins. While 42 percent approve of Trump’s job performance, just 43 percent approved of both Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan at the same stage in their first terms.