Obama approval ratings could predict Trump loss

The question that many Americans will be asking themselves at the ballot box this November will be, “which candidate do I dislike the least?” In an ideal world, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be spending most of their time emphasizing their credentials, promoting their policies, and expressing hope for the future of the country. Instead, the campaigns have become catapults for back-and- forth mudslinging. As evidenced by the record-breaking unfavorable numbers of both candidates, many of the attacks have been direct hits. While pundits warn against Donald Trump’s instability or point to Hillary Clinton’s scandals, some Americans who once disapproved of Barack Obama have begun to appreciate his comparative steadiness and transparency. Obama has watched his approval ratings rise in the midst of a vicious election cycle, and Hillary Clinton will seek to use those numbers as a selling point. Forher rival, Donald Trump, Obama’s rising approval ratings undermine one of the central themesof his campaign.

Even before Trump launched his political career, he was a prominent critic of President Obama. Their public feud dates back to 2011, when the self-proclaimed billionaire latched onto,and became the de-facto leader of, the right-wing conspiracy theory claiming that Obama was born outside of the United States, and therefore ineligible to be president. He used his celebrity status to provide the “birther” movement a platform and made false claims such as that he was investigating evidence that would prove the hidden truth of Obama’s foreign birth. For example, he said that he sent a team to Hawaii, and that “they [could not] believe what they [were] finding.” Shortly thereafter, the White House released Obama’s long form birth certificate. This settled the matter for objective observers, and Donald Trump stopped talking about it. At the White House Correspondent’s Dinner that same year, an annual ritual where the President is expected to do a stand-up comedy routine, Obama devoted about three minutes of his speech to Trump’s “birther” involvement. He said, “No one is happier to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald, and that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing?” Trump’s grim-faced response to jokes from Obama and Seth Myers, along with his quick exit, prompted many news headlines that declared Trump’s humiliation. It has been reported that Trump’s wounded feelings from this night were the catalyst for his 2016 presidential campaign. “That evening of public abasement, rather than sending Mr. Trump away, accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature within the political world.” Five years later, the business mogul steamrolled through the thick Republican primary competition with his trademark insults and cutting tweets. But as the Republican nominee in the general election, will his belligerent and blatantly pessimistic message be a winning strategy? Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail reflects a deep-rooted personal resentment against Obama and his administration. This routine extremity is displayed by his claim that “Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS”. Given Obama’s rising approval ratings, can Trump afford to alienate the 54% of Americans who approve of Obama’s presidency if he wants to win in November?

Trump has said: “I think President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history. He has been a disaster as a president. He will go down as one of the worst presidents in the history of our country.” These three sentences illustrate a fundamental premise of Donald Trump’s campaign: that Barack Obama has essentially ruined the country and that “I alone can fix it.” If the polls are accurate that a majority of the population approves of Obama’s performance as president, then Trump is running against the tide of public opinion, and history isn’t on his side either. According to Rasmussen Reports, in an open presidential election with no incumbent running, there is a strong relationship between the job approval of the outgoing president and the fortunes of the nominee from the president’s party. “All three candidates seeking to succeed presidents with approval ratings below 50% were defeated, and the two seeking to succeed presidents with approval ratings below 40% were decisively defeated. In contrast, two of the three candidates seeking to succeed presidents with approval ratings over 50% won the popular vote.” With the economy slowly, but steadily recovering from the recession, the only major predictor of the election subject to fluctuation has been the outgoing president’s job approval rating. With Obama’s numbers’ trending upward, and now over 50%, Trump needs to tone down his anti-Obama rhetoric if he hopes to court some of Obama’s supporters. Trump’s recent campaign shake-up indicates that he may plan to pivot and offer a more presidential message, but if he fails to do so, the new moves could be seen as simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.