Hating Donald Trump Won’t be Enough For Democrats to Win

Daniel A. Cox March 3, 2020

Barring a seismic makeover, Donald Trump is poised to run for reelection disliked by most Americans. Even as his job approval ticks up in recent polls, the public’s view of Trump is largely settled. The RealClearPolitics average has Trump facing a double-digit deficit in personal popularity. Fifty-four percent of the public have an unfavorable opinion about him while 43 percent view him favorably.

What’s more, Trump inspires asymmetric passion among the public. The number of Americans who strongly dislike Trump consistently outnumbers those who view him very positively. The January American Perspectives Survey found that 42 percent of the public had a very unfavorable opinion of Trump while 24 percent expressed a very favorable view of him.

But if Democrats plan to coast by on public antipathy alone, they could be in for a rude awakening. First, Donald Trump was elected in 2016 despite historically low favorability ratings. One week before the 2016 election, a majority (57 percent) of Americans had an unfavorable view of Trump. True, his opponent was historically unpopular as well. But a polarized electorate likely means both candidates will be relatively unpopular this year as well.

Second, Americans who express strong affinity for Trump are far more politically engaged than those who express strongly negative feelings. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans who have a very favorable view of Trump say they pay attention to politics most of the time compared to about half (51 percent) of those with very unfavorable views of the president.

Similarly, close to two-thirds (64 percent) of strong Trump supporters say they always vote in elections while fewer than half (48 percent) of those who view him very negatively say the same. And Americans who passionately support the president are more likely to be paying at least fairly close attention to the 2020 election than those who are critical of him (75 percent vs. 66 percent).

Conventional wisdom holds that elections are all about the incumbent’s performance in office and personal appeal. But public disaffection for Trump may not be the most relevant metric to assess his reelection prospects. Trump’s supporters look poised to turn out to support him in large numbers, while his critics’ supporters appear less politically motivated. Democrats will need to offer an appealing candidate and vision for the country if they are to be successful in November.

Survey Reports

Daniel A. Cox, Kyle Gray, Kelsey Eyre Hammond
May 28, 2024

An Unsettled Electorate: How Uncertainty and Apathy Are Shaping the 2024 Election

A survey of more than 6,500 US adults focused on the 2024 presidential election reveals a pessimistic and unsettled American electorate fractured by education, ideology, class, and gender.

Generation Z and the Transformation of American Adolescence Cover Image

Daniel A. Cox, Kelsey Eyre Hammond, Kyle Gray
November 9, 2023

Generation Z and the Transformation of American Adolescence: How Gen Z’s Formative Experiences Shape Its Politics, Priorities, and Future

This report explores the foundational differences between American generations through their formative adolescent experiences.

Young man sitting in a dark room before a wall featuring various conspiracy theory-related items illuminated by a computer screen

Daniel A. Cox, M. Anthony Mills, Ian R. Banks, Kelsey Eyre Hammond, Kyle Gray
September 28, 2023

America’s Crisis of Confidence: Rising Mistrust, Conspiracies, and Vaccine Hesitancy After COVID-19

America is experiencing a crosscutting crisis of expertise and scientific distrust accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic that poses significant challenges to democratic debate and public decision-making

A cartoon showing a vibrant office from the ceiling view.

Daniel A. Cox, Brent Orrell, Kyle Gray, Jessie Wall
September 14, 2023

The Social Workplace: Social Capital, Human Dignity, and Work in America, Volume II

The Social Workplace, Volume II examines Americans’ expectations and experiences surrounding work, the workplace, and key job-related priorities such as pay and interpersonal connections.