Democrats' (Not Entirely) 'Bleak Prospects'

By Mark Shields

May 18, 2019 4 min read

In my line of work, I run into more than a few Democrats whose mood swings of late are frankly semi-wild. Last November, when their party won 41 Republican U.S. House seats and took the House majority from the GOP, Democrats were almost giddy, increasingly confident that voters in 2020 would see the error of their ways and make Donald Trump the first American president to be rejected for reelection since George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Lately, however, Democrats are less bullish. The economic news, even with talk of a trade war with China, has been exceptional: The nation has its lowest unemployment rate in a half-century. Hourly earnings are up by 3.2% over last year, and U.S. economic growth as well is up by 3.2% as in the last quarter. In the Gallup poll, some 91% of Republicans approve of President Trump. You're almost tempted to say to Democrats nervous about next year's election, "Cheer up. Eventually, things will get worse."

But history does offer real encouragement for Democrats trying to retire Trump. First, our vote for president is the most personal vote we as citizens cast. We are far more apt to base our vote for a member of Congress or the Senate on specific issues of health care or education or the environment. Because we get an information overload about the presidential nominees — hearing from their colleagues, relatives, classmates and neighbors what kind of a person he or she really is — we get a sense of whether we want that individual in our living rooms and in our lives every day for the next four years.

Here is the polling question I've found valuable since it was asked in 1984:

A. I like Ronald Reagan personally, and I mostly approve of his policies.

B. I like Ronald Reagan personally, but I mostly disapprove of his policies.

C. I dislike Ronald Reagan personally, and I mostly disapprove of his policies.

D. I dislike Ronald Reagan personally, but I mostly approve of his policies.

The Democrats' uphill struggle against the Gipper was evident when about 7 out of 10 voters admitted to personally liking Reagan (four of whom mostly approved of his polices and three of whom mostly disapproved).The task that proved to be impossible was to persuade voters who personally liked Reagan that they could vote against him in November and still like him.

Since then, the question has been asked by The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, and the results are, I believe, instructive. The "like personally" scores of succeeding presidents has been as follows: Barack Obama (2009) 77%, George W Bush (2006) 57%, Bill Clinton (1996) 57%, George H.W. Bush (1991) 78%.

But what about Trump? The returns are sobering: "I like Donald Trump personally and approve of most of his policies" (23%); "I like Donald Trump personally but disapprove of many of his policies"(6 %). In short, a smashing fewer than 3 out of 10 voters personally like Trump, while a majority (52%) answered that they "don't like Donald Trump personally and disapprove of many of his policies."

According to the Gallup poll, only 37% of Americans consider President Trump to be "honest and trustworthy," while 62% do not. Is Trump "a person you admire"? Not so for 64% of his constituents, while 35% think he is. Is Trump likable? No, responded 62% of those asked; only 37% find him appealing.

If, in fact, the vote for president is truly the most personal vote Americans cast, then if the Democrats can nominate someone who is not under indictment or detox with above-average honesty, trustworthiness and likability, 2020 could well be, for the party of Jefferson and Jackson, a very good year.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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