Trump's 2020 polling numbers are a disaster. Why doesn't his press coverage reflect that?

The Beltway press has spent years normalizing many things about Donald Trump's radical presidency. Now it seems to be normalizing Trump's disastrous polling numbers on the eve of his re-election run. Any other incumbent in his lowly polling position would likely be getting hammered by the pundit class as it dubbed his presidency a failure. But not Trump.  

In a jarring new poll last week, Quinnipiac revealed that Trump currently trails Democratic front-runner Joe Biden by a whopping 16 points, and trails all the leading Democratic candidates by wide margins. Trump struggles to get above 40% support against key Democrats in the new survey. And, “For the first time since President Trump was elected, more voters say that the national economy is getting worse than getting better,” Quinnipiac reported.

In terms of modern-day politics and re-election runs launched for the White House, that 16-point deficit versus Biden slightly more than one year out from Election Day represents a jaw-dropping number that for any other incumbent would have produced a tidal wave of negative press coverage, and an entire chapter of punditry prose about how Trump's 2020 chances now appear to be almost nil. But most of the press seemed to shrug at the Quinnipiac results, which arrived on the heels of an Associated Press poll that found his approval rating falling down to a dreadful 36%. Why does Trump seem immune to awful polling numbers as his re-election campaign unfolds?

I'm certainly not here to make predictions about the 2020 election, or to insist that Trump can't win because his polling numbers are so bad today. But I am here to point out that in basically every modern-era re-election campaign before this one, the press took its cues from polling data and religiously used it to assess the incumbent’s chance of victory. For some reason, under Trump, that cardinal rule of coverage seems to have been cast aside, as journalists often ignore Trump's historically poor standing.

Note that this see-no-evil coverage comes just weeks after the press tried mightily to prop Trump up and falsely portrayed him as a president enjoying surging popularity. “Trump reaches highest approval rating of presidency in latest poll,” NBC News recently announced. '”Poll: Trump's approval rating hits highest point of presidency,”The Hill insisted. “President Trump's job approval rating reaches high mark in NPR/PBS/Marist poll after racist tweets,” USA Today proclaimed. And while noting his polling at a soft 44%, The Washington Post stressed that Trump had a real path toward re-election.

Yet none of those reports included any context explaining that Trump's new “highest” still represents a historically low showing.

  • September 1, 2019