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How Trump's approval rating will shape the 2020 Democratic primaries

Political analysts are closely monitoring President Trump's approval rating to gauge the likelihood he'll be reelected, but his perceived popularity will also have an important impact in shaping the Democratic primaries. Democratic voter ahead of the Iowa caucus, who explained to me that everybody knew that Democrats were going to win the presidential election that year, so they had the luxury of picking whichever candidate they liked best. At the time, Democratic voters had reason to be confident. The party had taken over both chambers of Congress in 2006, the Iraq War remained unpopular, and George W. Bush's approval rating had spent months bouncing around the high 20s to low 30s. Republican candidates were struggling to distance themselves from Bush. This allowed Democrats to go with their heart, which ended up leading them to Barack Obama. I see a similar potential scenario playing out this cycle. If Trump's approval rating remains that its currently high level (for him) of being in the mid-40s, or improves in the months ahead, it will create real nervousness among Democratic voters that it could be reelected. This is probably the best shot to beat Trump, and likely to embrace somebody who may like or agree with more, but who they fear is a risky bet. If, however, Trump's approval rating craters in the coming months, and the growing perception is it will be easily beaten, probably to change how Democratic voters see the race. Instead of playing it safe, more likely to just vote…

Political analysts are closely monitoring President Trump’s approval rating to gauge the likelihood he’ll be reelected, but his perceived popularity will also have an important impact in shaping the Democratic primaries. Democratic voter ahead of the Iowa caucus, who explained to me that everybody knew that Democrats were going to win the presidential election that year, so they had the luxury of picking whichever candidate they liked best. At the time, Democratic voters had reason to be confident. The party had taken over both chambers of Congress in 2006, the Iraq War remained unpopular, and George W. Bush’s approval rating had spent months bouncing around the high 20s to low 30s. Republican candidates were struggling to distance themselves from Bush. This allowed Democrats to go with their heart, which ended up leading them to Barack Obama.

I see a similar potential scenario playing out this cycle. If Trump’s approval rating remains that its currently high level (for him) of being in the mid-40s, or improves in the months ahead, it will create real nervousness among Democratic voters that it could be reelected. This is probably the best shot to beat Trump, and likely to embrace somebody who may like or agree with more, but who they fear is a risky bet.

If, however, Trump’s approval rating craters in the coming months, and the growing perception is it will be easily beaten, probably to change how Democratic voters see the race. Instead of playing it safe, more likely to just vote for the person who would be their favorite regardless of any concern about electability.

For now, it appears that Democratic voters see Joe Biden as the safest pick to go against Trump. As long as that remains the case, a relatively high Trump approval rating will likely bolster his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. However, if Trump’s approval rating is nos-dives, it could create more of an opening for other candidates that may be wary of right now to electability concerns.


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