Trump reaches career-high approval, yet faces a range of re-election risks: Poll

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House, June 26, 2019.PlayMandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Trump's approval ratings on the rise

Bolstered by a strong economy, Donald Trump reached the highest job approval rating of his career in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll and runs competitively for re-election against four of five possible Democratic contenders. Yet he remains broadly unpopular across personal and professional measures, marking his vulnerabilities in the 2020 election.

Forty-four percent of Americans approve of Trump’s overall job performance, up a slight 5 percentage points from April and 2 points better than his peak early in his presidency. Still, 53% disapprove, keeping him at majority disapproval continuously for his first two and a half years in office, a record for any president in modern polling.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

Fifty-one percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, more than half for the first time in his presidency. His approval ratings across eight other issues all are substantially lower, ranging from 42% on handling taxes to 29% on global warming.

Personally, moreover, a broad 65% say that since taking office Trump "has acted in a way that’s unpresidential," not far from the 70% who said so in mid-2017 and early 2018 alike. Just 28% in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say his behavior is "fitting and proper" for a president.

That said, support for Congress initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump remains unchanged since April at 37%, while opposition to this step has grown by 13 points since August to 59%, a new high. Sixty-one percent of Democrats favor impeachment action, but just 37% of independents – and 7% of Republicans – agree.

Trial Heats

Even while it’s up, Trump’s historically low approval rating makes him vulnerable in the 2020 elections – but hardly a pushover. Among all adults (there’s plenty of time to register to vote), Joe Biden leads Trump by 14 points. But that narrows among the other four Democrats tested against Trump in this poll – an 8-point lead for Kamala Harris, a slight 7 points for Elizabeth Warren, 6 for Bernie Sanders and 4 for Pete Buttigieg. The latter two don’t reach statistical significance.

Among registered voters, moreover, Biden still leads, by 10 points, but the other races all tighten to virtual or actual dead heats – Trump a non-significant -2 points against Harris, -1 against Sanders and exactly tied with Warren and Buttigieg.

PHOTO:Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests on June 28, 2019, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE
PHOTO:Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests on June 28, 2019, in Chicago.

Another question tests Trump against "a Democratic candidate who you regard as a socialist" –relevant given the Republicans’ stated aim of applying that label to their eventual opponent. Among the general public the race is tied among Trump vs. a perceived socialist; among registered voters it goes +6 to Trump, 49% to 43%, not a significant difference.

Results show some notable differences among groups. Moderates favor Biden over Trump by a 29-point margin, compared with 18- to 15-point margins for Warren, Sanders or Buttigieg vs. Trump (and 21 points for Harris). Biden leads among most groups save traditionally GOP-leaning ones, including whites who lack a college degree, conservatives, older adults and rural Americans. Among blacks, Biden’s 83-12 lead is as good as Harris’ 77-16%. And Biden has a 17-point lead among college-educated white women, which is better than Harris’ 9 points and Warren’s 7 points in the same key Democratic group. Indeed neither of those is a statistically significant lead.

Trump's campaign responded to the poll Sunday morning, telling ABC News that the president in a stronger position for his re-election bid than past incumbents, including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. The campaign added that Trump will stress the issues, rather than matchups between any of the Democratic candidates.

The differences between all adults and registered voters mark a longtime GOP advantage; their support groups are more apt to be signed up to vote. Just 64% of 18- to 29-year-olds, a broadly Democratic group, are registered, vs. 92% of those 50 and older. And only 71% of nonwhites are registered, including 61% of Hispanics (a group with more younger adults and non-citizens alike), vs. 89% of whites.

These are early days, of course, with time aplenty for preferences to develop. It’s also worth noting that, as the 2016 contest showed, polling ahead in – and winning – the national vote is not necessarily the same as winning the Electoral College.

Intensity Gap

Other questions show the extent of political divisions on Trump’s reelection campaign, with an edge to Democratic supporters in intensity of sentiment, specifically the level of importance they place on winning.

Among current Trump supporters (those who back him against all Democrats tested), 52% call it extremely important to them that he wins a second term. At the same time, among current Democratic supporters (those who back all Democrats tested vs. Trump), 73% call it extremely important to them that Trump does not win – a wide 21-point intensity gap for the opposition. The question is whether that translates into turnout.

In another measure, 48% of adults say there’s no chance they’d consider Trump against any Democratic candidate. It’s 46% among currently registered voters.

Issues

The economy, health care and immigration top the public’s list of most important issues in the 2020 election, each cited by about eight in 10 Americans. Foreign policy, gun violence, issues of special interest to women and taxes make up the next tier, each called a top issue by about seven in 10. Abortion (highly important to 61%) and global warming (54%) follow.

There are partisan divisions in these views, some quite striking. Democrats are 14 points more likely than Republicans to cite health care – the key winning issue for Democratic candidates in 2018 – as a top voting issue in 2020. It’s the same gap for abortion. The gap grows on gun violence and women’s issues, with Democrats 24 points more apt than Republicans to name either as highly important issues. And it’s a vast 55 points on global warming.

Republicans, for their part, are 24 points more likely to say taxes are a top issue in their vote. They’re also less keyed up about these issues in general, with an average top importance score of 68% (73% excluding global warming), vs. 79% among Democrats.

Single Payer

Views on "Medicare for all" in health care further mark the partisan gap in policy preferences. Fifty-two percent of Americans support a government-run, taxpayer-funded insurance program like Medicare for all people. That includes 77% of Democrats, declining to 48% of independents and then dropping further to 22% of Republicans.

Support for a single-payer system was 56% in 2006 and is down from 62% in an ABC/Post poll in 2003. Compared with 2003, there’s been essentially no change among Democrats (73% support then, 77% now), but big drops in support among independents, down 17 points, and Republicans, down 23 points.

If such a system did away with private health insurance, support declines to 43% overall – 64% among Democrats, vs. 40% among independents and 14% among Republicans. That makes it a potential wedge issue for the GOP.

At the same time, underlying concerns are extensive. Seventy-one percent of Americans are very or somewhat worried about being able to afford the cost of their health care (including 45% very worried). On this, Democrats and independents are aligned, at 79% and 73%, respectively. It’s lower but still a majority among Republicans, 58%. As such, while the GOP appeals to concerns about the potential demise of private insurance, the Democrats may push back with arguments about the high cost of care in the current system.

Referendum

At the end of the day, a second-term election is a referendum on the incumbent. Reaching a career high is a good result for Trump – though he has far to go. His rating has been both extraordinarily stable (36% to 44%) and low since he took office. He’s averaged 39% approval in his first two and a half years, the lowest on record in the same period for any president in polling data back to the Truman administration – and a broad 21 points below the pre-Trump average, 60%.

Partisan differences in views of Trump are vast; 87% of Republicans approve while just 10% of Democrats agree. But there are some issues on which he’s less well rated in his own party, slipping under 70% approval on gun violence, issues of special importance to women, abortion and, especially – at just 58% in-party approval – global warming.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, June 29, 2019. Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, June 29, 2019.

In terms of the election, it helps to focus on independents, as they’re likeliest to serve as swing voters. Trump has a 43% overall job approval rating among independents; 54% disapprove, with more disapproving strongly (46%) than strongly approving (30%). Across the eight individual issues tested in this poll, Trump’s approval among independents goes lower, averaging 39%.

Independents are in the middle generally, and almost precisely at the midpoint between Democrats and Republicans on the top three issues of importance to voters in the election, the economy, immigration and health care. That further marks these issues as the field on which the campaign ahead is likely to be fought most intensely.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone June 28-July 1, 2019, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,008 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 29-23-37%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

ABC News' Rachel Scott contributed to this report.