Recent polling on the presidential race of 2020 seems to show President Trump in a very poor position to win reelection. A Fox News national poll and battleground surveys from CBS show Biden and other Democrats with comfortable leads.
A common response from Trump supporters in response to such polls is to point out just how wrong polling was back in 2016. This is certainly a valid reason to be skeptical of polling in this election, and last week I wrote about bipartisan skepticism of early polls showing a landslide victory for Biden, because of 2016 polling discrepancies. But the problems with polling in 2016 aren’t even the only reason why Trump supporters shouldn’t panic about the state of the presidential election. If polling more than a year before a presidential election was a solid predictor of the election outcomes, Barack Obama would have lost in 2012. In July of 2011, a poll conducted by Gallup found Obama trailing the “Republican Party’s candidate for president” by “a significant margin.” Here’s what Gallup had to say back then:
The latest results are based on a July 7-10 poll, and show that the Republican has an edge for the second consecutive month. Obama held a slight edge in May, when his approval rating increased after the death of Osama bin Laden. As his rating has come back down during the last two months, so has his standing on the presidential “generic ballot.”
Gallup typically uses this question format when a president is seeking re-election but his likely opponent is unknown, as was the case in 1991-1992 and 2003-2004, when incumbents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively, were seeking re-election.
The elder Bush held large leads over his generic Democratic opponent throughout 1991, but early 1992 preferences were more evenly divided and Bush eventually lost his re-election bid. The younger Bush also consistently maintained at least a small advantage over the Democrat throughout 2003, before winning re-election in a close contest in November 2004.
The generic Republican candidate was still beating Obama in October. In simple terms, polls this early are quite meaningless. If enthusiasm for Obama wasn’t enough for him to hold a consistent lead in polling in the year before he was reelected, especially in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, there’s little reason to hold much stock in current polling before the Democratic primary has even gone full steam.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis