Poll: Trump is as strongly disliked now as Nixon was before he resigned

First things first: The theme song of the week is Gotcha by Tom Scott from the television show “Starsky and Hutch.”

Poll of the week: A new Marist College poll finds that 20% of Americans rate President Donald Trump’s job performance as excellent, 20% as pretty good, 13% as only fair and 45% as poor.

There is, not surprisingly, a large gap between how members of the two parties view Trump. Although only 2% of Democrats say Trump is doing an excellent job, 49% of Republicans do. Democrats are far more likely to give a poor rating at 80% compared to 6% of Republicans.

What’s the big idea: Trump has, throughout his first term, maintained a low but fairly steady approval rating. He’s also had a high disapproval rating. Because Trump’s ratings have remained in stasis relative to other presidents, a number have “caught up” to Trump’s unpopularity at this point in their presidency. Put another way: Trump is no longer clearly the least popular president at this point in his presidency.

What still makes Trump unique though is the amount of intensity his detractors have for him. You might say many strongly dislike him. The excellent, pretty good, only fair and poor scale allows us to get at that because it’s been asked for every president since President John Kennedy.

Trump is as strongly disliked as President Richard Nixon was when he resigned the presidency 44 years ago this week. Back then, 45% of people said Nixon was doing a poor job as president in a Harris poll.

Among Democrats, the intensity of the dislike toward Trump is even deeper today than it was against Nixon back in 1974. Back in 1974, 70% of those who said they voted for Democrat George McGovern in 1972 (37% of the sample) gave Nixon a poor rating. That’s 10 percentage points below the 80% of Democrats (35% of the Marist sample) who give Trump a poor rating today.

What’s so interesting is that even though a majority of people didn’t strongly dislike Nixon, it’s not like they wanted to stay him in office. The Harris poll back in 1974 found that 56% of Americans wanted him impeached and removed from office compared with only 34% who didn’t want that to happen. Among McGovern voters, it was 83%. Clearly, Americans didn’t like Nixon, but it didn’t boil over into strong dislike in the same way it does with Trump.

The intensity factor goes both ways with Trump, though. While as many Americans strongly dislike Trump today as they did Nixon back in 1974, a lot more love Trump today than loved Nixon in 1974. Just 7% of Americans said that Nixon was doing an excellent job in the last Harris poll taken before he left office. That’s far lower than the 20% who give Trump an excellent rating now.

The love for Trump now among Republicans is also considerably greater than it was for Nixon in 1974. Among those who were going to vote for a Republican for Congress in 1974 and had voted in 1972 (26% of the sample), only 20% gave Nixon an excellent rating. That’s far less than the 49% of Republicans (27% of the sample) who give Trump an excellent rating today.

The love and dislike Trump elicits has proven to be a positive and a negative for him. It’s been a positive because so few Republican lawmakers have been willing to abandon him given they feel he is beloved by the base. Additionally, it has helped Trump from falling too far below an overall approval rating of 40%.

The number of Americans who hold strong negative feelings towards Trump is, however, significantly greater than the number who hold strong positive feelings.

In fact, it’s record breaking how many give Trump a poor rating this early in his presidency.

President Ronald Reagan, for example, had a higher combined “only fair” and poor in an August 1982 Harris poll than Trump currently has. In 1982, however, only 26% rated Reagan’s job performance as poor. That’s far below Trump’s current 45%.

Like Reagan did in 1982, President Bill Clinton had a higher combined “only fair” and poor rating than Trump in a late July 1994 Harris poll. His poor rating though was just 24%.

Or how about one of Trump’s favorite punching bags: President Barack Obama. A June 2010 Pew Research Center poll found that 56% of Americans thought he was doing an “only fair” or poor job. His poor job rating was similar to both Clinton’s and Reagan’s at 27%.

All of these presidents saw major midterm losses for their party. There’s no reason to believe Trump’s Republican Party won’t suffer as much if not moreso.

The intensity of the disapproval for Trump has translated to a significant enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans in midterm polling and special elections. It could drive Democrats to their greatest House seat gain in a midterm since the last time a Republican president had such a high poor rating in that midterm year. That of course was in 1974.