From Job Approval to the Ballot Box

“Generic-ballot” polls predict a nine or ten point Democratic victory in House elections this fall, enough to flip the chamber.

As most observers know, support for the Democrats on the so-called “generic-ballot” question has moved inversely to the public’s opinion about Donald Trump’s performance in office.


Can we use this link between support for the parties on the generic-ballot question and Trump’s job approval figures to forecast possible election results in November?

There are 228 generic-ballot polls in my current dataset covering the period from Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, through June 9, 2018.  Of those 228 polls, 209 also collected data on presidential approval.  Those 209 polls constitute the sample for this analysis.

A weighted-least-squares model using my standard predictors — days in office, polling method, and polling sample — plus the net Trump job approval score “explains” about half the variance in the size of the Democrats’ lead on the generic-ballot question.  Overall, the Democrats’ lead has increased at a slow, but discernible pace since the Inauguration.  Even after taking Trump’s job approval into account, I find support for the Democrats grows about 0.3 percent every hundred days.  At that pace, the Democrats will have picked up about 2.2 percentage points by the time the election takes place on November 6th, some 655 days after Trump took office.

Two other factors influence the size of a poll’s Democratic lead.  The Democrats do about 2.2 percent worse in online polls than in ones conducted by telephone. On the other hand, polls restricted to “likely” voters show a marginally significant (p < 0.11) boost for the Democrats of 1.3 percent.  That might indicate a slight Democratic advantage in voter mobilization going into the fall, but the effect is still too small, and too variable, to be taken seriously at the moment.

These factors remain constant in the face of changes in Trump’s job approval and the passage of time.  We can thus set them at their values on Election Day and see how the margin in the generic House ballot varies with changes in Trump’s job-approval rating.  This chart presents the likely Democratic lead on the generic-ballot question in polls conducted with live interviewers on Election Day, November 6th. The dotted line represents the effect of adding the small, marginally-significant boost for polls of likely voters:


As of July 20, Trump’s net job approval (approve-disapprove) is averaging about -11 (42-53). My estimates indicate that difference translates into a Democratic margin of 8.8 percent in generic-ballot polls.  Notice that the remaining factors in the model predict a Democratic margin of about six to seven percent even if Trump’s net approval score is zero. That might be a decent estimate of the so-called “blue-wave.”

Models of the relationship between House votes won and House seats won find that, to take back the House, the Democrats will likely need to win by a margin of +7 or better to overcome gerrymandering and partisan geographic self-selection.  For instance, The Economist’s simulation model for the House midterms predicts that the Democrats will win 54.3 percent in November, or a margin of 8.6 percent.  In their model that gap translates into a Democratic seat margin of 224-211, enough to retake control of the House.

History suggests that both the President’s approval rating and support for the President’s party in the House are lower on election day than they are in the spring.

 

Update on Family Separations

Some 1,500 children remain separated from their parents and in government custody.  Only 52 percent of children whose cases have been reviewed have been reunited with their parents.

The Federal Government has provided new figures concerning the migrant children separated from their parents at the border as part of the proceeding before Judge Dana Sabraw.  I have used these figures, along with my previous accounting, to develop estimates of the number of children reunited with their parents, and those not yet reunited for a variety of reasons. I start with the total of 4,954 separated children I estimated earlier including both children separated during the “zero-tolerance” period and those separated during the “pilot program.”  There are three official sources of information on reunifications.  The first is a “fact sheet” from DHS which reported that 538 children had been reunited with their parents “as part of the Zero Tolerance initiative.” Some number of these children may have been separated before zero tolerance, but we have no way of knowing how many.  The “Fact Sheet” also fails to mention the number of children whose cases were processed but who remain in government custody.  I will estimate that number below.

The other two sources of data on reunifications comes from the filings made by the government in the case of Ms. L.v. ICE before Judge Dana Sabraw.  On June 26th Judge Sabraw ordered that the government must reunite all separated children.  The government has since submitted two filings to the court reporting on its progress.  The first, filed July 12th, concerned the disposition of the supposed 103 children in custody who were under five years of age.  (This figure of 103 remains suspiciously low.)  Late this past Thursday, July 19th, the government reported on its progress with the older children in its custody.

The government could only identify and clear the parents of 57 of the youngest children.  The other 46 remain in government custody because it determined the child might be subject to abuse, the parents were in custody or had criminal records, the associated adult was not the child’s parent, or, in twelve cases, the parent(s) had already been deported.  The clearance rate was higher for the older children.  364 of them were reported to be reunited with parents, and in another 848 cases the parent(s) were identified and cleared, but the reunification had yet to take place.  However the government also identified another 908 children whose parent(s) were either declared ineligible or whose eligibility was still unresolved.

The one remaining piece of the puzzle concerns the number of children separated before zero tolerance began who were subsequently reunited with their parent(s).  If we assume that their cases were disposed of at the same rate as cases during zero-tolerance, we can estimate the number of reunited children from that earlier period.  Combining together the 57 reunited young children with their 364 older reunited peers, and counting the 848 children awaiting reunification, gives us a total of 1,269 children either reunited or awaiting reunification.  In comparison 46 young children and 229 older ones remain separated because their parents were not cleared.  If we add to that the 908 children who may also be ineligible, we get a total of 1,183 children whose cases have been reviewed without reunification,  Applying the same “clearance rate” to the period before zero tolerance gives us an estimate of 502 children from that period who remain ineligible for reunification.


The rate at which parents are declared ineligible should be a major source of concern.  Of the 3,492 separated children whose cases I estimate were resolved by July 19th, only 1,807, or just 52 percent, were reunited or awaiting reunification with their parents.  It is hard to fathom how nearly half of all separated parents are considered unfit to take back custody of their children.

Tracking Family Separations

How the number of separated children grew to nearly 4,300, and why many more than 103 of them must be under five years of age.

In the last post I offered a simple bookkeeping model using reported figures from DHS and plausible extrapolations to estimate the number of children separated from their parents at the border since October, 2016.  Here is the time track of the number of children in custody. The solid lines connect points based on DHS reports; the dotted lines are estimates.


The black lines represent the period of “zero tolerance,” during which nearly 3,000 children were taken from their parents.  Since then DHS has reported 538 reunifications that span zero-tolerance and maybe earlier.  I estimate another 126 children were reunited with parents between the end of family separations on June 20th and July 5th when DHHS Secretary Azar told reporters the number of children in custody numbered “fewer than 3,000.”

Much attention has been paid to the 103 children under five who were supposed to be reunited with their parents last week.  A rate of 103 children under five from a population of  “fewer than 3,000” separated children is entirely preposterous.  About one in three children living in the countries from which most families migrate is under five years of age.  There must be hundreds more “tender-aged” children in custody than the government has accounted for so far.

How Many Separated Children are in Custody?

The Department of Homeland Security’s own reports indicate that over 4,200 children have been separated at the border, much higher than the current official figure of fewer than 3,000.  Also there must be many more than 102 children under five years of age.

Since the introduction of the policy of “zero-tolerance” on our southern border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a set of inconsistent reports about the number of children taken into custody and the number reunited with family members.  Now that a Federal judge has ordered that all the separated children be reunited expeditiously, the Department of Health and Human Services, in whose custody parent-less child immigrants are placed, now states that the number in their care is “fewer than 3,000.”  That figure is not consistent with the existing reports from DHS.

In a telephone call with reporters DHHS Secretary Alex Azar said on July 5th that an extensive review led him to believe his agency had custody of “fewer than 3,000” separated children.  Yet a week earlier DHS had reported just over 2,000.  Azar attributed this discrepancy to the court order requiring “officials to go back further in time and comb through thousands of cases to find any separated children.”

We have one good estimate of the number of children taken prior to zero-tolerance.  On June 29th DHS told NBC News that a “pilot program” had already separated 1,768 children through February, 2018,  a figure which had probably grown to 2,000 by the time zero-tolerance took effect on May 7th.

Also the last DHS report on the number of separated children ends on June 9th, eleven days before the President’s ordered an official end to separating families.  Extending the DHS figures through June 20th adds nearly 700 more children to the total.  In the sections below I will review the DHS reports then use them to estimate the total number of separated children.

The Evidence

Here is a compilation of the varying reports on the number of separated children from the Department of Homeland Security:


According to the NBC News report, nearly 1,800 children were already in custody by the end of February, 2018, weeks before the Attorney General ordered “zero-tolerance” for all migrants.  Separations were fairly rare in this period though, averaging fewer than five per day between last October and February of this year.

DHS issued two overlapping reports after the imposition of zero-tolerance.  One covered the period from April 19th until May 31st; the other covered May 5th through June 9th.  Even this second report did not include the entire period of zero-tolerance which lasted until President Trump’s order on June 20th.

Reports since then have been inconsistent.  On June 20th DHS reported 2,053 children in Health and Human Services custody; a week later that figure fell by just six to 2,047.  Yet in between those two reports, on June 23rd, DHS reported that over 500 children had been reunited with their parents, which should have brought those totals down considerably.  Finally we have Secretary Azar’s announcement of fewer than 3,000 children in custody as of July 5th.


The Estimates

I have tried to reconcile these figures as best I can.  I use the daily separation rate for periods when it is can be calculated to estimate the number of separated children for periods when data are not available.   Including the “pilot” program, and unreported periods during zero-tolerance, I estimate that nearly 4,300 separated children remain in government custody, more than forty percent higher than Secretary Azar’s figure:


As an example of the calculations involved, take the number of children before zero tolerance began.  Official DHS figures cover the period from October, 2016, through February, 2018.  That leaves some 66 days between the end of that report and the onset of zero tolerance on May 7th.   I use the estimate of 4.7 separations per day from the second DHS report to estimate that another 309 children were separated from their parents during those 66 days.  The same method is used to generate the other figures marked “Estimate” in the table above.  Note that using the 4.7 per-day rate is probably a conservative estimate of the rate of separations between March 1st and May 5th.

On June 23, DHS reported that 538 children had been reunited with their parents “as part of the Zero Tolerance initiative.”  I have attributed all those children to the zero-tolerance period.  (There is no data on the number of reunited children taken before zero-tolerance began. I return to that issue below.)  If we assume that reunifications continued at the same pace through July 5th, another 126 children would have been returned to their parents between June 23rd and July 5th, raising the estimated total to 664.

Adding together the estimates for separations before and during zero tolerance gives us the total number of children reportedly detained at the border since late 2016. Subtracting the estimated number of family reunions provides the estimate for how many separated children likely were still in government custody as of July 5th.  That figure of 4,290 is some forty-three percent higher than Secretary Azar’s estimate of  “fewer than 3,000.”

I have not found figures for reunifications prior to zero-tolerance.  Some of the 2,077 children taken before May 7th may have been reunited with their parents.  But even if we assume as many as a quarter of them were placed back in their parents’ arms, that would still leave the total number of children separated from their parents closer to 4,000 than to Azar’s 3,000.


How many children are under five years of age?

The court order mandated that children under the age of five had to be reunited with their parents fourteen days after the order went into effect, or July 10, 2018; for older children the deadline was thirty days (July 26).  Azar told reporters in the telephone call-in that only about 100 of the children in DHHS custody, or about three percent, were under five.  This past weekend, under order from Judge Sabraw, the government turned over to the ACLU a list of 102 children that purportedly included all those under five in the government’s custody.  This figure is implausibly low.

First, even if the proportion of young children was only three percent, my estimate of 4,290 total separations implies that the total number of young children should be closer to 143.  However the three percent figure itself is highly suspect given the age distribution of children living in the three countries from which most asylum-seekers emigrate — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The CIA’s World Factbook reports the “population pyramids” for every country.  Here are the charts for those nations:


The bottom four bars of each graph depict the numbers of boys and girls in four age groups, 0-4, 5-9, 10-14, and 15-19.  In both Guatemala and Honduras about a quarter of all children and teens are under the age of five.  For El Salvador, whose birth rate has slowed in comparison to the other two countries, young children constitute a somewhat smaller share.

Now we can certainly imagine that worried parents might be reluctant to carry a two-year-old child across hundreds of dangerous miles to seek refuge in the United States.  That would imply that the age distribution of the separated children skews somewhat older than the source populations from which they are drawn.  Even with such an older skew though, Secretary Azar’s figure of just three percent remains highly dubious.  If the proportion of separated young children were just ten percent, or half or less of the actual proportion of very young children living in these countries, there should be over four hundred children subject to the July 10th deadline, not 102.

One other feature of the DHS reports also bears mentioning.  Notice in the first chart that the numbers of separated children and parents are nearly equal. That ratio is consistent with either single parents carrying a single child, or couples with two children. It is unlikely that most of these are single-parent families given the high proportion of Catholics in the source countries and the consequent low divorce rates like those reported for Guatemala. Some of these parents might have left their spouses behind to look after other children or have come to be reunited with a spouse already in the United States.

Are Some Republicans Leaving Donald Trump?

Recent polling suggests Trump has been losing support among Republican voters since the spring.  Likely Republican voters show less support than other Republicans.

It has become a commonplace among journalists and pundits to observe that Republican voters have remained largely behind President Trump.  Recent polling still shows job-approval ratings for the President among Republicans remaining in the 85 percent range.  But that focus on individual polls obscures a more complex trend, one that does not bode well for President Trump and his Republican Party.

This graph presents the “net approval” score (percent approving minus percent disapproving) for Republican voters in polls that disaggregate their results by partisanship.  Like in the country at large, support for Trump declined during 2017 but has rebounded this year.  (These data end before the decision to separate children and parents at the southern border became a national news event.)  I estimated the trajectory of support using a fourth-order polynomial based on time in office, with the usual array of dummy variables to adjust for polling methods and “house effects.”

The bold line representing the President’s approval rating among likely Republican voters should be especially troubling.  The Republicans most likely to turn out in November average about five points lower on net job approval than do other Republicans.

Even casual examination of the data points displayed here show that Republicans’ opinions about Trump’s performance in office have displayed wide variability since he entered the Oval Office.  However the most recent polling shows a decline in approval since the spring of 2018.

How Popular will the President be in November?

Most presidents are less popular when mid-terms are held than they are in late spring.

In an earlier piece about the “generic” Congressional ballot question, I presented the trends in support for the parties over the course of the summer for a few mid-term elections.  However that question has been asked on a more limited basis than the standard Presidential job-approval question, which Gallup began asking back when FDR served.  As I showed earlier, trends in the job-approval question track inversely with changes in the generic-ballot item. Given the tie between presidential popularity and mid-term outcomes, we might ask how the job-approval question has tracked before mid-term elections.  Given that President Trump’s approval rating stands at a bit under 42 percent today, where might it be come November?

I have compiled Gallup’s job-approval scores for all mid-term elections back to Harry Truman’s second term in 1950.  I have calculated separate averages for first-term and second-term presidents since the additional experience voters have with second-term presidents should limit the effects of most events before the election.

As expected, first-term presidents show a larger change in their job-approval scores than second-termers.  Indeed, excluding the anomalous 1974 election after Nixon resigned, second-term presidents saw their popularity grow on average by about a percentage point.  Nearly all first-term presidents saw their popularity decline as the election grew near, falling an average of 3.8 percent between May and October.

Among first-term presidents, only Jimmy Carter had an approval rating as low as Donald Trump’s at the end of the spring.  Carter saw his rating improve over the course of the summer, but much of that rise came after the Camp David summit with the then-presidents of Egypt and Israel in September, 1978.  Otherwise first-term presidents generally see a decline of about four points on average in their job-approval scores as the summer wears on.  (Leaving out Carter in 1978 raises that figure to five.) On that basis we might expect to see Trump’s job-approval score in the high thirties come Election Day.

One mitigating factor might be that Presidents who start off with ratings under fifty percent show smaller declines than those with a majority of citizens approving of their performance in the spring.  Presidents whose approval score was above fifty percent in May/June watched their ratings fall an average of 4.5 percent by October.  For those Presidents, like Trump, starting with a rating below fifty the average decline was just 1.6 percent.

Will there be a “Singapore Surge?”

Republicans are hoping the Singapore summit will boost the President’s approval ratings, but summit meetings have historically had only small effects. Nor were those effects uniformly positive.

Pundits have speculated that Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un might improve Republican chances in the November elections.  “[Trump’s] new willingness to sit down with Kim to work on a peace deal, RNC members believed, would boost his approval rating and make him far less of a drag on congressional Republicans trying to keep control of the House and Senate this November,” wrote S. V. Date in the Huffington Post at the end of last month.  Some of that same optimism was apparent again yesterday. “Ron Kaufman, an RNC member from Massachusetts and once a top adviser to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, said Trump’s ability to get a meeting with Kim would play well with voters. ‘In real America? Absolutely,’ he said. ‘It will help the president’s numbers, and it will help to some degree in the midterms.'”

The problem with this theory is that summits have had limited effects on presidential approval ratings.  Using the job-approval data from Gallup I compiled the average approval score for roughly the two months prior to a summit and the two months following and calculated the change as shown below.

Most summit meetings have had only marginal effects on the President’s popularity on the order of a few percent up or down.  Nor can we attribute all the changes we see to the summits themselves.  For instance, the fall in Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings after his Washington summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 resulted largely from the revelations of the Iran-Contra scandal which appeared soon after the summit.  Nor do all summit meetings improve the President’s image. The 1974 meeting between Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev led to the SALT II accords, but they were denounced by Republican opponents like Ronald Reagan and criticized by major newspapers like the New York Times.

A number of summits considered important by historians had little influence on public opinion.  Even an event as tumultuous as Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 increased his approval rating by less than four points.  Kennedy’s supposed failure to stand up to Khrushchev in Vienna cost him a bit over five points. A year before Khrushchev had stormed out of the Paris meeting with Eisenhower over the U-2 crisis.  Eisenhower’s popularity suffered a slightly larger hit.

As I wrote earlier about the effect of the Syrian bombings, opinions about Donald Trump are much too crystallized to react to something like a summit.  And if the intention was to influence the fall election, why didn’t Trump hold out for a meeting in September or October when it might have mattered?  Few voters will be taking the Singapore summit into account when they go to the polls in November.

Update: I added Jimmy Carter’s involvement with the Camp David accords in September, 1978, to the list.  His approval rating rose substantially in the short term, from an average of 40.8 in the two months before the summit to 49.5 in the two months thereafter.  His approval scores were already moving upward after hitting a nadir of 38 the previous July, but they did jump five points between the poll earlier in September and the next sounding in October.  This bump in Carter’s approval persisted through the November, 1978, midterm election.  Perhaps Trump should have waited until the fall to meet with Kim.

Don’t Count Those Chickens Just Yet

Support for the President’s party on the generic House ballot is historically lower on election day than in the spring.

Most “generic ballot” polls attempting to forecast the 2018 general election have shown a narrowing of the gap between Democrats and Republicans in the past month or two.  The gap was widest at the end of 2017 when Trump’s job-approval numbers reached their lowest point.  While Republicans have regained a bit of ground since then, Democrats still have about a 5-7 point lead in recent polls.

Before Republicans get too excited by this rebound, we should examine the trends for the Trump Administration in the context of previous elections.  Here are two charts that depict the trends in the difference between support for the President’s party and support for the opposition in generic ballot polls.  The data for 2006 and 2008 comes from RealClearPolitics; the remainder comes from the archives at HuffPost Pollster that I have used in earlier postings.  In each case I have averaged polls by month, combining together May and June, and July and August, when polling is less frequent than in the fall.

For both Obama years, 2010 and 2014, we see a fairly linear decline in the Democrats’ margin over the Republicans on the generic ballot.  Unsurprisingly the fall in Democrats’ fortunes was much more substantial in 2010, when Obama observed that his party had been “shellacked” in the midterm.

In 2006 the Republicans faced a double-digit deficit in the spring.  Though they shaved a couple of points off the Democrats’ lead by September, the Mark Foley scandal ended any hopes of a Republican come-back.

The Republicans begin the summer of 2018 facing a five-point deficit which might not be enough to swing the House of Representatives to the Democrats.  If the history of past presidents is to be believed, though, the Republicans’ prospects may worsen as we head into November.

 

 

The Strange Case of 1976

1976 was a horrible year for Senate Republicans; adjusting for that fact makes a slight difference to my 2018 predictions.

Re-examining the results for my original model of Senate elections, it was hard to ignore how poorly the model fit the data for 1976.  Here is a graph of the model’s predicted vote for Senate and the actual vote that shows what an “outlier” 1976 is.  While Truman rallied Senate Democrats in 1948, even that event just hovers on the edge of the statistical “margin of error.”  The Republicans’ failure in the 1976 election after Richard Nixon was forced from office stands truly alone compared to the rest of the postwar elections in my dataset.

If 1976 had been a normal presidential election year, the Republicans’ Senatorial prospects would have looked fairly rosy.  Gerald Ford was running for re-election, real personal income was growing at two percent, and the Democrats were defending seats won in 1970 by a (two-party) margin of 56-44 at the height of the anti-war and anti-Nixon fervor.  That generally pro-Republican climate predicts the GOP should have won nearly 52 percent of the popular vote for Senate.

But, of course, the 1976 election was anything but normal.  It was the first presidential election after the Watergate scandals had forced Richard Nixon from office in disgrace.  Rather than winning the popular vote by the predicted four-point margin, the Republicans could muster only the same share of the vote they won back in 1970, 44 percent.  Though a number of seats changed hands, at the end of the day the Democrats held the same 61-seat Senate majority they did before the 1976 election.

I can adjust statistically for the anomalous 1976 election by adding a “dummy” variable to my model that is one in 1976 and zero otherwise.  Adjusting for 1976 radically improves all aspects of my model.  Its predictive power as measured by adjusted R-squared rises from 0.43 to 0.56, and all the coefficients are more precisely estimated.

Adding this dummy variable implicitly treats Gerald Ford as different from other Presidents running for re-election.  Ford was apparently so compromised by Watergate that his presence at the top of the ticket did not generate the kind of support his fellow Republican candidates for Senate might have expected.  With the 1976 adjustment, the overall effect of Presidential candidacies rises from 2.5 to 3.1 percent, suggesting Ford’s performance was suppressing the estimate for other Presidencies.

Adjusting for 1976 also increases the compensating effect (“regression-toward-the-mean”) of the prior vote for a Senatorial class.  With the suppressing effect of 1976 removed, I now estimate that the Democrats’ lopsided Senate victory in 2012 should be worth about 2.3 percent to the Republicans this November, compared to the 1.9 percent figure I presented earlier with no adjustment for 1976.

For comparison to the chart above, here are the predicted and actual values for the model adjusted for 1976:

Including a dummy variable for 1976 sets its residual to zero and places its predicted value precisely on the line.  The largest positive outliers are now 1978 and two Presidential years, Truman in 1948 and Barack Obama in 2016.

The effects of this modification on the predictions in my earlier article are quite modest.  Without adjusting for 1976, I predicted the Republicans will win 48.1 percent of the popular vote if Trump’s approval rating is at forty and real disposable personal income rises two percent.  With the adjustment that figure rises to 48.4 percent.

The overall conclusion remains that no likely combination of factors predicts that the Republicans will win a majority of the popular vote for Senate this fall.

 

 

This Dog Won’t Wag

Donald Trump’s polling figures showed little change after last year’s attack on Syria.

The 1997 movie Wag the Dog introduced the public to a notion common among pundits and historians, that Presidents like other political leaders might engage in military actions overseas to distract from problems at home.  With a President beset from many sides, pundits have opined whether Friday’s attack on Syrian chemical weapons facilities might have been motivated, at least in part, by the same diversionary motive.

Friday’s action reprises the Tomahawk missile attack conducted by American forces against a Syrian airfield a year ago.  That equally brief sortie had little short-term effect on President Trump’s job-approval ratings and no long-term effects at all.  Here is the trajectory for “net approval,” the difference between the percent of American adults who say they approve of how the President is “handling his job” minus the percent who disapprove.1  President Trump has been “underwater” since his Administration began with more Americans disapproving of his performance than approving.

The most optimistic “wag-the-dog” interpretation of this chart might credit a two or three point positive bump in President Trump’s net approval rating after the attack on the Syrian airfield on April 7th of last year.  Yet a couple of other prominent events might give us pause.  Trump’s approval rating actually improved after Michael Flynn had to resign as National Security Advisor, but it soon fell back down. Last year’s attack on Syria itself took place at a time when Trump’s rating was already recovering.  Perhaps the apparent gain after the attack was just the continuation of that trend.

When partisans are routinely described as “tribal,” we can hardly expect many of them to change their minds about President Trump just because of a single military attack. Republicans endorse his performance in office by margins of 85-10, while Democrats disapprove by an even greater margin of 9-90 unfavorable. For people so solidly entrenched in their partisanship even a missile attack against a sovereign nation can have little sway.

Perhaps, then, we should look at the opinions of self-described “independents.” Maybe their opinions will be more sensitive to current events like a strike on Syria. Sadly those seeking a wag-the-dog effect will once again be disappointed.


Independents’ appraisals of President Trump tracked rather closely to the Gallup figures above (with the exception of the weird spike at the turn of the year).2 Again, whatever small gain the 2017 Syrian attack may have imparted to Trump’s approval ratings among independents quickly dissipated a few weeks later.

 


1Since the beginning of this year, Gallup has reported only weekly job-approval ratings. I appended the 2018 data to the 2017 weekly averages.

2Because Gallup does not report partisan breakdowns, I have averaged together the soundings archived at Pollster that do. This sample includes 313 polls that reported approval ratings for independents. They were conducted by thirteen different organizations, with four each constituting about a sixth of the observations (Politico/Morning Consult, YouGov/Economist, IpsosReuters and SurveyMonkey).