The most obvious explanation is the scandals that have rocked the Trump administration from day one. “There’s been an unbelievable torrent of bad news from Donald Trump, and that takes a toll,” said Alexander Coppock, a political-science professor at Yale who researches public opinion and polling. “There’s a constant stream of bad things coming from the White House.”
In recent weeks, what already seemed like an oversaturated presidential-scandal market got even more full. Between convictions for the Trump associates Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, and the dirty laundry aired in Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, and an anonymous New York Times op-ed—both of which allege widespread discontent with the president within his own White House—it’s been a rough few weeks for the administration. And it’s taking a toll. Coppock says commentators who call Trump a “Teflon president” who’s immune to criticism or scandal are missing a key point: His approval ratings are “historically low, and have been for the entirety of his presidency.”
According to the Quinnipiac poll, registered voters don’t trust the president: Sixty percent said he’s not honest, up two percentage points from July. They think his own administration is undermining him: Fifty-five percent said they believe the Times column alleging that senior administration officials are “working behind [Trump’s] back.” And they’re not confident he’s fit to serve as president: Fifty-five percent of registered voters told Quinnipiac just that, including 42 percent of white voters without a college degree.
If the never-ending scandals are harming Trump this badly, there’s a case to be made that the economy is the only thing keeping his numbers as high as they are. Looking at the data from this new batch of polls, this might be the case. According to the CNN survey, Trump’s disapproval rating among Americans when it comes to the economy is 44 percent, 14 points better than his overall disapproval rating. Meanwhile, almost half of Americans in that survey—and, crucially, half of those polled who self-identify as independent—approve of how he’s handled the economy.
How much credit Trump deserves for the strong economy is up for debate. As his predecessor, Obama, noted in a speech last week, job numbers have been increasing for several years. Writing in the National Review, Michael R. Strain said the Trump economy is “mostly … a continuation of previous trends,” though he credited Trump with increasing small-business optimism and bumping up the GDP. But even some left-leaning commentators, notably Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, have argued that the economy’s strength is at least partially due to the help corporations got from the tax cuts Trump signed into law late last year. “There’s no rational basis for denying that Trump providing a little extra fiscal boost is helping get us to full employment,” Yglesias wrote on Tuesday.