October 23, 2020
The impact of the incumbent’s Job Approval rating on his reelection nationally is well established. Since 1948, the beginning of modern polling, only one incumbent president, Harry Truman, has won reelection with an job approval rating less than 48%.
Below is a table showing all incumbent presidents since that election with their job approval ratings in June and just prior to the election.
|PRESIDENT||YEAR||June of reelection year||Final measure before election||Won reelection|
|% Approve||% Approve|
As the table shows, eight of eleven of incumbents won reelection during this period, and no President won with a job approval of less than 48% (Truman). And the average approval rating is 51.2%.
Political scientists believe this one metric more than any other, determines an incumbents reelection chances. This makes sense if you think of a reelection as determining whether an employee, the chief executive of the nation, should be retained. If he has done a good job, you keep him on for another four years. If he hasn’t, you send him packing even if you like him.
The job approval poll question was created by George Gallup for that one reason. If you’re wondering, as of this date Trump’s national average Job Approval is at 44.5%. And his average rating since he was elected stands at 40%, the lowest average since the question has been asked.
It is possible that Trump could break this record and win the November 3rd election. But that isn’t my interest here. I’m interested if the job rating can be applied at the state level.
In other words, can Donald Trump win Florida, for example, with a statewide job approval of less than 48%, or does this metric only apply to national elections?
In my quest, I scoured Google Scholar for any academic articles that would answer this question and came up empty handed. I could not find a single article that addressed this question at all.
The reason for this dearth of scholarship on the subject should have been obvious to me from the start. State polls don’t ask this question, except in rare cases.
But recently, Civiqs has developed an large opt-in online panel that conducts daily surveys of randomly selected (list based) registered voters from its large panel from all 50 states.
A regular question asked each day is the standard job approval rating. And from their database, I have now found job approval ratings for all 50 states as of this date. I want to stress that this exercise is experimental and the likelihood that a state approval rating could predict the winner is unlikely. (That’s my null hypothesis.)
As a baseline, I am using a 2017 Gallup state by state survey using the standard job approval rating. At this point I am only interested in these swing states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. But I may add the other 40 as we get closer to the election.
In Table 2 below, lists the 2017 approval rating and the current October 22, 2020 rating in each of these states. In the fourth column, is the percent difference between the two surveys, which are all positive. The last column is Trump’s current average poll percent lead or deficit in each state.
For example, in Arizona, Trump had a job approval rating of 41% in 2017 and a current rating of 44%, which is 3% higher than in 2017. In the latest average of polls, Trump is behind Biden by 3.2%.
|TRUMP JOB APPROVAL 2017-2020|
As the table shows, Trump’s statewide approval rating has increased since the 2017, but not by a lot. The biggest gain is Texas, where his approval rating improved by 9 points and is now at 48%, which at the national level, would theoretically reelect him. His current Texas lead over Biden is now 4%. These two metrics would suggest Texas will go to Trump.
His next highest approval rating is Iowa, at 47%. But Biden now has a narrow lead of just 0.6%. This state is too close to call.
At an approval rating of 45% are both Georgia and Florida. In Georgia, Biden has a 1.2% lead over Trump. Although very close, this state could easily go Democratic this year, if the job approval rating has the same impact it does at the national level.
Now we have the swingiest state in the nation, Florida. Trump’s approval rating is now 45% as well. And Biden has a 1.5% average lead in the state. My gut feeling is that Trump will win the Sunshine State, but at this point the tea leaves give a slight edge to Biden.
In Arizona, Trump’s job approval rating is now 44% and Biden with a 3.2% lead. For now the sate is leaning toward Biden.
Following Arizona we have another close contest in North Carolina, where Trump’s approval rating is 44%, and Biden has a slim poll lead of only 1.5%. Giving weight to the job approval rating, this state looks like it could end up in the Biden column.
And finally, we have the mid-west trifecta of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. All three states have Trump’s approval rating at 43% or less. The average poll lead for Biden in Pennsylvania is now 5.1%, in Michigan it’s 7.8% and Wisconsin at 4.6%. At this point with only 11 days left, all three should deposit their electoral college votes in the Biden column.
I again want to emphasize that this is an experiment to see if the Presidential Job Approval rating has the same predicted capability it does at the national level. Closer to November 3rd, I will update this table.
Feel free to use these tables to place bets with your friends and neighbors. My fee is only 5% on your winnings. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited. Be safe…