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Backfire? On eve of impeachment, Trump matches best job approval ever in new Quinnipiac poll

I don’t think this poll proves what it appears at first blush to prove, although it’s obviously great news for Trump either way. “Trump’s job approval hits new high” is not the headline Pelosi wanted 48 hours out from the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history, to put it very mildly.

Bear in mind that Quinnipiac has traditionally had abysmal numbers for Trump in case today’s job new approval — 43 percent — strikes you as underwhelming. It is underwhelming, both on its own terms and relative to other pollsters, most of which have had him right around this same number for many months. But relative to how badly he normally does in the Q-poll, it’s almost a breakthrough. And the timing is provocative, of course.

Is impeachment blowing up in the Democrats’ faces? Hold that thought.

That’s not just his best number of the year, it’s tied for the best number of his presidency. He’s at 42/50 among independents, also the best mark of his presidency. And he’s up five points overall since the impeachment inquiry took off in October. *If* there’s a backlash to impeachment, he might well have his best number since taking the oath of office next week’s poll.

And there is some evidence of a backlash. Read this post about last week’s Q-poll, which found support for removing Trump from office sliding steadily over the course of several weeks as the impeachment inquiry proceeded. But that brings us to the wrinkle in today’s data: There’s been no further deterioration in support for impeachment since then. It’s steady at 45/51, and most Americans agree with Democrats on the basics of the Ukraine case — majorities believe that Trump abuses his power and put his personal interest ahead of the public interest in the Ukraine matter, and a plurality believes that he blocked Ukraine’s aid in order to squeeze Zelensky to do something that would benefit him politically. The fact that a majority opposes removing Trump from office isn’t because they side with him on the merits, believing that there was no quid pro quo. They seem to agree that he did wrong. They just think tossing him out of office is a bridge too far.

So if opposition to impeachment isn’t growing, what explains the fact that approval of Trump’s job performance is up? C’mon, you already know the answer. It’s the economy, stupid!

That combined number of 73 percent who say the economy is “excellent” or “good” isn’t just the biggest number of Trump’s presidency, it’s bigger than any number during Obama’s presidency, even at the tail end when the country was years removed from the Great Recession. The last time the number was this huge was waaaaay back at the start of Dubya’s first term, 18 years ago. What happened here, I think, was that it took a few days for the news of November’s blockbuster jobs report to penetrate the population and start circulating. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll was too soon after the news to pick up the surge in public enthusiasm but this week’s poll wasn’t. Result: Trump hits a new high in job approval. If you’re Adam Schiff and you’re feeling mopey that your impeachment hearings failed to move public opinion, maybe these numbers are some sort of weird consolation. “People would have agreed with me if they weren’t so distracted by counting their money.”

One remaining question: Is the Quinnipiac poll a fluky outlier or is it part of a trend? Any individual poll can be wrong, which is why we look to the average. Well, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker of Trump’s approval among likely and registered voters, he stands today at 44.4 percent approval — a tick higher than where he stood on the day before Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry in September but also the best number he’s had since last November. Quinnipiac isn’t a fluke. If Democrats want to find some good news in impeachment, they may have to convince themselves that Trump’s numbers would be even higher right now in light of the roaring economy if they hadn’t gone ahead and stuck him with this stigma. Whether that’s true or not is a separate question, but that’s where we are with the polling.

In a sense, none of the impeachment polling matters. Obviously way more people will tune into Trump’s Senate trial than watched Schiff’s House hearings, so what goes on in the Senate will likely decide which way public opinion ends up tilting on whether his Ukraine behavior was truly egregious. Considering that Republicans will make the rules of the trial plus the fact that they may not allow House Democrats to call witnesses, it’s probable that polling will lean further in Trump’s favor once it’s all over — but stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a Politico piece from last week titled, er, “What if Trump weren’t nuts?” that’s worth considering in light of today’s Quinnipiac numbers, as a sort of reality check. Forty-three percent approval is good *by Trump standards* but it’s moldering garbage in the abstract for a president riding an economic wave as tidal as the one Trump is currently surfing. A “normal” president would easily be 10 points higher with the kind of jobs reports Trump has been piling up, turning the Democratic primary into a contest to see who wants to be the sacrificial lamb in November. As it is, he’s maybe a 55/45 bet to win reelection when economic indicators are clicking for him and considerably less than that if they slow down. Again, stay tuned.