Published April 22, 2020
President Trump currently trails his presumptive Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, in nearly every national public opinion poll. But a closer look at the data reveals he may have a secret stash of voters that makes the race closer than it currently appears.
That stash might come from a curious polling anomaly. Every poll in the RealClearPolitics average that asks both a job approval and a Trump vs. Biden ballot question finds that more people approve of Trump’s job performance than say they will vote for him. The gap between job approval and vote share ranges between 2 points in the Monmouth and CNN polls and 7 points in the Fox News and CNBC polls, but every poll has a similar finding.
This gap did not exist in President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Polls from April 2012 had no consistent pattern. Four polls found Obama’s share of the vote in trial heats against Republican nominee Mitt Romney was higher than his job approval rating, while three showed the opposite (one had them the same). All of the differences were no more than three points, which means the differences were within the poll’s margin of error. The result was that Obama’s average share of the vote largely tracked his job-approval rating.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.