The only cer­tainty is un­cer­tainty

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­[email protected] COKIE ROBERTS

There is no clar­ity in the pres­i­den­tial race at this point, no ob­vi­ous fa­vorite, no pre­dictable out­come. Ev­ery fac­tor that fa­vors Pres­i­dent Trump or the Democrats is bal­anced out by a neg­a­tive trend. A vic­tory -- or a de­feat -- for ei­ther party is to­tally plau­si­ble.

Start with some good news for the pres­i­dent. In the lat­est Wash­ing­ton Post/ ABC News poll, Trump’s fa­vor­able rat­ing climbs to 44% among all Amer­i­cans and 47% among reg­is­tered vot­ers. That’s the high­est mark of his pres­i­dency in that sur­vey and close to Trump’s av­er­age pos­i­tive rat­ing in all na­tional polls: 45% of reg­is­tered vot­ers.

But look at the neg­a­tives: 53% dis­ap­prove of the pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance in of­fice. As ABC’S poll­ster Gary Langer points out, Trump has never com­manded a fa­vor­able rat­ing from a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans, and that’s “a record for any pres­i­dent in mod­ern polling” after 2 1/2 years in of­fice.

Trump’s bump in pop­u­lar­ity is clearly re­lated to a strong econ­omy, which has added jobs for 105 straight months. For the first time in the ABC/POST sur­vey, a ma­jor­ity, 51%, ap­proved of Trump’s han­dling of eco­nomic mat­ters.

Then there’s the down­side. Only 38% give Trump credit for good eco­nomic news, while half say the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­ally re­spon­si­ble. And trade ten­sions with China and slow growth in Europe could un­der­mine voter op­ti­mism be­fore the elec­tion.

More­over, a ma­jor­ity gave the pres­i­dent neg­a­tive marks on eight other is­sues tested by the poll­sters. For ex­am­ple, only 2 out of 5 ap­plaud his record on im­mi­gra­tion and for­eign pol­icy, and that drops to 29% on cli­mate change.

A re­cent Mon­mouth poll asked whether the pres­i­dent “was giv­ing enough at­ten­tion to is­sues that are im­por­tant to their fam­i­lies.” Only 41% said yes, and

55% said no. Men were evenly split on the ques­tion, but by al­most 2-to-1, women ob­jected to the pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties.

Trump’s per­sonal qual­i­ties in­flu­ence voter pref­er­ences even more strongly than his de­tailed poli­cies, and 65% told the ABC/POST sur­vey that he acts in an “un­pres­i­den­tial” man­ner, while only 28% found his be­hav­ior “fit­ting and proper.” Yet 1 in 5 vot­ers who view him as “un­pres­i­den­tial” like his over­all per­for­mance, a strong sign that his brutishly un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to the of­fice is ac­tu­ally a good thing to many of his core sup­port­ers.

An­other pos­i­tive for the pres­i­dent: For all the talk about im­peach­ment gen­er­ated by Demo­cratic lib­er­als, the idea of over­turn­ing the last elec­tion falls flat with the gen­eral public. Only 37% fa­vor re­mov­ing Trump from of­fice, with 59% against.

But deny­ing Trump a sec­ond term through the bal­lot box is a very dif­fer­ent ques­tion. A Mon­mouth poll re­ports only 37%, Trump’s hard­core base, fa­vors his re-elec­tion, with 59% op­posed. The anti-trump feel­ings are con­cen­trated among women (68%), whites with col­lege de­grees (63%), vot­ers un­der 35 (64%) and non­whites (78%).

As al­ways, how­ever, their an­i­mos­ity is bal­anced out by groups that like the pres­i­dent. Men and whites are evenly split, and whites with­out col­lege de­grees fa­vor a sec­ond term for Trump by 31 points.

On the Demo­cratic side, their best news is con­tained in an ABC/POST ques­tion about the “in­ten­sity gap.” Of vot­ers who op­pose Trump, 73% say it’s “ex­tremely im­por­tant” to deny the pres­i­dent a sec­ond term, while only 52% of Trump back­ers feel that strongly about re-elect­ing him.

All votes are not equal in pol­i­tics; in­ten­sity mat­ters enor­mously, and the party that can cap­ture that emo­tional edge has a huge ad­van­tage. The only non­in­cum­bent Democrats to win the pres­i­dency since World War II -- Kennedy, Carter, Clin­ton and Obama -- all ben­e­fit­ted from an in­ten­sity bonus.

At least for now, how­ever, the in­ten­sity gap fa­vor­ing Democrats is based largely on anti-trump feel­ings, not en­thu­si­asm for any of his pos­si­ble op­po­nents.

Joe Bi­den re­mains the fa­vorite among Demo­cratic vot­ers, but his margin is fu­eled mainly by the feel­ing that he can beat Trump, not by any real ex­cite­ment about the kind of pres­i­dent he would be.

His ad­van­tage is rooted in prac­ti­cal­ity, not pas­sion, which raises the is­sue: Can he take full ad­van­tage of the in­ten­sity gap? Would vot­ers be for Bi­den and not just against Trump?

That’s one of many unan­swered ques­tions 16 months be­fore the elec­tion. Every­body’s crys­tal ball is clouded and cracked -- in­clud­ing ours. The only cer­tainty is un­cer­tainty.

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