Monday, January 30, 2017

Wrong tool but right inclination

An interesting column which I am only just now coming across. From Is Trump Stronger Than He Seems? by Nate Cohn. It is a week old and Trump's numbers have strengthened somewhat in that space of time but I think Cohn is calling attention to something interesting.
It would be easy enough to say that Mr. Trump enters as an unprecedentedly unpopular president. But how many times over the last year and a half were the polls cited as evidence that Mr. Trump was historically unpopular? I don’t mean the horse race numbers, which generally showed Mr. Trump competitive for the nomination and the presidency. I mean the questions about character, which painted a far more pessimistic picture of his chances.
But . . .
The other possibility is that there’s something about Mr. Trump’s appeal that’s not captured in the traditional approval ratings or the character questions.

One piece of evidence seems consistent with this possibility: the seeming optimism about his presidency.

Take the most recent Quinnipiac poll. At first glance, it’s bleak for Mr. Trump. Just 37 percent of registered voters — a narrower group than the adult population — view him favorably or approve of his performance. But just about every other question is better for Mr. Trump: 45 percent think he’ll take the nation in the right direction, and 52 percent of registered voters are optimistic about the next four years with Mr. Trump as president.

Just about every new poll tells a similar story. The most recent CNN poll says that just 40 percent of adults approve of his performance, but 48 percent say they think he’ll do a “very good” or “fairly good” job as president. And 48 percent say his policies will move the country in the right direction. An even larger 61 percent say that he’ll bring back well-paying jobs to economically depressed areas.

An ABC/Washington Post poll found that a majority of Americans expect he’ll do a good or excellent job handling the economy, jobs, terrorism, the budget deficit, and in helping the middle class.
Cohn goes on to try and square the circle of unpopularity and optimism. He is unsatisfied with any of his explanations.

I have a different perspective and would put it in different terms. The metaphor would be to a small building project. You are looking forward to building a garden shed to get the lawnmower out of the basement where it is filling the house with fumes and making a mess. You are really excited about the future shed. However, your budget is tight. Your hammer has a loose head, your saw is rusty, your measuring tape tattered, etc. Your tools are not great but they are what you have.

Perhaps that is what is going on with Trump. Voters were desperate to change the rule book in Washington (get rid of the self-dealing, the lying, the ignoring of the citizens in the hinterlands, the corruption, the tolerance of the status quo, the arrogance and the condescension, etc.) In this scenario, Trump was never seen as an attractive alternative (just like the junky tools) but everyone did want to rebuild Washington. From that perspective, Trump is not a popular choice but he was the only one available to achieve the goal that was actually desired.

That would explain the seemingly paradoxical polling results. No one was pleased with Donald Trump as the instrument of change but they are excited for the change that he might bring about. He may or may not end up being popular but regardless, as long as he begins to drain the swamp, reduce the deficit, restore pride in country, protect citizens - no matter how crude his manner or unpopular the actions, people may end up being pleased with the outcome. There is no way to know at this moment how this will turn out and the fears and panic among some are, in some ways, understandable.

But if your goal was to move away from the technocratic, insider corruption, poor competence and low economic growth of the past nearly twenty years, then likely you are more optimistic with a Trump than you would have been with a Clinton. Wrong tool but right inclination.

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