Favorables & unfavorables: Sorry, but the Reagan / Trump comparison has some major flaws

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Published by: Robert Laurie on Monday April 04th, 2016

Let's get serious.

If you pay attention to politics, you've probably heard the comparison. Reagan and Trump are both GOP outsiders, they're both largely disliked by the establishment, they've both been derided as 'unserious,' and - at this point - they were both languishing under some pretty unpleasant favorability numbers. Trump supporters usually make the argument that, since some of his numbers vaguely resemble those of Reagan in 1980, Trump can easily make up the ground he needs to win in November.

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but that’s ...optimistic.

To be fair, in April of 1980, Reagan was underwater in terms of favorability. He was running behind Carter, and his own party was not in his corner.  However, as Harry Enten points out over at FiveThirtyEight that's where the comparisons end.

First of all, they point out that Carter's favorable numbers were way worse than the current Democrat President. The toothy peanut-farmer had numbers down in the 30's.  Right now, Obama's favorables are just over 50%. You can be baffled by that all you like, but the fact is the political winds were already at Reagans back, since the party in power was much more despised.

Then, there's this: 

Trump’s favorable rating among the general electorate is, on average, 30 percent. His unfavorable rating is a sky-high 63 percent. In other words, a lot more people dislike Trump than like him. The American public was more evenly split on Reagan at a comparable point in the 1980 campaign. According to an April 1980 Cambridge Reports survey, 39 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Reagan, and 44 percent had an unfavorable view. Reagan’s net favorability rating was 28 percentage points higher than Trump’s is.

To sum that up, Trump has a lot more to overcome than Reagan did, and that's only the beginning of his problem. The meat of the issue is that, so far, Trump hasn't done much to show us how he'll reverse those numbers.

Love him or hate him, it's hard to argue that Trump's had anything close to a good month. His last few weeks have been loaded with gaffes, unforced errors, and backpedaling, mostly because he doesn't seem to be operating from any set ideology. Trump feels like a candidate who, on a host of issues, hasn't formed his own opinions. So, when he shoots from the hip during an interview, he has a tendency to hit himself in the foot.  The same thing people love about him - his unrehearsed attitude - is hurting him as we get into specifics.

Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Trump admitted as much when asked about his messy abortion answer. 

“As a hypothetical question, I would have rather answered it in a different manner.”

Whether it's because he's new to being a Republican, or because he simply hasn't been in the harsh political spotlight before, Trump has a nasty habit of putting his foot (or his tweets) in his mouth. Yes, Reagan changed positions on whole host of issues after leaving the Democrat Party, but he had years to familiarize himself with his new stances. Even if we assume it's completely authentic, Trump's conservative conversion is so recent that it's not surprising he's having trouble with articulation. 

Trump is on record saying he's going to be presidential. He promises people he can be the leader they want to see - not just the rogue-ish outsider they love. If that's the case, he'd better start turning things around immediately. 

No one is saying it's impossible for Trump to change his stars. Enthusiasm is on his side, Hillary is a big, unpleasant, snooze, and if she's indicted, all the current data will go out the window.  As every sports announcer likes to say; "there's still plenty of time on the clock."

However.... It's not enough to claim Trump's numbers "are bad like Reagan's" if Trump isn't going to offer any of the dignity, charisma, and substance that helped Reagan turn those numbers around.

It's long past time to stop the nasty "wife tweets" and study up. He needs to get serious, and he needs to do it fast.

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