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Opinion: Do Trump’s sagging approval ratings in key states mean trouble for his reelection?

President Trump's approval ratings are underwater in key states he won in 2016. No wonder so many Democrats are running for their party's nomination to try to oust him.
(Jabin Botsford / Washington Post)

With Bernie Sanders’ announcement that he’s once again running for president — “Hey, everybody! Bernie’s getting the band back together!” — and joining a growing field of eight declared Democratic candidates, this is a good time to check the polls.

And it looks like President Trump might be in trouble.

Yes, it’s early. Yes, polls this early don’t mean much. So why is Trump in trouble?

Because his popularity has fallen through the floor in states that were crucial to his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to running tallies maintained by the folks at MorningConsult.com.

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It looks like President Trump might be in trouble.

Trump won Michigan by a nose — about 11,000 votes, collecting 47.25% of votes cast. In January 2017, as he entered office, his net approval rating in Michigan was +7, which means his favorable rating exceeded his unfavorable rating by 7 points. By last month his net approval rating there had dropped to -15.

Ohio, where Trump won with 51.3% of the vote, has gone similarly, with his net approval rating dropping from +14 when he entered office to -6. Wisconsin? He slid from +6 to -16 in a state (like Michigan) he won with less than a majority — 47.2% — of votes.

In fact, Trump’s net approval ratings are in positive territory in only 17 states, and some of those only narrowly so; he won 28 states in 2016. Even Texas, which Trump won with 52.1% of the vote, has faded for him, with his net approval rating at -1, down from +21. Where does he remain strong? Wyoming with a +31, down from +40, and West Virginia, with +24 down from +37.

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Does this mean Trump’s reelection is toast? Of course not. And his ratings can pop back up. But few presidents in modern history have faced this kind of a political headwind.

Still, quite a few of his predecessors have been one-termers. Here are five notable presidents who sought a second term lost: William Howard Taft, who was challenged by his friend and former mentor Teddy Roosevelt, leading to Woodrow Wilson’s victory; Herbert Hoover, who was in office when the Great Depression began; Gerald Ford, who had been appointed vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew and became president with Richard Nixon’s resignation; Jimmy Carter, who beat Ford; and George H.W. Bush.

But there are rumblings of discontent even among some Republicans, despite Trump’s high level of support from the party faithful.

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (who ran for vice president on the Libertarian party line last time around) has announced he will challenge Trump for the Republican nomination, a campaign that likely won’t get very far.

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There also has been speculation about possible challenges from former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who lost out to Trump in the 2016 primaries, and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who — once he decided not to seek reelection in 2017 — became an outspoken critic of the president.

But denying Trump the nomination is a long shot. Democrat Franklin Pierce is the only elected president to have ever been denied his party’s nomination for reelection, and that was over his pro-slavery views heading into the 1856 election (James Buchanan got the nod and won the election).

Four other men — John “His Accidency” Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Chester Arthur — who assumed the presidency upon the death of their predecessors also failed to gain their party’s nomination for election in their own right.

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But then again, Trump likes to brag about how he’s making history. Maybe he’ll get his place of honor on the shelf next to Pierce.


UPDATES:

1:06 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify the history of one-term presidents.


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