FTA: The March of the Nones Continue

From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The LatiNone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on September 7, 2017.

PRRI released yesterday a new ginormous poll of religious identification in the United States. At 101,000-ish cases the largest this century and its scope is so large that it is really unprecedented. Of course, I am interested in what it says about the religious nones. And I may say, many things are good news.

Take, for example, this pretty line chart tracing the growth of the nones back 40 years. Up to the 1990s, roughly 1-in-10 Americans were non religious. Then, by the 2000s the population started growing and was famously captured and highlighted by the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey nearly a decade ago. Back then people considered that 15 percent of Americans being non religious was a pretty big deal. In the crazy days following the release of the 2008 ARIS those of us in that team did a lot of media. My friend Ryan Cragun did an interview (I can’t recall where) predicting that the nones soon will be 25 percent of the country. I thought that was optimistic, time has proved me wrong.

Today, about one-quarter of Americans are religious nones. What does that mean for the country and its future? I don’t really know, but I will explore several questions regarding the growth of the nones in the next few posts using the PRRI report. I will explore the demographics of the nones, the politics of the nones, and likely engage with some of the pieces that have been, are being, and will be written about this report.

FTA: The March of the Nones Continue
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FTA: Trump Approval Watch

From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The Latinone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on February 14, 2017.

I am not normally obsessed with presidential approval ratings. But since the election of Donald Trump as President I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between approval and governing. A popular President can use it as leverage, think post-9/11 George W. Bush. An unpopular President that is also incompetent, like our current Commander-in-Chief, may have trouble making policy even with a friendly Congress.

Trump was never popular to begin with. As it was said ad nauseam during the 2016 campaign both Trump and Hillary Clinton were the most unpopular candidates for President ever (since public opinion started tracking such a thing). It is not surprising that now that he’s President he has enjoyed no honeymoon period, just breaking even at 45% of both approval and disapproval in the first Gallup poll measuring his ratings. That is the lowest among the Presidents since 1969.

image-10
Source: Gallup

Barack Obama, the only one of the last four President who won a majority of the vote had the approval of two-thirds of the country in his first Gallup appearance in 2009. His predecessor George W. Bush had the approval of nearly 60% of the country in 2001 even though (like Trump) he didn’t win the popular vote and (unlike Trump) his Electoral College victory was handed to him by the Supreme Court. Even Bill Clinton in 1993 had 58% approval following an election that he won by a plurality in a 3-way popular vote.

Before Trump the least popular presidents were Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George H.W. Bush in 1989. Both had 51% approval, 6 percentage points higher than Trump’s. Unlike Trump these two Presidents were not unpopular. In fact, none of the Presidents who preceded Trump in the Oval Office were unpopular.

earliest_approval
Source: Gallup

On average, all elected Presidents since Nixon had majority approval (58%). This ranged from 51% (Reagan and Bush I) to 67% (Obama). The average disapproval for Trump’s last 7 predecessors was 13%. Disapproval ranged from 5% (Nixon) to 25% (Bush II).

Trump’s first approval was 24% lower than the average recently sworn-in President. His disapproval was nearly 4 times higher than the average President since 1969 and nearly twice than George W. Bush, his most unpopular predecessor.

That leaves us with one additional number: those who did not have an opinion. Since 1969 nearly 3-in-10 Americans have not expressed an opinion of the new President. It makes sense, these polls are often taken in the first couple of weeks of an administration. Many people without strong opinions may want to wait and see how the new Commander-in-Chief does. In other words, the honeymoon period is a combination of positive opinion (approval), and willingness to cut some slack (no opinion). Even the last 3 Presidents in a more polarized environment have averaged 20% no opinion. Trump’s margin of error is much smaller. Only 10% of Americans did not have an opinion of him.

While approval ratings may rise and fall as Presidents get in trouble or out of it, as they accomplish goals or botch them, they start with a lot of leeway. Trump’s first numbers suggest that the vast majority of Americans have an opinion formed of him and what he’s going to do while in office.

As I write this Trump’s approval stands at 41% while his disapproval has increased to 53%. Right now 94% of the country has an opinion of his performance and it is not a good one. With executive orders, a friendly Congress, and his sheer incompetence he can still inflict a lot of damage. But he’s vulnerable even if he thinks the normal rules of engagement do not apply to him.

The Republican Party as of now stands united but as Trump increasingly becomes a liability we will witness more Republicans willing to break with him. Maybe not on their sweet tax cuts, but on issues that they don’t care much about but now feel bound to follow out fear of igniting the wrath of the President’s base. You will see the seams starting to fall apart in the Senate.

Senators have different electoral incentives since they have staggered terms. The first Republican Senators smelling blood on the Michael Flynn saga do not face election next year.

With a Democratic base energized in these first weeks and a bumbling President, expect a few more to start opposing in the longer term if the bad ratings continue. House Republicans will be harder to move, they have safe districts. Expect the few vulnerable ones to start considering their exit strategies.

Of course, it is possible for Trump to improve or have other external events to have people outside his base rallying in his favor. One potential event that has been suggested is a terrorist attack. George W. Bush initially became widely popular after the 9/11/2001 attacks. But Donald Trump is not George W. Bush. The younger Bush was more charismatic than our current President. Also, Bush used the attacks to try to unify the country (in his own way). Trump is incapable of doing that, he will use the opportunity to tweet an “I told you so” message.

I think it will be very hard for Trump to gain net positive approval ratings. He’s certainly way over his head, most people dislike him, and once Republicans see that he’s more a distraction than an asset, opposition will line up within the GOP. I think he is incapable of uniting the country in case of a tragedy or a war. The latter will more likely be seen with the suspicion that Bush II never received. Finally, I think that when his approval ratings among the voters of his own party (currently at 88%) start dropping and hopefully reach and surpass the Nixon line (50% was his Republican approval at his lowest point), he will get a primary challenge. While his policies matter, his approvals (or lack of) will be of great help in his downfall.

Edit 2/15/2017 to fix a mention of GWB approval rating.
FTA: Trump Approval Watch

FTA: Conservatives Like the Police State

From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The Latinone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on July 12, 2017.

A new Gallup Poll finds that confidence in the police is returning to its historical average, something that does not bode well for any type of reform of police practices. According to Gallup:

Confidence in police … dropped to a record-tying low of 52% in June 2015, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained national attention with a series of protests against police shootings of unarmed blacks in New York City; Ferguson, Missouri; and North Charleston, South Carolina. (Emphasis mine)

Two years ago confidence dropped as some people started realizing that maybe, just maybe police forces should be held to some sort of accountability. But not anymore. After Trump’s victory and the confirmation of former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General in the new administration has restored the confidence in the police among certain types. You know the types. Gallup gives a snapshot of who they are.

Confidence among Republicans and Republican leaners, whites, conservatives and those aged 55 or older has been stable or has increased slightly.

That’s not the case among young people, particularly those who are people of color as this table published by Gallup shows.

Source: Gallup

Confidence among conservatives has increased since 2015. Basically when confidence was dropping nationally because the reports of abuse were being documented in film, conservatives decided that shooting unarmed black people is what police should be doing.

Gallup further reports that in the June 2017 survey they base most of their analysis on, conservative confidence in the police is 73 percent, the highest it has been since 2000. Not surprisingly, an era where mass incarceration and abuse was reaching its apex and the type of policies that AG Sessions wants to return to. Since the only institutions conservatives have more confidence on are the military and businesses, we can be pretty confident that they are pretty cool with fascism as well.

FTA: Conservatives Like the Police State