If Donald Trump hoped that he would get a political boost from ordering a drone strike last Thursday that killed Iran’s top military leader, General Qassem Soleimani, new polling results released on Wednesday will likely leave him disappointed. According to the political data site RealClearPolitics, three new polls show a slight downward movement in Trump’s approval rating, in the days following the Soleimani drone strike assassination.
According to RCP, an Economist/YouGov poll taken over three days starting on January 5 — the day after the Soleimani strike — showed Trump’s approval actually dropping slightly, compared to a poll by the same organization taken one week earlier. In the late December poll, 44 percent approved of the president, while his disapproval rating hit 53 percent, putting him “underwater” by 9 percentage points.
But in the days immediately following news that he had ordered the successful killing of Soleimani, Trump’s approval registered 43 percent, while his disapproval rating ticked up to 54 percent — a negative approval rating of 11 percentage points.
A Rasmussen Reports poll — a survey which has traditionally yielded better results for Trump than those from other agencies — showed the president’s approval rating at 46 percent in the immediate aftermath of the Soleimani assassination, with his disapproval at 53 percent. One week earlier, however, Trump’s approval, as measured by Rasmussen, stood at 48 percent, with a disapproval rating of 51 percent — a negative rating of just three points, compared to seven points as of January 7.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken a day later, starting in January 6, also showed a slight hit to Trump’s popularity following the January 4 drone strike. That poll showed Trump at 43 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval — an 11 point deficit.
A poll by the same agency two weeks earlier showed an eight-point negative rating for Trump, as recorded by RCP.
In the year prior to the 2012 election, in which President Barack Obama sought a second term in office, then-reality TV star Donald Trump repeatedly predicted that Obama would start a war with Iran in order to win re-election. In fact, as The Washington Post recounted, Trump predicted at least eight times on his Twitter account alone that the then-president would “play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected.”
However, Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 election without going to war with Iran or anyone else. But as Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake noted, Trump’s belief that his predecessor could somehow guarantee his re-election through a war against Iran may shed light on his “own motivations now that he’s in a re-election year.”
Though as his 2012 tweets about Obama appear to indicate, Trump may believe that getting the country involved in a military conflict is a surefire way to boost a president’s support, political science research disagrees, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
One election expert, whose system for predicting winners has proven correct in every presidential contest since 1984, stated this week that the slaying of the Iranian military leader may backfire and damage Trump’s 2020 re-election chances.
The “rally around the president” effect after a military action occurs mainly when “there is bipartisan support among political elites for the president’s actions,” according to political scientist Michael Tesler, writing for The Washington Post. But in the aftermath of the Soleimani killing, top-ranked Democrats “have not provided any grace period” before leveling criticism at the president.
In addition, Tesler notes, the belief that getting involved in war improves chances of re-election is a myth. Data shows that even George W. Bush, though he won re-election in 2004 in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, did so by a narrower margin than expected, given other factors such as a growing economy at the time, according to Tesler.