The litany of stories over the summer about how Trump’s base of support was holding, even in the face of clear evidence that showed otherwise, seems to have died away. Instead we are now starting to see stories about the erosion of support among his base, the latest being a Reuters story about his falling support among rural Americans.
Rural America approved of Trump by an astounding 26% at the time of his inauguration. That cushion has effectively disappeared as an equal number of rural voters approve of Trump as disapprove. Part of this is just the effect of governing and having to finally make good on campaign promises or not. That is especially difficult for Trump because it was never clear how many of Trump’s positions his supporters took literally or figuratively. For instance, it is unclear whether his declining support on the topic of healthcare is due to the fact that he hasn’t repealed Obamacare or to the fact that those rural voters now understand how badly they would be hurt by repeal. In any case, the fact that he has had virtually no legislative accomplishments on any major topic is bound to sap support. Said one voter, “Every president makes mistakes. But if you add one on top of one, on top of another one, on top of another, there’s just a limit.” He had apparently reached his.
A recent AP poll showed Trump’s approval rating had dropped to 32% and an astonishing two-thirds of the country now disapproved of his performance. That same poll showed that his support among self-identified Republicans had dropped to 67%, a precipitous fall of 13 points in the last six months. That one poll reflects the lowest approval by Republicans since Trump’s inauguration and could possibly be an outlier.
A recent Morning Consult poll still had 81% of Republicans approving of Trump. But, as Nate Silver pointed out, that may be skewed by the fact that fewer respondents are identifying as Republicans. In addition, the number of Republicans that offer strong support for Trump has fallen below 50%. The Morning Consult poll shows that Trump’s approval rating has sunk in all 50 states since inauguration. There are only 12 states in all where Trump’s approval rating is higher than disapproval. In Georgia and North Carolina his approval numbers have fallen by around 17% and now as many disapprove as approve. In Ohio, Trump has lost 20 points is now in negative territory as he is in Michigan and Wisconsin where he is underwater by around 15%. He is underwater in Pennsylvania and has seen his approval numbers fall 20 points there. And in the 2017 battleground state of Virginia, Trump has also lost 20 points.
Over the weekend, Democratic strategist Doug Sosnick had a much talked about opinion piece in the Washington Post that made the case that Trump was still on track to win the 2020 election. Sosnick believes that Trump can win re-election simply be keeping his base motivated and intact. Sosnick bases his argument on the fact that more and more people are identifying less with a party and more as independents. Trump was able to capitalize on this fact and build a winning, if not a majority, coalition.
According to Sosnick, Trump has four things going for him. The Electoral College can allow him to win without the majority of the vote, perhaps needing only the support in the mid-40% range to win again. Sosnick believes there will be a major third-party independent challenge in 2020 as well as a few minor parties as well that will fracture his opposition. As we saw in 2016, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson siphoned just enough votes to swing the election Trump’s way. Sosnick, for some reason, further believes that current polls overstate just how dismal Trump’s approval rating are and that he can expand his support by demonizing his opponents again. Lastly, Sosnick points out that much of Trump’s base is simply loyal to him alone and will stick with him no matter what.
Obviously, incumbent Presidents have enormous advantages in getting re-elected. And there is no denying that the Electoral College will favor the Republican candidate. Voter suppression will also give Trump an advantage. But the circumstances in 2020 will be significantly different than 2016. Trump will be the one defending his governing policies or lack of them. Democrats will not be fighting for a third Democratic presidential term. Their candidate will not have been depicted as the devil incarnate for the prior 20 years by far-right. The third party candidates in 2020 are much more likely to suck those moderate suburban Republican voters away from Trump as opposed to giving him a shot as they did in 2016. Trump’s demonization routines are already grating on his supporters and will be tiresome and ineffective in 2020. And, hopefully, there will be no last minute intervention by James Comey.
For Democrats, 2018 is far more important than worrying about 2020. And in 2018, Trump’s tanking poll numbers will make a huge difference. His hardcore base will be angry at their own Republican legislators. Those moderate suburban Republicans may be inclined to support divided government again. As support for Trump has sank, the intensity of not only Democrats’ but also independents’ disapproval of Trump and the way the country is being run is increasing. Extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression will hurt the Democrats but the reality is that momentum is on their side. If Democrats can take control of the House, the current GOP agenda will be dead in the water. And Trump’s prospects for re-election in 2020 might very well end up the same.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on October 10, 2017.