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Horowitz: Trump’s Base Begins to Erode

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


Rob Horowitz

When fending off questions about President Trump’s record low approval ratings, his surrogates continually refer to his supposedly impregnable base.  As President Trump himself put it during the campaign, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that base beginning to erode as a substantial percentage of Republicans and white working class voters express major doubts about Trump’s performance as President.

According to the poll, only a little more than 1-in-3 Republicans say they like the way that Trump conducts himself as President, as opposed to nearly half who indicate mixed feelings and nearly 1-in-5 who say they don’t like the way he conducts himself as President. Similarly, less than half of Republicans say the President is even tempered.   Further, more than 4-in-10 Republicans say he is selfish and more than 3-in-10 say he is prejudiced.  

While Trump’s conduct is the most predominant concern of Republicans, there is also a significant percentage who diverge from him on the issues; 3-in-10 Republicans say they agree with him on few or no issues. He may also may want to re-think his pattern of attacking Republican leaders in Congress.  The poll shows it is not only counterproductive in advancing his legislative agenda; it is probably backfiring with the public. Nearly 6-in-10 Republicans want Trump to listen more to Republican leaders who have experience in government.

Public opinion expert William Galston found similar doubts among non-Democratic, white, working class voters polled by Pew. Nearly 6-in-10 of these voters say Trump is selfish and half believe he is dishonest.  There is also limited issue agreement with the President among this sub-set of the electorate. Given that there is much overlap between white working class voters and Republicans, the fact that these groups express similar opinions is not surprising.

Galston, who requested that Pew segment out white, working class voters for purposes of his analysis, aptly summarizes President Trump’s disastrous political position.” Divide and conquer is what you’re supposed to do to the other side, not your own. Whatever the alt-right press may say, this is not a formula for success.”

He expands on this point, “There is a classic formula for political success: unify your supporters and divide your opponents. Looking beyond the white working class to the full survey, Pew finds that after seven months in office, President Trump has done the opposite: Democrats are united against him while Republicans are divided in their assessment."

President Trump’s over-all approval rating is now about 36%--which by itself is highly problematic--and a substantial part of the reason for his inability to advance his agenda in Congress.   And his approval with Republicans has dropped from close to 90% to about 75%.  Also, the percentage of Republicans who strongly approve of the job Trump is doing has significantly declined.

But the PEW poll shows that he may not have yet reached the bottom. Without a major course correction, his base will continue to erode.   As with voting decisions, measures of approval tend to be lagging indicators. Generally speaking, doubts emerging about issue positions and personal qualities precede a voter changing his mind about whether or not a President or other elected official is doing a good job.

 This Pew poll should be a wake-up call for the President and his supporters.  He not only risks growing political impotence; the prospect of John Kasich or some other challenger wresting the nomination away from him in 2020 is as of today not as far-fetched as it may have once seemed.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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