Donald Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office seems to reach new depths of despair with each passing week. An inability to score any sizeable policy victories (despite the Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate), mixed with a serious investigation into possible collusion between his campaign team and the Russian government, has left the President deeply unpopular.
His approval rating currently hovers around 38% – the lowest of any president at this stage of their first term since Gerald Ford in 1974. Only for one day, so far, have more members of the public approved than disapproved of Trump's conduct. This steady decline is unlikely to be halted any time soon, leaving senior Republicans looking and sounding increasingly nervous as they struggle to pass any major policies.
Whilst the overall disapproval with which the American people view Trump is indeed worrying for him, what should be more concerning is who exactly the most unhappy voters are. One new piece of research undertaken by the Voter Study Group, The First Six Months: How Americans Are Reacting to the Trump Administration, offers a fascinating insight into how voters view the President half a year into his first term.
According to the analysis, Trump’s approval rating remains unsurprisingly high amongst those who voted for him. 88% of those voters questioned approve of the job he’s currently doing. Just 9% view him unfavourably.
High numbers such as these are to be expected, due to the incredibly hostile nature of last year’s election (96% of Hillary Clinton voters currently disapprove of Trump, whilst 59% of third-party voters hold similarly negative opinions).
What is particularly interesting about the research conducted by the Voter Study Group is that the respondents used in their surveys were also interviewed shortly after the presidential election in 2012, allowing the analysts to track how these voters’ views have changed not just between November 2016 and now, but right back to the start of Barack Obama’s second term in office. As a result, it is possible to pinpoint which voters moved where, and why a certain group in particular are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Trump.
That group comprises of voters who backed Obama in 2012 only to switch to Trump last year, helping to push the current president over the finish line in important areas in key swing states. One section of the Voter Study Group’s research is particularly illuminating, namely, the section on whether those who voted for Trump now regret their decision. As was the case with Trump’s disapproval rating, very few reported having regrets (only 6% did, compared to 3% just a month after the election).
However, 16% of those who first backed Obama and then voted for Trump now regret their decision to do so, almost four times as many as any other group analysed. Furthermore, this figure has almost doubled since December 2016, when voters were last asked the same question.
Obama-Trump voters only total 9% of those that voted for the President last year, but they are nonetheless a key component of Trump’s support base and one that he can’t afford to lose. This is because many former Democrat voters switched to the Republicans in 2016, helping the GOP to turn dozens of counties red for the first time in decades. Of the 676 counties that twice backed Obama in 2008 and 2012, 209 switched to Trump last year. Most of these swing states are in the industrial Midwest. Mainly located in what was traditionally one of the Democrats’ most loyal parts of the country, these voters gave Trump the small but significant nudge he needed to cross the finish line ahead of Clinton. Overall, it’s estimated that Obama-Trump voters in Midwestern states could have cost Clinton as many as 70 electoral college votes.
With only 39% of Obama-Trump voters indicating that they’d vote for a Republican candidate if the midterm elections were held today, the President’s lack of support amongst this vital section of his former voters is another worry for an increasingly embattled Republican Party.