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Donald Trump

Donald Trump is losing voters, new poll shows – spelling trouble for Republican midterms

A new poll shows that less than a third of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, and 55 per cent disapprove – meaning his approval rating has dropped dramatically in the past year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 1:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 1:16am

US President Donald Trump is ending his first year a beleaguered figure, having seen his support dwindle, his opposition re-energised and the future of the Republican Party in several key states dim significantly for November elections, a new poll has revealed.

Just under one-third of those polled, 32 per cent, approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 55 per cent who disapproved and 12 per cent who were neutral.

That 23-percentage-point deficit represents a significant decline since April and the last time the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times nationwide poll was conducted. That poll found Trump with a 7-point approval deficit; 40 per cent to 47 per cent.

The Democrats would be very likely to take the House [in November]. The Republicans could be in real trouble
Robert Shrum, director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics

Looking just at residents of 11 key swing states, Trump’s standing is virtually the same – 33 per cent approve, 54 per cent disapprove – evidence that his problem goes far beyond the big, Democratic coastal states.

Moreover, opposition to him has intensified – 42 per cent in the poll said they disapproved strongly of Trump’s job performance, up from 35 per cent in April. A much smaller group, 15 per cent, voiced strong approval, down slightly from April.

The 55 per cent disapproval closely matches the average of other recent non-partisan polls; the 32 per cent approval is several points lower than the average, most likely because the USC/LA Times poll explicitly gives people the option of saying they neither approve nor disapprove, which not all polls do.

Widespread disapproval of Trump’s performance has also dragged down his party’s standing.

Asked which party’s candidates they would favour if the congressional elections were being held today, those polled gave the Democrats an 11-point advantage: 51 per cent for Democrats to 40 per cent for Republicans.

Democrats have held their supporters better than Republicans have: 8 in 10 people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 said they definitely would vote for a Democrat for Congress if the election were held now.

Just two-thirds of people who voted for Trump had a similarly definite intention of voting for a Republican.

History indicates that with a double-digit lead on the congressional ballot question, “the Democrats would be very likely to take the House” in November, said Robert Shrum, the veteran Democratic strategist who directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics, which co-sponsored the poll.

“The Republicans could be in real trouble.”

The people who were ‘waiting to see’ [on Trump in the spring have mostly moved toward disapproval
Jill Darling, survey director for the USC economic and social research centre

That result comes despite the poll’s finding of widespread optimism about the economic future, which normally would boost the party in power.

The poll was mostly completed before the Oval Office meeting last week in which Trump used a vulgar word to describe African countries and said he would prefer to see more immigrants from places such as Norway.

As a result, the poll doesn’t reflect any change in Trump’s standing that may have come from those remarks, which many Democrats, and some Republicans, have labelled racist.

The poll was conducted online from December 15 to January 15 among 3,862 respondents drawn from a panel designed to accurately reflect the country’s demographics.

Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points in either direction. Panel members are part of an ongoing research project into public opinion by USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research, the poll’s other co-sponsor.

In 2016, it repeatedly forecast a Trump victory in the election.

Throughout Trump’s first year, he has focused heavily – indeed, almost exclusively – on tending to his core supporters, whom the president often refers to as his “base.”

Trump has used divisive issues such as immigration and controversies such as his criticism of NFL players who “took a knee” during the national anthem to rev up the enthusiasm of his backers.

In 2016, his focus on the base succeeded – just barely – in getting Trump the votes he needed in key states to beat Clinton.

[Trump is] facing a general election with a lot of voters he’s alienated … [that is] a huge problem for the party.
Mike Murphy, long-time Republican strategist

Since then, Trump’s support has remained mostly solid among groups that have backed him heavily since he won the Republican Party nomination.

Residents of rural areas rate his job performance positively 51 per cent to 38 per cent; whites who identify as evangelical Christians approve 63 per cent to 28 per cent; and self-identified Republicans approve 74 per cent to 16 per cent.

Among white voters, those without a college education approve of Trump’s work by a narrower margin, 49 per cent to 37 per cent. Those with a college degree disapprove by more than 2 to 1, 65 per cent to 28 per cent.

But the exclusive focus on his base leaves very little margin for defections, and over the last year, Trump has suffered some.

Because the USC/LA Times poll questions the same people repeatedly over time, it can track those defections: About 1 in 8 people who said in April that they approved of Trump’s job performance now say they disapprove.

Most of those who had not made up their minds in April now have done so, and by almost 2 to 1, they have gone against Trump.

“The people who were ‘waiting to see’ in the spring have mostly moved toward disapproval,” said Jill Darling, survey director for the USC economic and social research centre.

Even among those who voted for him, Trump’s popularity is tepid. Asked to rate him on a zero-to-100 thermometer, Trump voters gave the president personally an average score of 64.

His policies won a score of 72. By contrast, the antipathy from Clinton voters was intense – they gave Trump a personal score of 7 and a policy score of 9.

Other questions on the poll also indicate problems for the president. A majority, 52 per cent, said he had done less than he said he would do, with 31 per cent saying “much less.”

Only 12 per cent said he had accomplished more than he pledged, while 30 per cent said he had done about what he said. Those numbers also have deteriorated from April.

Similarly, asked whether the phrase “keeps his promises” applies to Trump, 54 per cent said it did not, compared with 46 per cent who said it did. That is almost a mirror image of the split that favoured Trump on that question in April.

The poll results indicate that voters may be “ready to potentially punish the president,” said Mike Murphy, the long-time Republican strategist who has been one of Trump’s most persistent party critics.

Trump has focused only on the sort of voters who boosted him in the Republican primaries in 2016, Murphy said.

“Now he’s facing a general election with a lot of voters he’s alienated,” Murphy added, calling that “a huge problem for the party.”

The results on some questions appeared to mirror overall support or opposition to Trump.

Overall, 59 per cent called the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election a “serious matter that should be fully investigated,” while 41 per cent saw it as “mainly an effort to discredit” Trump – a finding that divided sharply along partisan lines.

Among Republicans, 81 per cent called it an effort to discredit and 19 per cent called it serious. Among Democrats, the divide was reversed, 89 per cent to 11 per cent. Independents sided more with the Democrats, 64 per cent to 36 per cent.

In this midterm election year, Republicans face an opposition energised by deep antipathy to the president. Among residents of urban areas, for example, over half not only disapprove of Trump, but say they “disapprove strongly.”

Strong disapproval also comes from nearly half the residents of Western states, 48 per cent of women nationwide, 52 per cent of Latinos and 71 per cent of African-Americans.

That disapproval drives the midterm forecast, said Democratic strategist Doug Herman, one of the consultants for the poll.

In recent midterm elections, Republicans, who tend to be older and more affluent, typically have been more consistent voters than Democrats, giving their party an advantage in contests with lower turnout than in presidential election years.

That Republican Party edge has disappeared in the current climate, Herman said.

When the poll asked people how likely they were to vote, the Democratic advantage held steady in either a low-turnout or a high-turnout scenario.

Of course, the election isn’t being held today, and Republican strategists have pinned their hopes on turning around voter opinions over the next 10 months. Party leaders say they believe that current good economic conditions will provide an opening.

The poll does show widespread optimism about the economy. Asked if they believed their families would be better or worse off financially a year from now, 38 per cent said they expected improvement, while 48 per cent said they expected things to stay the same. Only 13 per cent predicted a worsening.

So far, however, that sort of optimism has not helped Republicans.

In special elections over the last year, Democrats consistently have performed better than historical patterns would have predicted.

On Tuesday, in the latest example, a Democrat won a special election in a blue-collar, white district of western Wisconsin for a state legislative seat that Republicans had held since 2001.

Trump had carried the district solidly in 2016. Scott Walker, the state’s Republican governor, called the result a “wake-up call” for his party.