Political Connections

The Fault Lines in Trump’s Support

The president has lost ground with nearly every segment of the population, though he’s still strong among blue-collar whites.

President Trump at a rally in Pensacola, Fla., on Dec. 8
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Jan. 10, 2018, 8 p.m.

A massive new source of public-opinion research offers fresh insights into the fault lines emerging in Donald Trump’s foundation of support.

Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.

Trump retains important pillars of support. Given that he started in such a strong position with those blue-collar whites, even after that decline he still holds a formidable level of loyalty among them—particularly men and those over 50 years old. What’s more, he has established a modest beachhead among African-American and Hispanic men, even while confronting overwhelming opposition from women in those demographic groups.

Together, the results crystallize the bet Trump is making for his own reelection in 2020, and for his party’s chances in November’s election: that he can mobilize enough support among older and blue-collar (as well as rural and evangelical) whites to offset the intense resistance he’s provoked from groups that are all growing in the electorate: millennials, minorities, and college-educated whites—particularly the women among them.

These findings emerge from a cumulative analysis of 605,172 interviews SurveyMonkey conducted with Americans in 2017 about Trump’s job performance. At my request, Mark Blumenthal, SurveyMonkey’s head of election polling, calculated Trump’s average approval rating over the last year among groups of voters segmented simultaneously by their race, gender, education level, and age. The SurveyMonkey results put Trump’s total approval rating for 2017 at 42 percent, with 56 percent disapproving.

In the 2016 election, exit polls found that Trump’s best group was whites without a four-year college degree; he carried 66 percent of them. But his approval among them in the 2017 SurveyMonkey average slipped to 56 percent. In 2016, whites with at least a four-year college degree gave Trump 48 percent of their votes. But in the 2017 average, just 40 percent approved of Trump’s performance, while 60 percent disapproved.

Layering in gender and age underscores voters’ retreat. Trump in 2016 narrowly won younger whites. But he now faces crushing disapproval ratings, ranging from 62 percent to 76 percent, among three big groups of white millennials: women with and without a college degree, and men with a degree.

Trump’s support rapidly rises among blue-collar white men older than 35 and spikes past two-thirds for those above 50. But his position has deteriorated among white women without a college degree. Last year he carried 61 percent of them. But in the new SurveyMonkey average, they split evenly, with 49 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval.

Trump’s position has also eroded since 2016 among college-educated white women. In 2016, those white-collar voters preferred Hillary Clinton but gave her only 51 percent of their votes. Now, in the 2017 average, 66 percent of them disapproved of Trump and 58 percent strongly disapproved.

Trump did better among college-educated white men, usually a reliably Republican group. But after those men gave him 53 percent of their 2016 votes, an equal number said they disapproved of his performance in the yearly average.

College-educated whites, especially men, are the group many Republicans are most optimistic will return to the party if the economy and stock market continue to improve. But one GOP pollster, who asked not to be identified while discussing the party’s prospects, was dubious that Republicans could reverse these declines while Trump is still in a position to define them. “It’s not like voters are saying, ‘We are willing to overlook how … out of control he is because the economy is doing well,’” the pollster said.

Among African-Americans and Hispanics, reactions to Trump depend more on gender than age or education. In every age group, and at every level of education, about twice as many African-American men as women gave Trump positive marks. In all, 23 percent of black men approved of Trump’s performance, versus 11 percent of black women. “The outlier here isn’t [black] men. … It’s [black] women, where you have near-universal disapproval of Trump,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who studies African-American voters.

Among Hispanics, men were also much more likely than women to express positive views about Trump. Among Hispanic men older than 50, Trump’s approval— strikingly—exceeded 40 percent. But at least three-fifths of Hispanic women in every age group disapproved.

Many things could change between now and November’s election—much less 2020. But these detailed soundings show how the gales of resistance Trump has fueled are reshaping the electoral landscape. Whether by age, gender, race, or education, Trump is deepening almost every social and political division that existed before him—with unpredictable consequences for the parties and for the country itself.

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