Poll: Trump Approval Down, Slips With Base

Jan 17, 2019
Originally published on January 17, 2019 10:09 am

While the longest government shutdown in U.S. history continues, President Trump's approval rating is down, and there are cracks showing with his base.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds Trump's approval rating down and his disapproval rating up from a month ago. He currently stands at 39 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove — a 7-point net change from December when his rating was 42 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.

And the movement has come from within key portions of his base. He is:

  • Down significantly among suburban men, a net-positive approval rating of 51-to-39 percent to a net-negative of 42 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. That's a net change of down 18 percentage points.
  • Down a net of 13 points among white evangelicals, from 73-to-17 percent approve to 66-to-23 percent approve.
  • Down a net of 10 points among Republicans, from 90-to-7 percent approve to 83-to-10 percent.
  • Down marginally among white men without a college degree, from 56-to-34 percent approve to 50-to-35 percent approve, a net change downward of 7 points.


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"For the first time, we saw a fairly consistent pattern of having his base showing evidence of a cracking," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "Don't know if that's temporary — tied to the government shutdown — or a broader problem the president is having."

The percentage of people now saying they strongly disapprove of the job the president is doing is up to 45 percent, the highest for Trump since December 2017.


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2020 headwinds

The president also faces some significant headwinds for re-election in 2020. Just 30 percent of registered voters said they will definitely vote for Trump in 2020, while 57 percent said they will definitely vote against him.

Just 76 percent of Trump supporters, 69 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of white evangelicals say they will definitely vote for him. Many, if not most, of them will likely vote for the president, but their softness in supporting him for re-election is a sign of vulnerability.

For context, in 2010, when asked about then-President Barack Obama, just 36 percent said they would definitely vote for him, while 48 percent said they would not. Obama went on to win with 51 percent of the vote.

But for Trump to have more than half the country already saying it definitely won't vote for him indicates he is facing a difficult re-election.

"The president has had his base and not much else," Miringoff said, "and when you look ahead to the election ... he enters with a significant disadvantage. His re-election prospects would definitely be in jeopardy at this point."

Trump has a lot of work to do to be able to reassemble the coalition that voted for him narrowly to win in the Electoral College in 2016. He lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes and won just 46 percent of the vote. He won by about 70,000 votes combined between Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all states that have trended away from the president during his first two years in office.

The Democratic field

As for who Trump would face, former Vice President Joe Biden stands apart from the Democratic field, in terms of how Democratic voters feel about him compared to others.

Biden is the best-known potential Democratic candidate, and is very well-liked — 76 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a favorable impression of him. Just 12 percent have a negative view.

"If he gets in, he automatically becomes the front-runner with numbers like this," Miringoff said. "He becomes the candidate who you have to get into the mix with and be competitive with him."

Barbara Carvalho, director of the poll, added, "It is unusual to see a candidate, who's been part of the Washington scene for so long, have such a low unfavorable rating."


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Bernie Sanders, the principal challenger to 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, is well-known, but between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 Democrats have a negative opinion of him. There are a lot of questions about whether Sanders will be able to keep his base of activist supporters together, four years later, now that Democrats have so many more options.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has an almost equally high favorability rating as Sanders, but is not viewed as negatively. Others are potentially well-positioned, too. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and California Sen. Kamala Harris are in a next tier and have a capability of taking off if they make a good impression as voters get to know them.

The poll isn't good news for all potential Democratic contenders, however. The Democratic primary electorate does not appear ready for a billionaire. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighs a run, Democrats are evenly split on their views of him, while about half of them haven't yet formed an opinion.

A primary challenge to Trump?

There has been talk of a primary challenge to President Trump, but no candidate emerges with particular backing.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Mitt Romney are viewed more unfavorably than favorably with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — 24 percent view Kasich favorably, 28 percent view him unfavorably; 29 percent view Romney positively, while 48 percent view Romney negatively.

Romney has been an outspoken critic of Trump, and the GOP base does not appear to appreciate that.

"There is no strong support" for a primary challenge to Trump, Miringoff said. "Kasich is not well-known, and Romney is not particularly popular."

In the mood for compromise

As this shutdown continues, 59 percent said they mostly blame President Trump or congressional Republicans for it.

And more than 6 in 10 are in the mood for compromise — 63 percent said they want their elected officials to compromise with people they disagree with rather than stick to their positions, including a majority of Republicans. Just 31 percent overall said they want their elected officials to stick to their positions no matter what.

Strong Republicans (50 percent), African-Americans (51 percent), Trump supporters (53 percent), Latinos (55 percent) and Gen Xers (56 percent) are among the least likely to say they want their elected officials to compromise.

"People are looking for compromise right now," Miringoff said.

But neither side is seen as doing a very good job of it right now — 57 percent think the Trump administration is doing too little to work with Democrats in Congress; 55 percent think that Democrats are doing too little to work with the administration.

Neither party is making a very good impression, either. Only about a third of Americans have a positive view of congressional Democrats (34 percent), while a majority (53 percent) disapprove of the job they are doing.

An even lower number (29 percent) have a positive view of congressional Republicans and more view them negative (58 percent).

The survey of 1,023 adults was conducted from Jan. 10 to Jan. 13 by The Marist Poll for NPR and the PBS NewsHour. Results for all Americans have a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points. There were 324 Republicans or Republican-leaning independents surveyed. Where they are referenced, there is a margin of error of +/- 6.8 percentage points. There were 417 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents surveyed. Where they are referenced, there is a margin of error of +/- 6 percentage points.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


How has the news of the past month affected the political support for President Trump? In a matter of weeks, the president has lost key advisors and has also become the central figure in a partial government shutdown. Now an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll has asked voters about the presidential campaign now beginning. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us. Domenico, good morning.


INSKEEP: What do the numbers say?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, the fact of the matter here is that, you know, the president's approval rating is slipping somewhat, and it's largely because of his base. There have been some cracks that we've seen. The president approval rating dropped slightly, from 42 to 39 percent. But among some of those key base numbers from last month, suburban men and white women without a college degree, they had approved of the job the president was doing. Now they don't. He's also down some with white evangelical Christians, suburban men and even slightly with Republicans, overall.

INSKEEP: Have people been thinking already about how they plan to vote in 2020?

MONTANARO: They certainly have been. And it's not great news for President Trump there, either. Fifty-seven percent of people say that they definitely would not vote for President Trump in 2020, which is - historically, those are terrible numbers. President Obama, at the same point, was at about 48 percent of people who said they definitely would not vote for him. That wound up being roughly about where President Obama wound up doing in the 2012 election. He wound up winning, of course. But about 47 percent of people didn't vote for him.

INSKEEP: I guess we should clarify here. Fifty-seven percent of people in this survey saying they'll definitely vote against President Trump. Sounds like the president's re-election prospects are toast. But, of course, the question is who actually shows up to vote in 2020, in what percentages do they show up to vote, do they really do what they say they're going to do? Nevertheless, it's pretty dire.

MONTANARO: Yeah. It's who winds up showing up, but also who he winds up running against. Because, you know, these elections, obviously, are choices. And, you know, it's one thing to say a generic Democrat could beat President Trump. It's another thing to say who that Democrat actually would be.

INSKEEP: So what is it that seems to be driving the president's support downward?

MONTANARO: Well, a big part of it, obviously, is the shutdown. You know, there's the longest-running shutdown that the country's ever seen. And just in the past month what we've seen is that people have changed somewhat dramatically in some cases, but also we see that people say - more than 60 percent of people say that they have a more negative view of the president than they did before this as the shutdown has continued. And, you know, that crosses over, not just with, you know, Democrats and independents, but there is a significant chunk of Republicans, about a quarter of Republicans, actually, who say they have a more negative view of the president now.

INSKEEP: And that's not far from the number of Republicans who haven't made up their mind that they'll definitely vote for this president again. There are some Republicans who are in that category right now.

MONTANARO: Yeah. You only have about 30 percent of people who say that they'll definitely vote for President Trump this time around. A president generally wants to try to be closer to 40 percent in that number and definitely below 50 percent in the people who say they definitely won't vote for him.

INSKEEP: Self-identified independents are not with the president much at all?

MONTANARO: No. Not at all. And in fact, this trend has continued from the 2018 elections, where independents have largely looked like Democrats, which is pretty unusual because independents are a group that generally have, over the last couple election cycles, anyway, trended Republican. You might remember Mitt Romney won independents in the 2012 presidential election and still lost.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.