President Donald Trump’s chief problem heading into the 2020 campaign can be boiled down to “like him on the economy, but not overall.” Aggregating our last three CNN polls, Trump has a 44% approval rating and 52% disapproval rating among voters. On the economy, it’s been the inverse: 53% approval and 42% disapproval.
If 2020 turns out to be a referendum on Trump’s overall performance, he’s an underdog. Trump, though, would up his odds significantly by winning over half of the 9% of voters who like him on the economy but not overall – and he would be a clear favorite if he won the votes of all those who approved of him on the economy but not overall.
So how can Trump pull of this feat? A look at the numbers suggests he’ll likely need to do something very different than continue with his current base-first, hardline-immigration and racial-resentment electoral strategy. Trump will probably need to appeal well beyond his older, less educated and white Republican base.
This largely conforms with an earlier analysis by the left-leaning group Navigator Research.
The Trump base (i.e. those who approve of him overall) is overwhelmingly Republican. In total, 88% of voters who approve of Trump say they are either Republican or independents who lean Republican. This is why Trump seems loath to do anything that can alienate Republicans. They are his bedrock. A mere 7% of voters who approve of Trump are Democrats or independents who lean Democrattic. The other 6% are independents who lean toward neither party.
Those who approve of Trump on the economy, but not overall are something else altogether. In an aggregate of our last three CNN polls, 66% say they are Democrats or independents who lean Democratic. Only 23% are Republicans or independents who lean Republican. This makes this group not only more Democratic leaning than the overall Trump approval group, but puts it to the left overall electorate overall.
If Trump wants to reach these voters, he’ll need to move beyond appealing to just Republicans.
The differences between these two groups is not just about party, however. It’s about demographics as well.
Nearly four-fifths (79%) of Trump approvers are white. Just 2% are black and 9% are Latino. This could help explain why Trump hasn’t seen much of a decline in his approval ratings when he makes racist statements.
But while Trump’s approval rating hasn’t declined, it hasn’t gone up much recently, either. It could be because whites make up a significantly smaller portion (61%) of those who disapprove of Trump overall yet do approve of him on the economy. Black voters, on the other hand, see this share rise to 18% among this group. (This is actually larger than their 11% of all voters in our sample.) Latinos jump a little to 14% of the approve on economy though not overall group of the electorate.
This lends itself to the idea of something I noted a few weeks ago: Trump is hurting his chances at reelection with racist statements. He’d be much better off touting his economic record.
Another group Trump would be wise to reach out to would be voters with a college degree.
One of Trump’s most foretelling statements of the 2016 campaign occurred when he said, “I love the poorly educated.” 70% of those who approve of Trump’s overall performance lack a college degree. But if wants to convert some of the people who disapprove of him overall but like him on the economy, he better start to want to win over some better educated folks. Among this group, the non-college share drops to 58%. To put this in perspective, this means that not only is this group more educated than Trump approvers but, also among the overall electorate (58%).
Age, though, is perhaps the most fascinating attribute of those who approve of Trump on the economy but not overall. The median age of Trump approvers is 52. This is older than the age of the median voter overall (50). Not surprisingly, it’s also older than the age of the median Democrat or Democratic leaning independent (48). The median age of those who approve of Trump on the economy but not overall is younger than all of these (44). That is, the age gap between Trump approvers and those who approve of Trump on the economy but not overall is double the age gap between Democrats and Trump approvers.
These numbers suggest that either party that gears its message towards older voters could, in fact, be missing a golden opportunity to reach a swing part of the electorate.
Moreover, if Trump views politics through what he sees on cable news, he should keep in mind that the group of voters he may need to win reelection are not anywhere close to cable news’ main demographic.
More importantly, these numbers suggest that either party that gears its message towards older voters could, in fact, be missing a golden opportunity to reach a swing part of the electorate.
Trump, for now though, seems more than happy to mostly double down on his base first strategy. It could be the downfall of his bid for a second term.