A new poll shows that a majority of registered voters would
consider a vote to re-elect President Trump. The polling gives hope to the
president’s supporters but underscores the obstacles that Trump faces in his
quest to win a second term.
The good news for Republicans is that the poll by Hill-HarrisX, which was taken before the release
of the Mueller report’s findings, found that 54 percent of registered voters
would are open to voting for President Trump in the 2020 elections. The bad
news is that 46 percent refused to even consider voting to send Trump back to
Washington. The sharply divided electorate with an extremely large anti-Trump
faction means that re-election is possible but unlikely unless Trump wins
virtually all of the voters are open to supporting him.
People who voted for Trump in 2016 are largely standing by
their man. Ninety-five percent of prior Trump voters are open to supporting him
again in 2020. In 2016, Trump won 46.1 percent of the popular vote.
Surprisingly, a large minority of Clinton voters say that
they would also consider a vote for Trump. Seventy-six percent of former Hillary
supporters refuse to consider supporting Trump but 24 percent are open to the possibility.
Respondents who did not vote in 2016 opposed Trump by an almost
two-to-one margin. Sixty-five percent said that they would never vote for Trump
versus 35 percent who might.
Trump’s largest positive was the economy. Twenty-two percent
of respondents said that the good economy was the main reason that they could
support the president. More recent polling from Gallup found that the economy and national defense were the only issue areas in which voters
ranked President Trump positively.
While the top line of the poll is encouraging for
Republicans, the underlying problems should be obvious. If only 54 percent of
voters are open to supporting Trump in a good economy, what happens if the
economy softens before the election? There are already indications that the
economy may be slowing. Economic growth for 2018 missed
the Trump Administration’s target, partly due to the ongoing trade war.
Even with a booming economy, a near majority say that they
will not even consider voting for Trump. That leaves very few undecided voters
and President Trump must win almost all of them. With almost half of registered voters dead set against supporting him,
the president cannot afford to write off a single undecided voter.
There is also the possibility that the importance of the economy is overstated. Contrary to Republican claims during the election, President Obama presided over a good albeit sluggish economy and current economic growth is not significantly different from what the country experienced during the Obama years. Likewise, the stock market climbed steadily under Obama after the recovery from the Great Recession started in 2009. During the same period, unemployment steadily declined and continued to do so under Trump. However, the good economic news was not enough to prevent Obama’s Democrat successor from losing in 2016.
The Bill Clinton campaign in 1992 famously repeated the mantra,
“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is true in a slow economy but not necessarily
in a good one as his wife learned 25 years later. When the economy is bad,
people vote with their wallets. When the economy is good and consumer
confidence is high, voters may base their choice other issues.
One such issue is immigration. The primary reason that
voters refuse to support President Trump is his hard line on immigration. This
issue was cited by 18 percent.
Many voters seem willing to consider the Democratic
challengers as well as Trump. The poll reports that 20 percent of respondents
who were open to supporting Trump said that the Democratic candidates were too
liberal, but this group was made up mostly of Republicans. Ten percent of
potential Trump supporters said that none of the Democratic candidates were
exciting. Looking at this data from the opposite direction, more than half of
potential Trump supporters don’t see the Democrats as too liberal and 90
percent think the Democrats have interesting candidates.
President Trump should not be considered a sure loser for
2020 but neither is he a shoo-in. If the
president hopes to win re-election, he must focus on winning over almost all of
the independent and moderate voters who have not already ruled out supporting
him. To do that, his campaign should focus on the economy and steer clear of
the divisive immigration issue. However, it is by no means clear that the
president will be able to focus on something other than the issue that fires up