President Trump’s 2016 Electoral College victory ran through
Pennsylvania and the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. While several
polls have shown that Trump’s support in these states where he won narrow
victories has eroded, a new focus group of Pennsylvania voters suggests that many
Trump swing voters have not abandoned the president.
A recent focus group of Pennsylvania voters gives hope to
Trump supporters that the president can pull off another upset victory in 2020.
The Engagious/FPG focus group, which is discussed in an Axios article, contained several Obama/Trump voters who were unanimous in their continued
support for Donald Trump.
Although they were not happy with Trump’s behavior, the
focus group voters did like his performance on the economy. One of the voters,
Tara Biddle, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher, said, “I would be willing to
vote for someone other than Trump who would continue the initiatives he’s
started” on the economy, trade, and immigration.
“The only thing I would say, I’d like someone to get his
Twitter account away,” commented Tim G., 52.
When it comes to the Mueller report, the focus group’s swing
voters were not impressed. “You could investigate every president; they’re all
shady,” said Jessica G. “Let’s just move on and let him do his job.”
The swing voters described their ideal leader as “assertive,”
a “negotiator,” “powerful,” and “Christian.” Many of them agreed that these words
also described President Trump.
The Pennsylvania voters stand in contrast to similar focus
groups in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Ohio voters yearned for Barack Obama while the Wisconsin voters liked much of
Trump’s policy but were put off by his personality and temperament. Both groups
seemed ready to abandon Trump for a Democrat.
The downside for Trump supporters is that the Pennsylvania
focus group contained only eight swing voters, which is far too small to
constitute a statistically viable sample. While the focus group’s voters
solidly stand by their man, polling tells a different story.
One of the few polling firms that does regular state-level
polling of President Trump’s approval rating is Morning Consult. The
earliest poll in the series is January 2017, just a few months after the election.
At that point, Trump had a net approval rating of 10 points. The most recent
survey found the president underwater with a net approval rating of negative
seven points. Another poll of Pennsylvania voters back in March yielded similar results with 61 percent of
voters saying that Trump should not get a second term.
In 2016, Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania was a slim one. Trump
defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2
percent of votes cast, just over 68,000 votes. A swing of 17 points in his
approval over the past two years could indicate that Trump’s support in the
state has cratered despite the backing of the eight members of the focus group.
It would take relatively few Trump voters going back to the Democrats to turn
the state blue again.
While Pennsylvania with its 20 electoral votes is not a must-win
state for Trump next year, his path to victory becomes much more difficult
without it. Assuming all other state outcomes remain the same as 2016, if Trump
loses Pennsylvania, he would lose the election if he also lost either Florida
With its mills benefitting from the president’s protective
tariffs on steel and aluminum, Pennsylvania is one of the states most positioned
to benefit from the trade war. If President Trump cannot win there, it is
unlikely that he can carry the other Rust Belt states that he needs. Meanwhile,
red states such as Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas
are becoming battleground states, largely due to the impact
of the trade war on farmers.
In the end, the picture of Pennsylvania is mixed. Neither
Democrats nor Republicans can be certain of the holding the state at this
point. President Trump’s re-election cannot be written off either is it
“I’m not saying [Trump] will win the state,” pollster Terry
Madonna told Philadelphia website Billy
Penn in March. “I’m merely pointing out we better be careful about saying
he can’t win the state.