Last week, Fivethirtyeight partnered with Survey Monkey to look at a very particular group of Trump voters, unenthusiastic Trump voters. Surveying 7,000 adults who supported Trump, these voters comprised 15 percent of respondents and it is not a stretch to say they helped swing the election his way.
Per the survey, their are significant policy and demographic differences between this group and enthusiastic Trump supporters. While unenthusiastic Trump supporters were strongly white and middle aged, 37 percent had college degrees compared to 25 percent of enthusiastic Trump backers.
More importantly for the GOP’s political health in the age of Trump, only 75 percent identify as Republican or Republican leaning compared to 91 percent of the other cohort. The better news for the GOP is despite Trump’s early setbacks 74 percent of the group still approve of Trump.
What should worry Republicans about this group the most though is they have different policy priorities than the President. It is important to keep in mind that Trump ran the most unorthodox GOP campaign for the Presidency in a generation. As a result, some of the positions the President took run against traditional conservative views.
This could prove to be a problem going forward with unenthusiastic Trump voters. For example, unenthusiastic Trump supporters rated healthcare as their highest policy priority while enthusiastic Trump supporters rated it fourth, well behind immigration and terrorism. Both groups rated the economy as the highest priority by varying margins.
This has already played out in the policy arena. When Trump and Congressional Republicans were trying to pass the AHCA they found little support among traditional conservative and moderate lawmakers (reflecting their constituencies). This shows up in the survey among the two groups. Unenthusiastic Trump supporters only approved of the President’s handling of the issue with 54 percent. By contrast, 88 percent Trump’s strongest backers approved of his handling of the issue.
Trump might be maintaining the allegiance of his unenthusiastic backers by continuing to spend time focusing on traditional conservative causes like the Supreme Court. Fully 86 percent of these voters approved of his pick of Neil Gorusch for the High Court. Ominously for Democrats attempting to scandalize Trump to death, three-fourths of reluctant voters think the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is a distraction.
Again though, Republicans under Trump might struggle to hold these voters loyalties. On his budget, 80 percent of enthusiastic Trump supporters approve. But among the unenthusiastic group, barely half do. Trump’s budget significantly hikes defense spending and it is possible fiscal conservatives are objecting to this hike.
Combined with differing policy perspectives warning bells should be ringing in Republicans heads. Trump ran as a law and order candidate promising an unorthodox set of policy positions. This means some of Trump”s policy priorities (largely based on class and geographic appeal) might fall flat with this crucial group.
It may be starting to show. The survey found 15 percent of reluctant Trump supporters plan to vote for the Democratic candidate for their district in 2018 though the caveat is a generic candidate can be whatever a voter wants.
Still, this explains why Republicans are so closely watching the results of GA-6. The district is ripe with the kind of unenthusiastic voters the party needs to hold the district. Unlike Montana or KS-4, the enthusiastic Trump vote in rural areas does not exist in GA-6. As Kansas showed, Republicans are falling further in metro areas (see Witchita County returns) making their need to hold unenthusiastic Trump supporters more important than ever.
Now, here comes the caveat to the survey’s findings. It is one poll and the results in GA-6 showed a majority of voters still backed Republicans. Approval polls showing Trump in the low 40’s still have him well above water with his own party and Democrats might be overplaying their hand with pure opposition to everything he does.
Still, Trump’s approval ratings are not good to put it mildly. The most endangered Republicans are the members sitting in districts full of the more educated, affluent Republicans that felt Trump was the less of two evils. If Trump’s lagging poll numbers and this survey are any indication, Republicans should be pulling out all the stops to protect these members and their majority.