Poll: Trump approval up but re-election support weaker

Grinnell national poll finds most confident of their finances

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G20 leaders summit in Buen
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

President Donald Trump’s job approval numbers are up, but a Grinnell College National Poll released Monday suggests support for his re-election is not on the same trajectory.

The GOP president’s approval numbers have risen since the midterm election that saw Republicans make gains in the U.S. Senate but lost control of the U.S. House to Democrats.

His job approval rating bumped up from 39 to 43 percent between mid-September and mid-November, according to the Grinnell poll of 1,000 U.S. adults from Nov. 24-27. The poll, conducted by calling randomly selected with landlines and cellphones, has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Grinnell political-science Professor Peter Hanson attributes the higher approval ratings to increased support from independents.

However, that’s where the good news for the president stops at least for now because “even a majority of those who are happy with his performance aren’t convinced he deserves a second term,” according to Hanson. Only 32 percent of those polled said they would definitely vote to re-elect Trump. Among likely 2020 voters in rural communities, where the president received his highest marks demographically, 51 percent said they would definitely vote to re-elect.

“The 2016 election appears to have convinced the president that he can win only by appealing to his base,” Hanson said. “That’s a miscalculation that cost the Republicans the House in 2018. The question for Republicans now is whether they can expand their coalition beyond this narrow base of support to be competitive again in 2020.”

“This is the kind of poll that makes Republicans nervous and Democrats optimistic,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer.


That’s because it appears there are cracks in the president’s base. For instance, 71 percent of white men without college degrees voted for Trump in 2016, according to the exit polls. Today, only 49 percent of that demographic would definitely vote to re-elect him, according to the poll. Among likely 2020 voters he also falls short of a 50 percent majority of white men (43 percent), white men and women without a college degree (46 percent) and evangelicals (47 percent).

“Even when incumbents do not hit the 50 percent mark with the electorate saying they would definitely vote to re-elect, they would be looking for demographic pockets of strength where they carry the day,” Selzer said. “President Trump has one pocket only — voters who live in rural areas. He falls short with men, whites, those without a college education — groups that handed him the win in 2016.”

Voters, even among those groups that supported Trump two years ago, are feeling good about the economy, which usually is a good sign for incumbents.

The Grinnell-Selzer poll showed two out of three respondents are feeling better about their personal financial futures. Sixty-four percent say they are moving closer to their hopes for their personal finances, while just 26 percent feel like they are moving farther away.

Hanson notes that the dichotomy between voters feeling positive and confident, yet unwilling to commit to vote for Trump in 2020, is surprising.

“Historically, presidents who preside over periods of economic growth are popular and win re-election,” Hanson said. “President Trump’s low approval and dismal re-election numbers are a break from the past and may suggest that his combative style is harming his chance to win again in 2020.”

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