For people who dislike Donald Trump one of the most puzzling things about today’s political environment is the reportedly high approval level he still enjoys among Republicans. But a new study from Cornell University shows that approval rating polls are misleading and the president is not nearly as popular as we have been led to believe.
Polls have shown that nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve of how Trump is handling his job as president and that a majority of Republicans approve of his handling of the Helsinki summit. These numbers are used to explain the reluctance of members of the GOP Congress to criticize him because they are worried about angering the president’s base of support.
Some GOP legislators have started criticizing the president, however, and they may now realize that Trump’s support among voters in his own party is actually weaker than it seems and not nearly as firm as media coverage would lead us to believe.
The new study looked at all Republican voters but then differentiated between them based on the intensity of their support for Trump. Some very hardcore Republicans are extremely strong defenders of the president, but a greater number of Republicans are much more lukewarm in their support.
People with weaker support for the president also are less attached to the Republican party. And that may end up being a major problem for Republican congressional candidates in November’s elections, especially those from moderate “swing” districts.
In the new study, Trump’s approval rating was shown to be 85 percent among Republicans which is consistent with other polls. This number makes it seem that his support among Republicans is overwhelming.
The study divided Republicans into three groups:
- those who say they identify strongly with the Republican Party;
- those who identify as Republicans but not strongly; and
- those who call themselves independents but say they lean toward the Republican Party.
These distinctions are typically not discussed in media coverage, but are important. The study shows that the STRENGTH of a voter’s identification with a party determines many of their political attitudes.
For example, among strong Republicans, Trump’s overall approval rating is 93 percent. Of these, 78 percent “strongly” approve of the president. But the problem for the GOP is that there aren’t that many of these highly partisan voters. They represent just 18 percent of likely voters and less than half of the GOP voter base.
Trump is MUCH less popular among Republicans who don’t identify strongly with their party. In this group Trump’s overall approval rating is 72 percent but just 38 percent saying they “strongly approve” and 34 percent say they only “somewhat approve” of Trump.
The independent-leaning Republicans give Trump the same level of tepid support.
The concern for the GOP is that those who only “somewhat approve” of Trump and don’t strongly identify with the Republican Party may be less inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates this fall.
Their reservations about Trump may mean Republican voters will abandon their party and vote for Democrats in the autumn, in which case we will see a Blue Wave election. Clearly Republican congressional candidates cannot count on those who “somewhat approve” of Trump to turn out and cast ballots for them at election time.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.