Horowitz: Trump’s Base Begins to Erode

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


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Rob Horowitz

When fending off questions about President Trump’s record low approval ratings, his surrogates continually refer to his supposedly impregnable base.  As President Trump himself put it during the campaign, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that base beginning to erode as a substantial percentage of Republicans and white working class voters express major doubts about Trump’s performance as President.

According to the poll, only a little more than 1-in-3 Republicans say they like the way that Trump conducts himself as President, as opposed to nearly half who indicate mixed feelings and nearly 1-in-5 who say they don’t like the way he conducts himself as President. Similarly, less than half of Republicans say the President is even tempered.   Further, more than 4-in-10 Republicans say he is selfish and more than 3-in-10 say he is prejudiced.  

While Trump’s conduct is the most predominant concern of Republicans, there is also a significant percentage who diverge from him on the issues; 3-in-10 Republicans say they agree with him on few or no issues. He may also may want to re-think his pattern of attacking Republican leaders in Congress.  The poll shows it is not only counterproductive in advancing his legislative agenda; it is probably backfiring with the public. Nearly 6-in-10 Republicans want Trump to listen more to Republican leaders who have experience in government.

Public opinion expert William Galston found similar doubts among non-Democratic, white, working class voters polled by Pew. Nearly 6-in-10 of these voters say Trump is selfish and half believe he is dishonest.  There is also limited issue agreement with the President among this sub-set of the electorate. Given that there is much overlap between white working class voters and Republicans, the fact that these groups express similar opinions is not surprising.

Galston, who requested that Pew segment out white, working class voters for purposes of his analysis, aptly summarizes President Trump’s disastrous political position.” Divide and conquer is what you’re supposed to do to the other side, not your own. Whatever the alt-right press may say, this is not a formula for success.”

He expands on this point, “There is a classic formula for political success: unify your supporters and divide your opponents. Looking beyond the white working class to the full survey, Pew finds that after seven months in office, President Trump has done the opposite: Democrats are united against him while Republicans are divided in their assessment."

President Trump’s over-all approval rating is now about 36%--which by itself is highly problematic--and a substantial part of the reason for his inability to advance his agenda in Congress.   And his approval with Republicans has dropped from close to 90% to about 75%.  Also, the percentage of Republicans who strongly approve of the job Trump is doing has significantly declined.

But the PEW poll shows that he may not have yet reached the bottom. Without a major course correction, his base will continue to erode.   As with voting decisions, measures of approval tend to be lagging indicators. Generally speaking, doubts emerging about issue positions and personal qualities precede a voter changing his mind about whether or not a President or other elected official is doing a good job.

 This Pew poll should be a wake-up call for the President and his supporters.  He not only risks growing political impotence; the prospect of John Kasich or some other challenger wresting the nomination away from him in 2020 is as of today not as far-fetched as it may have once seemed.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump’s Budget - 2017

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Gina Raimondo 

RI Governor 

"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse 

U.S. Senator

“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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Jack Reed 

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country. 

The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular.  The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage.  If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets.  That is immoral and ill-advised.

The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings.  In fact, they would impede economic growth.

Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget.  It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires.  It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island. 

While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war.  These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.

I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”


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