This one was for Donald Trump.
Exit polls revealed an unmistakable anti-Trump backlash Tuesday, as Democrats won resounding victories in governors races in Virginia and New Jersey.
Majorities of voters in both states disapproved of the job Trump is doing as president, with significant numbers of voters in each state saying Trump was a reason for their vote. And far more of those voters said they made their choice to oppose Trump than to support him.
It’s not uncommon for the president’s party to lose the off-year Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races in the first year of the new administration. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush also saw the opposition party sweep both races a year after their first elections.
But what is unusual about Tuesday night is the extent to which the two races were about Trump. And the stark results cast fresh doubt on the health of Republican majorities in the House and Senate, in addition to gubernatorial races in next year’s midterm elections.
Trump’s approval rating in Virginia was just 40 percent, according to the exit poll. Among the 57 percent of voters who disapproved of Trump’s job performance, Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie, 87 percent to 11 percent.
The intensity gap strongly favored Northam, too. Nearly half of Virginia voters, 47 percent, strongly disapproved of Trump — and Northam won 95 percent of that vote. In other words, nearly 45 percent of the votes cast on Tuesday were from strong Trump disapprovers who voted for Northam.
Half of Virginia voters said Trump was a reason for their vote — with twice as many saying they were voting to oppose Trump (34 percent) as to support him (17 percent). Northam won 97 percent of voters for whom opposing Trump was a factor.
In the 2009 race, 41 percent of Virginia voters said they meant their vote to express support or opposition to Obama, according to exit polls conducted then, with opposition (24 percent) ahead of support (17 percent) by a narrower margin. And while Obama was underwater in Virginia when Republican Bob McDonnell won that race, his approval rating was closer to parity: 48 percent approval to 51 percent disapproval, with strong disapprovers only 4 points ahead of strong approvers.
The numbers were even worse for Trump in bluer New Jersey. His approval rating there was only 36 percent, compared to 63 percent who disapprove — with 54 percent of voters strongly disapproving. Only 11 percent of voters said they were voting to express support for Trump. Nearly three times as many voters, 28 percent, said they were voting to oppose Trump — and Gov.-elect Phil Murphy won 96 percent of them.
In 2009, Obama had a 57-percent approval rating among New Jersey voters — and Republican Chris Christie won the governorship anyway. The same percentages of voters said they were voting to express support (19 percent) and opposition to Obama (19 percent), but Christie won narrowly among those for whom Obama was not a factor.