Trump’s political base is weaker than it seems, our new study finds

In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced tough questions from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers over President Trump’s recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republican criticism of the administration’s actions may seem surprising, given 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. Weren’t they worried about angering the president’s base?

There are several possible reasons. It could be that lawmakers believe they have more leeway on foreign policy, where Republican voters may be less engaged than on an issue like immigration. It could be that Putin poses such a significant threat that senators believed it was worth risking blowback from Trump supporters.

Our research suggests another reason: GOP legislators may sense that Trump’s support among voters in his own party may be weaker than it seems and softer than media coverage often suggests.

We looked at sentiment among ordinary Republican voters. While hardcore Republicans are vociferous defenders of the president, a larger number of Republicans who are less attached to their party are much more tepid in their support.

And that may be a problem for some Republican congressional candidates, come November’s midterms.

Here’s how we did our research:

During the first two weeks of July, we fielded a nationally representative survey of 1,379 likely voters. Conducted online and on the phone by the National Opinion Research Center, we included only respondents who reported a high likelihood of voting in this year’s midterms. The survey was funded by Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality.

In our survey, Trump’s approval rating was 85 percent among Republicans. That’s consistent with other polls. On the surface, the president’s support among his fellow Republicans is overwhelming.

But the key to our analysis was to divide 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, often obscured in media coverage, are important because research shows that the strength of a voter’s partisan identity has an important effect on their political attitudes.

From high-profile firings to contentious remarks, the ups and downs of President Trump’s first year on the job garnered him historically low approval ratings.

Among strong Republicans, Trump’s overall approval rating is 93 percent, with 78 percent “strongly” approving of the president. The problem for Trump, however, is that these voters make up less than half of the Republican electorate — and 18 percent of likely voters.



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