Skip to main content
Menu
Trump’s Reluctant Voters Are Getting More Reluctant

In this week’s politics chat, we check back in on the voters who helped put Donald Trump over the top in 2016 and may prove crucial in 2018 and 2020. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s time for our weekly politics chat! Welcome, all. Today we’re going to do something a little different and — particularly after Trump’s speech in Arizona on Tuesday night, which seemed squarely aimed at pleasing his most devoted supporters — use this chat to talk about “reluctant Trump voters” and how they were feeling about the administration ahead of his Arizona speech but also in the wake of Charlottesville and Steve Bannon’s departure.

Clare, you’ve been writing about this group, wanna give us a definition?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Well, they’re generally white, middle-aged, relatively well-educated, less “brand loyal” to the Republican Party, and they didn’t vote for President Trump enthusiastically. They were “not excited” to cast their ballot for him in November.

micah: Perfect … so we just got a new batch of data from SurveyMonkey on how this group is feeling. They polled 3,227 adults between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21. I’m gonna throw results at you all, and we’ll talk about them one-by-one.

Is the U.S. headed in the right direction or wrong direction?
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Right direction 61%
37%
Wrong direction 36
60
No answer 3
3

Among 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

That’s a pretty huge difference. What do you make of it?

clare.malone: Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and some of his people would still love him.

I mean, what we can take from those numbers is that the reluctant Trump people are more likely to have voted for Trump because he WASN’T Hillary Clinton, and they were hoping that they would see some results — a course change. Given that this administration has very few legislative accomplishments to its name and some serious organizational problems, it makes sense that these unenthused voters are worried.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the “right direction, wrong direction” question myself. I don’t know what it really tells us. But it’s interesting that just 30 percent of the overall sample said the country was going in the right direction. That means the reluctant Trump sample’s views were far closer to the average voter’s than the average enthusiastic Trump voter.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I agree with Clare. You wouldn’t expect people who voted for Trump only as a last resort to be especially happy about the state of the country. But I also agree with Harry that I’m not quite sure how the “right direction” numbers translate into voting behavior.

harry: We all agree. Hugs to all 😀.

micah: Boring!

harry: There’s nothing boring about love …

micah: Next …

Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump is handling his job?
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Approve 95%
63%
Disapprove 4
37

A 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

harry: More enthused Trump voters feel about the same as they did last time we tested that in early June, but the percentage of reluctant Trump voters who approve of the president’s job is down 11 percentage points, from 74 percent before. That’s a fairly substantial slide.

natesilver: And that sorta cuts against the talking point that there’s nothing Trump can do to alienate the people who voted for him. In fact, the numbers are a bit worse than they appear on the surface. Among reluctant supporters, only 6 percent strongly approve of Trump. A higher percentage, 14 percent, strongly disapprove of his performance.

harry: And that 6 percent who strongly approve is well down from 15 percent in June.

clare.malone: And we should note that this survey was fielded entirely in the aftermath of Charlottesville (but obviously before Trump’s Arizona speech).

micah: Can Trump win re-election with the reluctant Group this lukewarm on him?

harry: I mean … it depends who runs against him.

natesilver: Lukewarmness won’t necessarily translate into an unwillingness to vote for Trump. Whoever the 2020 Democratic candidate is will be demonized by Trump, and Republicans voters’ partisan instincts will kick in.

With that said, Trump won, in part, because a lot of people who disliked both Clinton and Trump were willing to take a chance on him. That dynamic is unlikely to prevail next time around.

harry: Well, hold on, how conservative are they? A majority (53 percent) say they are conservative, but that’s far less than other, more enthused Trump voters (72 percent).

clare.malone: But it’s difficult to imagine a Democratic candidate who would lure them away.

micah: It is, yeah … but let’s come back to that question in one minute …

How likely do you think it is that President Trump will run for re-election in 2020?
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Very likely 61%
25%
Somewhat likely 27
33
Not very likely 9
27
Not likely at all 2
12
No answer 1
2

Survey of 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

clare.malone: So, what is the point of that question? I ask that sincerely.

Why do we ask voters to pundit-ize? Why not just skip straight to the, “Are you gonna vote for him?”

natesilver: I’ve noticed an uptick in what I might call wishful thinking lately — among both Democrats and reluctant Republicans — about Trump suddenly deciding to resign. It seems like it’s sort of a coping mechanism for people who feel there has to be some sort of end point or some sort of consequence for Trump’s behavior.

micah: Speaking of …

If the 2020 election were held today, would you …
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Definitely vote to re-elect Trump 63%
12%
Probably vote to re-elect Trump 28
36
Probably vote for someone else 5
25
Definitely vote for someone else 3
20
Would not vote 1
5
No answer 0 2

Among 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

clare.malone: So 45 percent are leaning toward not voting for him and not voting. That’s something!

natesilver: So … I’m not a huge fan of matching someone up against a hypothetical or unnamed opponent. I’d rather just look at their approval rating.

harry: Tell us why, Mr. Silver?

natesilver: Because a voter can imagine the “someone else” of his or her dreams — a John Kasich for some, a Marco Rubio for others, a Mike Pence for a few, or a Michael Bloomberg even.

Or I guess if this question is asking about the general election — to return to Clare’s question about what kind of Democrat could lure these voters away — a moderate Democrat (Joe Manchin?)

That same voter might not vote for Kamala Harris or someone, though.

clare.malone: You think it’s fan fic for voters?

Makes sense.

harry: And in this particular case, the vote to re-elect percentage is smaller than the approval. That’s for both reluctant Trump voters and excited Trump voters.

micah: Wait, what’s that mean, Harry?

harry: I’m saying that more of Trump’s 2016 voters approve of Trump than want to vote for him again. That backs up Nate’s point that maybe they’re thinking of their dream candidate.

micah: Ah, got it.

OK, one more 2020 question and then we’ll talk a bit about Bannon …

If President Trump resigns or is removed from office, would Mike Pence be …
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
A better president than Trump 23%
70%
A worse president than Trump 16
8
No different than President Trump 57
17
No answer 4
5

Among 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

micah: I mean, you really see what these reluctant Trump voters want in that question, right?

harry: The other noteworthy thing to me here is that even among excited Trump voters, more respondents think Pence would be better than worse.

natesilver: There was a separate question that asked about their views on Pence, and his favorable rating among reluctant Trump voters was 61 percent — which is not that great, really. By comparison, Pence’s favorable rating was 84 percent among non-reluctant Trump supporters.

But the reluctant Trump supporters pretty clearly prefer a generic Republican to Trump.

micah: Is Pence a generic Republican?

natesilver: Yeah, he’s generic as hell, tbh.

clare.malone: Well, Micah, I’m so glad you asked. I wrote about a potential Mike Pence presidency — he’s pretty darn socially and fiscally conservative (he was a tea partier long before we had the term “tea party”). But he’s more likely to do the sorts of things that a generic Republican would want to do in office — i.e., he would be a more conventional leader than Trump, which might be the longing we’re seeing for him from those reluctant Trumpers.

natesilver: Pence is shielded in some ways in that he’s sort of a bit player right now — I’m not sure what role he’s playing behind the scenes, but he isn’t making a lot of headlines. That will change if President Pence — or presidential candidate Pence — becomes a thing.

harry: One of the reasons Trump did well in the North and Midwest is that he wasn’t a big-time social conservative. I do wonder what percentage of people who like Pence now wouldn’t after it became clear how socially conservative he is.

natesilver: The bigger question is still whether those reluctant voters would go for a Democrat over Trump.

micah: Or for Kasich’s independent bid and/or primary challenge?

natesilver: With that, I want to repeat the statistic one more time that voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton went for Trump 47-30, according to the exit poll.

That was worth a net of about 3 percentage points for Trump. If voters who disliked both candidates had split evenly, he’d have lost the popular vote by 5 points (rather than 2 points) and the Electoral College by a decent margin.

clare.malone: I kinda think 2020 is ripe for #RossPerotREDUX.

harry: Maybe we can get Perot to run again. He’ll only be 90.

micah: OK, last part of the chat …

There were a couple of questions in the SurveyMonkey poll about Bannon’s departure … Here’s one:

Will Steve Bannon’s departure leave the Trump administration …
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Better off 37%
26%
Worse off 7
10
No different 53
59
No answer 3
6

Among 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

What do you make of those numbers?

harry: Nothing really. I mean the lack of a divide between the excited and not-excited Trump voters is interesting.

clare.malone: It seems like the American people didn’t buy into the narrative of Bannon as shadow president so they think Trump is still the one behind the administration’s moves — for better or for worse. And I guess Steve Bannon the man doesn’t have a base … which I’m not sure we ever thought he did.

natesilver: I think the excited Trump voters are so loyal to the president that they take everything he does in the best light. Which seems to outweigh the fact that the reluctant voters are more moderate and less Bannon-ish.

clare.malone: Bannon’s website, Breitbart, is more powerful, has its own base of sorts.

natesilver: Still, 16 percent of the reluctant Trump voters described themselves as “very conservative” in the SurveyMonkey poll. That’s less than the 42 percent who described themselves as moderate. But there are some Republicans who oppose Trump from the right.

micah: This is a case where Trump voters seem to have a more realistic view of the impact of Bannon leaving than the media.

Last one:

How much influence has Steve Bannon had on the Trump administration?
AMONG TRUMP VOTERS WHO WERE …
EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP NOT EXCITED TO VOTE TRUMP
Too much influence 22%
31
Right amount of influence 49
25
Not enough influence 21
35
No answer 8
10

Among 3,227 adults interviewed Aug. 18-21, 2017

Source: SurveyMonkey

harry: What I find interesting here is that the non-excited Trump supporters are more likely to say both that Bannon had “too much” and “not enough” influence on Trump than they are to say he had the “right amount.”

clare.malone: Yeahhhh. Do you think that’s immigration polarizing people?

harry: I’m sure some of them are the people who don’t like Trump because he wasn’t moderate enough, while others just want someone, anyone, to make Trump change his behavior.

micah: OK, to close us out here: What’s your main takeaway from this data? Where does Trump stand with the “reluctant Trump” group?

harry: He’s doing worse than he was doing two months ago, based on the approval question. That could have a big effect on the midterms.

clare.malone: Trump’s disorderly conduct in the White House — rhetorically and organizationally — is making people nervous who didn’t really want to vote for him in the first place.

natesilver: My takeaway is that there should be more focus on these voters and less on people who will stay with Trump no matter what. They’re both more interesting unto themselves (in that their views of Trump are fairly nuanced/layered) and more important to Trump’s long-term success.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is the politics editor.

Comments