With An Entrenched Electorate, 2020 Shaping Up to be As Volatile as 2016
New GU Politics Battleground Poll Finds Majority of Voters Disapprove of Trump Job Performance and Support Impeachment, but Approval on Economy Keeping Him Competitive
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a highly polarized electorate in which enthusiasm is at record levels on both sides, President Trump continues to find himself in a weakened position in terms of job approval, reelection chances and public support for impeachment, driven in large part by dissatisfaction among independent women. However, relatively solid approval ratings on the economy (even while showing some warning signs) among middle-class voters and white married women, and unfavorable views towards most of the leading Democratic candidates, provide the President with a roadmap to remaining competitive.
These findings in the latest Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll, released just hours ahead of the fourth Democratic primary debate in Ohio, point to a 2020 political environment shaping up to be every bit as volatile—and negative—as 2016.
Among the warning signs for President Trump in the new survey:
A majority (56%) of voters have an unfavorable view of the President, as opposed to those with a favorable view of him (42%).
Only 43% of voters approve of his overall job performance, while 53% disapprove.
58% of voters believe the country is on the wrong track, while only 35% it is headed in the right direction.
If the election were held today, voters would pick the Democratic candidate over the President by a margin of 50-42%.
Voters say that President Trump should be impeached and sent to the Senate for a trial by a margin of 51-46%. Among independents, the margin is 53-43%
The survey does find some positive signs for the President as well:
Voters approve of the President’s job performance on the economy by a margin of 57-41%, and on jobs by a similar margin of 57-40%.
By a margin of 52-40%, voters believe the President would do a better job of handling the economy than Democrats in Congress.
Of the seven top Democratic presidential candidates tested, six also have net unfavorable ratings.
The national survey of 1000 likely voters was conducted from October 6-10 in a bipartisan effort by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. A reliable measure of public opinion on politics since 1991, Goeas and Lake brought the Battleground Poll to the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service in early 2019. This is the second survey as part of that partnership.
“The latest Battleground Poll shows a remarkable level of engagement among all voters, polarization among partisans, and fluidity among independents,” said Mo Elleithee, Executive Director of the Institute for Politics and Public Service. “All of that is a recipe for an incredibly volatile election season.”
The survey also found:
High Enthusiasm and No Partisan Enthusiasm Gap
The poll found that 82 percent of voters indicate that they are extremely likely to vote and there is no partisan enthusiasm gap between Republicans (84 percent extremely likely to vote) and Democrats (82 perfect extremely likely to vote). This type of intensity is unprecedented in Battleground Polling over the last twenty-eight years and particularly unusual for partisans on both sides to be so engaged.
Economy, Economy, Economy
The poll also found while the President has a majority approval rating among all voters on the economy (57%) and jobs (57%), two-thirds of Democrats (67%) disapprove of President Trump’s job performance on all six issues while sixty-nine percent (69%) of Republican voters approve of his job approval on all six issues. Consistent with the April 2019 survey findings, 58 percent of voters are either very or somewhat worried that the United States will suffer another economic downturn that will negatively affect their family; 40 percent are not too worried or not at all worried. There is a strong relationship between one’s partisan affiliation and one’s economic anxiety—or lack thereof.
Women: Married White vs. Independent
As with voters in the general electorate, women voters are also divided. White married women were key to President Trump’s 2016 victory and continue to give him a sixty-percent (60%) approval rating on the economy, a fifty-two percent (52%) approval rating on taxes, and a fifty-seven percent (57%) approval rating on jobs. Similar to the overall poll, a strong, consistent message on the economy is key to President Trump’s success. Unlike many voting blocs that have abandoned the president, these women are still winnable.
However, independent women are increasingly becoming more dissatisfied with Trump and turning to the Democrats, fueling the President’s weak position in overall job approval, reelection chances and support for impeachment. 54 percent of independent women disapprove of the president, 64 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, 65 percent of independent women want to impeach, showing President Trump’s support among independent women sliding.
On impeachment, an astounding 94 percent of Americans said they have seen, read, or heard something about the Congressional investigation on impeachment, with 57% saying they are following the news on impeachment extremely or very closely.
While the Battleground Poll found that voters support the impeachment of the President by a 51-46% margin, the breakdown is predictable in its partisanship and intensity: 90% of Democrats say the President should be impeached (84% strongly), and 90% of Republicans say he should not be impeached (82% strongly). Independents, however, break in favor of impeachment by a margin of 53-43%, with the greatest intensity among independent women (65% in favor of impeachment, 56% strongly).
Warning Signs for the Democratic Candidates
While the Battleground Poll did not test match-ups with specific Democratic candidates, it did find that if the general election were held today, “The Democratic Candidate” would defeat President Trump by a margin of 50-42%.
The survey did highlight an area of concern for the Democratic field, however. Of the seven top Democratic candidates tested, six have net unfavorable ratings: Biden (-4), Castro (-12), Harris (-8), Sanders (-6), Warren (-1), and Booker (-9). Of those tested, only Buttigieg had a net favorable rating (+4), but with a full 39% having no opinion or never heard of him.
Aspirational Vote vs. “Dislike Both”
Voters are signaling a desire to cast an aspirational vote in 2020. Respondents overwhelmingly said that supporting a candidate whose views closely match their own is more important than supporting a candidate who can beat the other side by a margin of 78-16%. And by a margin of 71-21%, they believe their Presidential vote in 2020 will be a vote for their preferred candidate as opposed to against the other candidate.
And yet, the survey is showing a situation where voters have a net unfavorable view of both the President, and the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. This sets up a scenario where the election could be decided by voters who dislike both candidates, creating an incentive for a scorched earth campaign by both parties—just like in 2016.
“The 2020 election is shaping up to be truly historical. Voters are engaged and energized. Presidential candidates, Congressional leaders, and Congressional political parties all have images that are upside down. The President has a majority disapproval job rating overall and on key issues like foreign affairs, immigration, and health care. His most viable path to victory is to paint his Democratic opponent as an unacceptable choice whose views are unacceptable. Those highly engaged voters hoping for an inspirational candidate running an aspirational campaign will be sorely disappointed,” said Ed Goeas, The Tarrance Group.
Link to the full Republican analysis by the Tarrance Group can be found here.
“Democrats have made some important gains over the past six months. Trump is losing his appeal on economic issues, which provides an opening for the Democrats to make up further ground. On top of that, we are seeing their base solidify, as women, Black voters, and college educated voters are all voting for Democratic candidates at higher rates than they were in April. We also see gender divides increasing, particularly among independent women, who are increasingly becoming dissatisfied with Trump and turning to the Democrats. And yet, Democrats continue to trail Trump on the economy and jobs, and only run even with him on dealing with the rising cost of living. Until Democrats can offer the American public a bold economic plan and vision that convincingly addresses their pessimism, anxiety, and real material insecurity, Trump will remain more competitive than he has a right to be,” said Celinda Lake, Lake Research Partners.
Link to the full Democratic analysis by Lake Research Partners can be found here.
Civility in Politics
In addition to traditional polling questions related to U.S. electoral politics and voter attitudes, the second Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll will also gauge voter opinion on the state of civility in our national political conversation. The results of this portion of the poll will be announced in the next week..
To learn more about the poll, see the questionnaire, charts, tables, and analysis visit: https://politics.georgetown.edu/gu-politics-battleground-poll/
Academics, researchers, and journalists can also access the full data set to assist in their own research and analyses. [Note: Any use of this data and material must credit the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll.]
ABOUT THE GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE BATTLEGROUND POLL:
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll is a national bipartisan survey measuring political opinion and civility among registered voters in the United States. Produced by Republican strategist Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic strategist Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, this polling series offers unique polling analysis and insights from two top pollsters from different sides of the aisle.
Initiated in June 1991, and housed at GU Politics since April 2019, the Battleground Polls have gained widespread media recognition as reliable bellwethers of national opinion and voters’ intentions. The Battleground data projected the outcome of the 1992, 1996, and 2004 presidential race more precisely than any other similar effort in the country, including those of the major TV networks and national newspapers. In addition, Battleground Polls have consistently been major predictors of what is going to happen in approaching Congressional elections.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
The Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) connects and empowers students and the broader community to improve and reimagine politics and public service and reaffirm its promise. Founded as part of the McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2015, GU Politics programming is open to the entire Georgetown community.
ABOUT THE MCCOURT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY:
The Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy is a top-ranked public policy school located in Washington, D.C., the heart of the policy world. The McCourt School’s mission is to teach our students to design, analyze, and implement smart policies and put them into practice in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in the U.S. and around the world.