Thu | Nov 14, 2019

Trump’s reluctant backers sour on his leadership, policies

Published:Monday | December 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Jill Mott doesn't like the tweets. The hard line on the border is too hard. And when asked whether she will vote for US President Donald Trump a second time, she lets out a long, deep sigh.

"That is the question," said Mott, a Republican from suburban Detroit.

In her moment of hesitancy, Mott is the portrait of a small, but significant slice of voters poised to wield considerable influence in the 2020 presidential campaign. They are the 18 per cent of voters who described themselves as only "somewhat" approving of the president.

It's a group whose backing for Trump is most tenuous and whose reservations about his personality and his policies reveal warning signs for Republicans, perhaps even more so as he dug in on his demand for a US-Mexico border wall, leading to a budget impasse with Congress that has shut down the government around Christmas.

An analysis of VoteCast, a nationwide poll of more than 115,000 midterm voters conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago, highlights the fractures.

Compared with the 27 per cent of voters who describe themselves as strong Trump supporters, the "somewhat" Trump voters are much more likely to disapprove of Trump on key issues such as immigration and healthcare and to express divergent opinions on a need for a border wall, gun control and climate change. They are much more likely to question his trustworthiness and temperament.

They are less likely to call themselves conservative, less likely to be evangelical Christians and more likely to have voted for Democrats in 2018. They are more educated, somewhat more likely to be women, and more likely to live in suburbs.

"How he presents himself is the biggest issue," said Mott, a 52-year-old occupational therapist, who addressed her concerns this past week during a break from Christmas shopping outside the Gucci store at the Somerset Collection luxury mall. She also worries about the president's fiery approach to immigration.




"I understand what he's going for - trying to keep out criminal activity," Mott said, pointing to Trump's rhetoric about a caravan of Latin American migrants seeking asylum at the US border. "However, I think he could do much better in showing concern for these people, offering short-term help."

As Trump barrels into his third year in office, and tightens his focus on his own re-election, he has paid scant attention to shoring up support from voters such as Mott.

Still, Trump's political future may depend on whether he can retain their support, particularly among the more educated and affluent suburban women who set aside their concerns about Trump two years ago and will be asked to do so again in 2020. Their backing helped Trump carve a path to the presidency through the industrial Midwest, but with little margin for error. The president won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by fewer than 80,000 votes combined.

VoteCast found that 16 percent of those who "somewhat" supported Trump's job performance decided to vote for Democratic House candidates in the November mid terms. That's compared with six percent of those who self-identified as Trump's "strong" supporters.

That difference helped Democrats capture the House majority, picking up 21 of their 40 new seats in districts Trump carried only two years earlier. The flipped Trump districts include Michigan's 8th Congressional District, a swath of suburban middle-class America set between Detroit and Lansing.

Dozens of recent interviews across the area show that most reluctant Trump supporters aren't ready to turn their backs on him or his party.

Michael Bernstein voted for Trump in 2016 and said he is likely would do so again in 2020. Bernstein, 52, points to the economy and to Trump's success in getting justices approved to the US Supreme Court as evidence that he chose the right candidate, but the freelance auto writer from suburban Detroit could do without some of what Trump brings.

"He's supposed to represent the country and the people who don't like him," Bernstein added. "He doesn't. He prefers to play in the dirt."