Voters Closely Watching Issues where They Disapprove of Trump, New Poll Says

Voters split on economy, concerned about long-term outlook, according to the latest GW Battleground Poll.

March 13, 2018

Voters are paying close attention to several policy areas where they disapprove of President Donald Trump's approach, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll.

The survey found several issues where Mr. Trump seems vulnerable. A majority of voters disapproved of his handling of immigration (42 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove), health care (38/56), gun violence (39/55) and North Korea (41/53). 

Attention is not fading from these issues. When asked how closely they've been following a given topic, almost all respondents said they were closely (72 percent) or somewhat (22) following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. This level of engagement was far more intense than any other topic. The closest was congressional efforts to reform immigration, with 56 percent following closely and 32 percent somewhat following. Other topics remaining in the public eye were conflict with North Korea (53 percent closely, 35 percent somewhat), tax reform (51 closely, 31 somewhat) and the investigations into Russian election interference (50 closely, 29 somewhat). 

Republican pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group, noted, "This high level of interest in such a diverse set of issues will make it incredibly challenging for the Democrats to run a nationalized single-issue campaign against Republican candidates. Too many voters are too concerned about too many issues."

The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered voters nationwide March 4-8 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

On the Russia investigations, there was a slight increase in the proportion of people who believe "members of the Trump campaign committed crimes and actively assisted Russia's efforts," to 39 percent, from 31 percent in the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll in August 2017.

However, voters were split over how much the issue mattered to them when they enter the ballot box: 41 percent said it was not at all important to their 2018 vote decisions. About the same percentage said it was extremely (27 percent) or very (13 percent) important to their vote. More independents said it was extremely (28 percent) or very (12 percent) important than not important at all (36 percent).

"The composition of the poll's respondent universe reminds us that even as issues rise and fall swiftly in the news these days, the electorate remains heavily skewed toward middle-aged and older voters," said Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management and research director of the Center for Political Management at GW. "Candidate positions on issues that matter greatly to young people, starting with the heavily followed Parkland shooting story that stars high school activists, could be significant in enlarging the traditionally small voter pool for the midterm elections."

Mixed Thoughts on the Economy 

The economy was a slightly brighter spot in the public's perception of Mr. Trump, but opinions were still split. The GW Battleground Poll found half (52 percent) of likely voters approved of the job the president has done with respect to jobs, with 41 percent disapproving. The split was similar for his handling of the overall economy (51 percent approve, 45 disapprove). Approval for the president's work on taxes was split with 47 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.

Mr. Trump's overall job approval rating stayed steady from the previous GW Battleground Poll last August, with his approval rating decreasing one point to 42 percent and disapproval increasing one point to 55 percent. Within those ratings, voters seemed conflicted. More than one-third (37 percent) of voters who approve of the president agreed they had real questions about his agenda or leadership style. One-fifth (21 percent) of those who disapprove of him indicated they do like some of his policies and actions. 

Mr. Goeas noted regarding these numbers that: "A considerable number of voters (12 percent of the overall electorate) disapprove of the job performance of the president while still liking some of his policies and actions. So, even after the tumultuous past year, there is still an opportunity for the president to move his job approval to majority-approve by converting these reluctant-disapprove voters into supporters."

Voters are conflicted about the state of the American dream. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) believe they will be financially better off in five years, but only one-third (37 percent) believes the next generation will be better off economically. Two-thirds (66 percent) believe anyone can get ahead with hard work, but 68 percent agree the economy makes it "too tough for the middle class to make ends meet."

The poll showed voters do not think policymakers are helping the economy. Only 39 percent agree "Congress and the president are working to improve my financial situation" and 72 percent agree "elected officials get in the way of economic growth."

Mixed Feelings on Congress

Looking ahead to this year's congressional elections, the GW Battleground Poll found a slight shift in voters' attitudes toward the candidates.

Presented with a generic ballot, 49 percent of voters chose a Democrat and 40 percent chose a Republican. In the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll, those figures were 44 and 38, respectively. Undecided voters decreased to 12 percent from 18. Democrats also appeared more enthusiastic than Republicans ahead of the midterm elections. Among voters who say they are "extremely" likely to vote in the upcoming midterms, 51 percent prefer Democrats while 39 percent prefer Republicans. Among voters who say they are "very" likely to vote, Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage (48 percent to 38).

In terms of the current session of Congress, voters were mixed.

When asked about their own representative, voters mostly approved (50 percent to 37 percent disapproving), a change from the last edition of the GW Battleground Poll (42 to 46, respectively, in August 2017). These views varied widely from voters' opinions of Congress as a whole, which only received a 17 percent favorability rating, with 78 percent viewing it unfavorably.

"Despite the president's positive marks on his stewardship of the economy, there is still a deep sense of economic anxiety imbedded in the electorate, with voters still very much of the belief that the economy is not delivering for the middle class like it should be," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, said.

"Ahead of the midterms, Democrats must respond to this anxiety by delivering their own bold alternative economic vision that both contrasts with Trump and congressional Republicans and can convince voters that they are prepared to tackle the massive challenges facing working families."

The George Washington University Battleground Poll

The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. GW's Graduate School of Political Management and the School of Media and Public Affairs serve as the university's home for the partnership. GW's Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.

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