A new Gallup poll brings some encouraging news. Solid majorities of Americans disapprove of all of the major moves on immigration that President Trump has made since taking office:
* 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s call for moving forward with a wall on the Mexican border, versus only 38 percent who approve.
* 58 percent disapprove of Trump’s indefinite suspension of entry by Syrian refugees, versus only 36 percent who approve.
* 55 percent disapprove of Trump’s order of a temporary ban on entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, versus only 42 percent who approve.
However, it turns out there’s a deep divide along educational lines on all of these proposals.
I asked the good folks at Gallup for a further breakdown of the numbers. The result: Non-college whites — who supported Trump overwhelmingly — approve of all three measures, while large majorities of college-educated whites disapprove of them:
This reprises a divide that we saw during the election, in which Trump over-performed among non-college whites, while under-performing among white college graduates relative to past GOP nominees.
These numbers suggest that the first big moves of the Trump presidency, if anything, may be deepening this cultural and educational schism. Even as massive protests have erupted in major cities in response to Trump’s new policies, with protesters rallying behind the besieged minorities targeted by them, reporters from the Associated Press and Reuters talked to Trump voters and found them either unmoved by the commotion or actively supportive of what he’s doing. These new Gallup numbers would seem to confirm that this split is particularly pronounced along educational lines among white voters.
Ronald Brownstein has argued that this split could play a big role in determining the outcome of the 2018 House elections. The House Democrats who will be vulnerable in 2018, Brownstein notes, are the ones who managed to hang on despite having a lot of blue collar whites in their districts, while the Republicans who will be vulnerable are those who hung on in districts with a lot of college educated whites in them. If Trump continues to push policies that split white voters along educational lines, the deepening schism will shape the strategies of both parties in the battle for the House:
All initial evidence suggests Trump’s presidency — with its deeply polarizing approaches to immigration, trade, health care, climate, and foreign policy — will widen, rather than narrow, the fissures that emerged in this election. That means for 2018 and beyond, each party’s electoral target list may grow increasingly focused on the members caught, in effect, behind enemy lines: the last few Democrats representing heavily blue-collar districts and the larger number of Republicans in mostly white-collar suburban seats.
Brownstein notes that this could create some problems for Republicans. Some 23 House Republicans represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried against Trump, and most of them have higher-than-average percentages of college educated whites:
It’s lost on few operatives in either party that Democrats need 24 seats to win back the House and almost exactly that many Republicans hold districts that voted for Clinton. Moreover, about two-thirds of those Republicans are in districts that backed Romney in 2012 — albeit in some cases very narrowly — before tipping to Clinton last fall. That could be a preview of the difficulties ahead for them as Trump so aggressively defines the GOP with polarizing actions on issues including climate, trade, and immigration, as well as with his combative personal style.
The question is whether those vulnerable Republicans will have even more trouble hanging on in such districts after two years in which Trump has actually governed and the GOP has mostly supported his policies. Most indications right now are that Trump is, if anything, ramping up the hard-line polarizing approach that he campaigned on during the election. And the new Gallup numbers suggest that these policies are deeply unpopular with the college educated whites who reside in those types of districts. As Dem strategist Jesse Ferguson tells Brownstein: “There’s no doubt that the first opportunities for Democrats in 2018 are in these suburban college-educated districts.”
One other point: These new numbers shed new light on the line that top Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been offering about Trump’s executive orders. Bannon likes to say that all the ruckus about them is mostly generated by elite media hype, whereas Real Americans out in Real America are rooting for Trumpism every step of the way. As Bannon recently put it, Trump is “developing populist nation-state policies that are supported by the vast and overwhelming majority of Americans, but are poorly understood by cosmopolitan elites in the media that live in a handful of our larger cities.”
But these new Gallup numbers suggest Bannon’s bluster is mostly overblown. Majorities of Americans disapprove of all of these policies. On the other hand, Bannon is also on to something, in the sense that the demographic that overwhelmingly supported Trump — non-college whites — does appear to support what he is doing.
It’s tempting to argue that these new numbers — which show majority disapproval of the new Trump policies — suggest that the support for them only among non-college whites won’t be enough to sustain him (or the Republicans who support it) for too long. On the other hand, many of us said much the same thing in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. And we were wrong, while Bannon was proven right.
One thing seems clear: Trump is going to test this proposition again in a big way — from the White House.