A poll of voters in red or purple states, conducted for the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund, has found a sizable majority willing to back Democrats if they oppose President-elect Donald Trump.
The poll, which surveyed 1,206 voters in 14 states Dec. 19-23 — all with Senate races next year — found 49 percent approving of Trump's conduct as president-elect. That's higher than the number in national polls, which have included samples from bluer states. Depending on how the question was asked, anywhere from 56 percent to 61 percent of voters said that Democratic lawmakers should act as a “check and balance” on the incoming president. (The number was lower if voters were asked specifically if the senator should “block” Trump.)
“Even in states that Trump won handily, Democrats are in a good position,” said Neera Tanden, CAP's president. “Eight years ago, if you asked this question, people were much more inclined to say that everyone should get along. Here, you've got people who voted for Trump but want Democrats to block or oppose his agenda. That seems to be a new thing for American politics.”
Trump's persistent unpopularity, even in some blue states that he narrowly flipped last November, has perplexed progressives who did not expect to lose the election. CAP's poll found voters in just four states that had voted for Clinton — Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and Virginia — and weighted them with voters in states as red as North Dakota and West Virginia. Across the map, Trump enjoyed a narrow 45 percent-to-43 percent positive to negative rating; Democratic senators had a 47 percent-to-28 percent average rating among their constituents. By 44 percent to 24 percent, more of the voters considered themselves conservative as considered themselves liberal.
Yet when quizzed, with language (via pollster Geoff Garin) that couched liberal ideas fairly positively, voters rejected most of the GOP Congress's stated priorities. There was moderate opposition to Trump and Congress's undoing environmental regulations on power plant emissions but sky-high opposition to health-care cuts. Asked whether they would “replace Medicare with private insurance for seniors that costs two thousand dollars more per year on average,” 77 percent said no. Asked whether they would “cut funding for Medicaid, which states use to provide health coverage for low-income individuals and for nursing home care for seniors and the disabled,” 72 percent said no.
For many Democrats, such numbers offer both deja vu and regret. Similar polling had shown the party strongly positioned long ahead of elections it went on to lose. In 2016, supermajority voter support for the Great Society health-care programs was no secret; policies such as higher minimum wages polled almost as high and won as independent ballot measures. But in many key races, including and especially in the presidential race, those issues were subsumed by weekly or daily questions on the outrages spinning from Donald Trump's campaign. Some of the late pushes by the Hillary Clinton campaign and allied super PACs into Midwestern states focused on Trump's fitness to be president, leaving the billionaire candidate to focus on economic issues.
“There was a big cleavage in the coalition that voted for Trump,” Tanden said. “He won traditional Republicans, but his victory margin came from people who didn't vote Republican before and don't support the party now. That's unique. It also suggests that the election was not a mandate for a right-wing agenda, and right now, Trump's misreading that with his Cabinet picks.”
Trump's nearly-complete list of picks has not yet attracted significant support from Democrats in states he won. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), critics of the greens in the party, have been fairly unusual in praising Trump's approach so far. The other 46 members of the Senate Democratic conference, and nearly all members of the House Democratic conference, have been largely critical.
CAP's poll also suggests that a recent focus of Democratic criticism — the potential Russian influence on the election and on Trump — is less potent than the economic messaging. Just 54 percent agree that there should be an “independent investigation into Russia's efforts to interfere with the recent U.S. elections by hacking into emails and computer systems.” Thirty-seven percent of voters worry that Trump will not be “tough enough” with Russia; a majority of voters say he will take the right approach.
The takeaway, Tanden said, is that the Russia connection is at best a source of some weakness for Trump. At worst, it's one in a plethora of issues that cut against him.
“Democrats, even in red states; they do not need to fear Trump,” she said. “He does not have magical powers.”