It’s widely understood that President Trump’s new “law and order” emphasis and his threats to send troops into U.S. cities are largely about shoring up and energizing his base at a moment when pandemic and economic depression are dragging him down.

Putting aside what that says about Trump’s conception of his voters and what will appeal to them, he may be right to worry about the state of his support among them.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows some real slippage in Trump’s favorability ratings among two important constituencies: Non-college-educated whites, and white Catholics.

The poll finds that 41 percent of Americans overall view Trump favorably, while 55 percent hold an unfavorable view. There’s been a slide among Republicans: 83 percent view him favorably, down from 90 percent in April. And among independents, 35 percent hold a favorable view, down from 43 percent.

Note this key finding among a crucial element of Trump’s base:

Among white Americans without a four-year college degree, views of Trump have continued a downward trend. The proportion who hold favorable views of the president decreased to 47% from 54% in April and 66% in March.

That’s a real decline, and if Trump is really below 50 percent favorability among whites without a college education, that will be alarming to his campaign.

Natalie Jackson, the research director for PRRI, says the numbers among non-college whites are telling about the intersection between Trump’s political situation and the big stories of the moment — a continuing pandemic, economic depression, and, now, civil unrest sweeping the country.

“What we’re seeing is a more vulnerable group to the conditions of society right now,” Jackson told me. “These are people working service jobs. They’re either unemployed or are going to work and are at high risk of virus transmission.

“They’re seeing their circumstances drastically change,” Jackson continued. “As is typical, we see that reflect back on the president.”

The PRRI poll also finds big slippage among another key demographic:

Currently, 37% of white Catholics hold favorable views of Trump, a significant drop from 49% across 2019, and a substantial downward trend from a high of 60% in March and 48% in April.

As Jackson noted to me, for Trump, white Catholics are “a big part of the Midwest base.”

To be clear, among non-college whites, Trump still holds a tremendously formidable advantage. Two recent polls show Trump leading Joe Biden among them by 60 percent to 35 percent and by 61 percent to 35 percent.

And yet that 35 percent is much closer to what Barack Obama got among them (36 percent to Mitt Romney’s 61 percent) than to what Hillary Clinton pulled in (28 percent to Trump’s 64 percent). So Trump is hovering around Romney-level numbers with this demographic, at least for now.

As Jackson put it, Trump’s slippage among both non-college whites and white Catholics alike “would be concerning to me as a Republican operative.”

Note also that the New York Times just reported that Trump’s own advisers are very worried about his standing even in Midwestern states that Trump won handily, such as Ohio and Iowa. That also hints at potentially real base erosion.

Of course, Trump retains a structural advantage in the electoral college, one enhanced by the over-representation of non-college whites in the industrial Midwest. So if he can maximally juice up turnout among them, he could still squeak through despite marginal erosion. Indeed, Democratic operatives worry about how deep the pool of those available voters is for Trump in places like Wisconsin.

And Trump has another formidable bulwark against base erosion. As the new PRRI poll finds, white evangelicals are not slipping in their support for Trump: A remarkable 62 percent of them view him favorably, basically unchanged since last month.

“You see white evangelical protestants holding mostly steady,” Jackson told me.

I suspect this is why Trump’s advisers saw it as such a big triumph when the president strode across the area that had been violently cleared of protesters with scenes of civil strife in the background, subsequently holding a Bible aloft, posing as the biblically heroic conqueror of that strife.

This symbolism was tailor made for Trump’s white evangelical base, as this quote from a top supporter illustrates well:

“Every believer I talked to certainly appreciates what the president did and the message he was sending,” said Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a stalwart evangelical Trump supporter. “I think it will be one of those historic moments in his presidency, especially when set against the backdrop of nights of violence throughout our country.”

But weighing against this is the rising consciousness of systemic racism and police brutality throughout other large swaths of white America, particularly more educated ones.

And if Trump is seeing an erosion among non-evangelical portions of his white base, that also pushes in the wrong direction for him.

The White House video of Trump's visit to St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. erases the violent attack on protesters by authorities that preceded it. (The Washington Post)

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