The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As midterms draw near, Trump’s numbers with independents should worry Republicans

President Trump in the Oval Office. (Tasos Katopodis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) (TASOS KATOPODIS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/Tasos Katopodis/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

One of the groups that pushed President Trump over the line to secure the 2016 election was independent voters. A surge of them in battleground states unexpectedly delivered the presidency to the political novice out of a desire to, among other things, see someone new take over Washington. According to exit polls, 46 percent of independents backed the Republican candidate. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won 42 percent.

In the days after the election, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote about why independents were so drawn to the newcomer:

Trump owes his success in part to the fact that he ran for president in an environment that favored change over the status quo. But his luck or genius goes beyond that. It has long been noted that the conditions have existed for an independent candidate to run a serious campaign for president. The level of dissatisfaction with Washington, the anxiety over the economy and the generally sour mood about the future provided the foundation for a campaign by someone from outside the system, who is tied to neither political party and with a promise to shake things up.

Now, however, independent voters are looking like a particular weak spot in his approval ratings, one that could have a big impact as his party faces the midterm elections later this fall.

According to the latest CNN poll, Trump’s approval rating among independents has dropped to 31 percent. It was 47 percent last month. The change is a one-point drop from his all-time low among independents (32 percent in November 2017) and four points below his previous lowest number (35 percent) of 2018.

The CNN numbers show a particularly big and eye-catching drop. Other recent polls, including the August Washington Post-ABC poll, show low support for Trump among independents, though not as low as CNN's does.

  • The Post-ABC poll found only 35 percent of independent adults approving of Trump.
  • Quinnipiac had Trump at 36 percent approval among independent registered voters this week.
  • Gallup had Trump at 36 percent approval among independent adults in August.

This change in numbers could be because this summer has been a rough one for the president. His handling of multiple events has attracted bad headlines, including the child detainee crisis, the legal battles of some top campaign officials, and foreign policy situations such as Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The summer barrage has likely shaped voters' perception of his presidency.

With Democratic optimism on the rise for a "blue wave" in 2018, here's their strategy for winning more state and national seats than Republicans. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Some political analysts claim that significant numbers of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 are people who were not enthusiastic about him, but simply wanted to choose an unorthodox option. These people, frustrated with “career politicians” were willing to give Trump a try.

But it appears that many of those voters have since soured on Trump and are not willing to back candidates who support his agenda. According to the CNN poll, Trump's favorability rating — which measures whether people actually like him — continues to decline and has hit the lowest number since Trump entered the White House. More than six in 10 — 61 percent — of voters have an unfavorable view of the president. That number was 55 percent in June.

This growing unpopularity matters in a political climate where independents are one of the largest voting blocs. This is generally viewed as a group that can be swayed. These latest numbers suggest that these voters have considered Trump and, for now, feel the gamble on the insurgent was a bad one.