On the surface, one result from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll seems like unequivocally bad news for President Trump. Of the registered voters we surveyed, more than half indicated that there was no chance they would vote for Trump in his 2020 reelection bid.
That’s the ballgame, right? If half the country refuses to vote for a candidate in what’s essentially a two-person race, how can that candidate win? But, of course, it’s not that simple.
Before we get into that, let’s look at where opposition to Trump is the strongest. Here’s a breakdown of views among registered voters by demographic.
There are some interesting divides. Women are significantly more likely to say they won’t vote for Trump than are men. Voters younger than 40 are less likely to say they will definitely vote for Trump than older voters. Fully half of white men without college degrees say they’ll definitely vote for Trump, as do 60 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters. By contrast, 57 percent of white women with degrees say they definitely won’t vote for him.
There’s a consistent pattern in many cases: Opposition to Trump from groups that have been traditionally opposed to his candidacy is larger than support for Trump from groups that are in his base. For example, 94 percent of Democrats say they definitely won’t vote for Trump, while 63 percent of Republicans say they’ll definitely vote for him. That seems bad!
Notice, though, that the people who said they were most likely to vote next year also evinced much more support for Trump than less likely voters. That’s one warning sign for those seeking to remove him from office.
Consider, too, that 59 percent of Republican voters in May 2015 told Fox News that they would never vote for Trump. Things change.
But there’s another warning sign from our poll. We asked a follow-up question of those who said they definitely wouldn’t vote for Trump: Would they definitely vote for the Democratic candidate? The results of that question were not what would help the Democratic National Committee sleep easily: Seventeen percent of registered voters said they would definitely vote for the Democrat, while 30 percent said they would definitely vote for Trump.
We’ll come back to some of the results there, but let’s first just lay it out plainly. In only a handful of demographic groups were people more likely to say they would definitely vote for the Democrat than that they would definitely vote for Trump.
Sure, there is no Democratic nominee right now. Once that nominee is identified, it will give people someone real to consider voting for or against. People saying that they won’t necessarily vote for the Democrat in 2020 are waiting to ensure that the Democrats don’t nominate someone that they find completely unpalatable.
But remember, too, that “won’t vote for Trump” isn’t as predictive as it seems. In 2016, about 63 million people voted for Trump. About 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump still won, thanks to the electoral college.
More concerning for Democrats is that a lot of people didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because they didn’t vote at all. Census Bureau estimates indicate that about 20 million registered voters didn’t cast a ballot. Analysis after the fact suggested that more than 4 million people who had voted for Barack Obama in 2012 stayed home in 2016, a third of them black. Notice in the data above how many nonwhite voters indicated that they weren’t yet sure whether they would back the Democrat. About a fifth said they would definitely vote for the Democrat — but half said they were waiting to see what happened, significantly more than the quarter of white Trump opponents who said the same thing.
Add in the 33 million adult citizens who weren’t registered to vote in 2016 (again, according to the Census Bureau) and you get 119 million Americans who didn’t vote for Trump as opposed to 63 million who did. And, as you know, Trump won anyway.
Look, it’s not good for Trump that more than half of voters plan not to vote for him. But it’s probably not something that keeps him up at night. In 2016, part of his campaign strategy was to make Clinton unpalatable while encouraging infrequent Republicans to come out and vote. His strategy, in other words, was to keep people who didn’t particularly like him from bothering to go to the polls.
If the Democrats want to win in 2020, it’s not enough that most Americans don’t really like Trump. They need to get those iffy voters to pull the lever for the Democrat — something to which most Trump opponents aren’t yet committed.