Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Et Tu, Iowa? The Wheels Come Off the Trump Bus

Did you know that Trump carried Iowa in 2016 by more than he carried Texas? That might be hard for Trump to pull off in the future, since Iowa voters seem to have been hit with a serious case of buyers' remorse. The year-end Iowa poll, conducted by Ann Selzer's firm, has Trump at an extremely anemic 35 percent approval in the state versus 60 percent disapproval. That's very bad. And keep in mind that Selzer's polls have a sterling reputation for accuracy; 538 has actually dubbed her "the best pollster in politics". So if Selzer say Trump has a 35 percent approval rating in Iowa, he probably does have that or very close to it. 

While Selzer's poll does not provide extensive crosstabs, we can make a pretty good guess as to what's going on from other data. No doubt a lot of Trump's dreadful approval rating (can we call him "the failing Donald Trump"?) is driven by white college graduates bailing out on him in the state, as they have in others. But Trump's support was already relatively low among these voters in 2016, so it's doubtful disaffection among this group can account for all of a precipitous drop to 35 percent approval in the state. Instead, it is likely that he is seeing significant attrition among white noncollege voters, who are a strong majority of the state's voters (62 percent, twice as large as the white college share of 31 percent) and who were overwhelming responsible for Trump's 9 point victory in 2016.

Of course, there is no doubt you could wander around any of the counties in Iowa that swung to Trump in 2016 and--as journalists are wont to do--still find "die-hard' Trump supporters who love what he's doing, think he's sticking it to the Establishment and believe there's a massive conspiracy against him. There's a whole cottage industry of these "Trump's base still loves him!" stories. 

But that's not the point; some voters will indeed support him no matter what. But, equally, his somewhat less die-hard supporters may indeed head for the exits because he's an insane blowhard, hasn't done what he said he would do, only cares about the rich--whatever. Politics is fought at the margins and that is where he is losing.

But, some may argue, that's Trump. He's not on the ballot in 2018. Therefore, perhaps his free falling approval rating even in states which embraced him with gusto are not that important. Well, that's probably never been true; approval ratings of the incumbent President have always been a significant factor in midterm elections. Good approval ratings help the incumbent party's candidates; bad ratings hurt them; terrible ratings hurt them even more.

And here's the thing. Not only is this generally true, it's probably more true now than ever. Ron Brownstein points out in his latest CNN piece:
As the 2018 election year begins, one question above all is likely to shape its outcome: Will Americans vote to constrain President Donald Trump by electing a Democrat-led Congress that will challenge and resist him, or to empower the Republicans who are increasingly working in harness with him?
Voters have increasingly viewed House and Senate elections less as a choice between individual candidates than a referendum on which party they want to control Congress -- a choice grounded in their assessments of the President. All evidence from the special elections in 2017 suggests that pattern will continue to drive voters' decisions this year.
As more voters have treated congressional elections in effect as parliamentary choices, it's grown difficult for either side to maintain the unified control of the House, the Senate and the White House that Republicans enjoy now. The last three times one party went into a midterm election holding unified control, in fact, voters have revoked it -- providing the opposition party control of one or both congressional chambers. That was the fate of Democrats under Barack Obama in 2010, Republicans under George W. Bush in 2006 and Democrats under Bill Clinton in 1994.
The ominous precedent for Republicans is that Trump's standing with the public now is weaker than each of those predecessors' was when their party lost unified control during midterm elections.
That about sums it up. The GOP can run, but they can't hide. Not even in the cornfields of Iowa.

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