President Trump’s 2016 Electoral College victory ran through Pennsylvania and the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. While several polls have shown that Trump’s support in these states where he won narrow victories has eroded, a new focus group of Pennsylvania voters suggests that many Trump swing voters have not abandoned the president.
A recent focus group of Pennsylvania voters gives hope to Trump supporters that the president can pull off another upset victory in 2020. The Engagious/FPG focus group, which is discussed in an Axios article, contained several Obama/Trump voters who were unanimous in their continued support for Donald Trump.
Although they were not happy with Trump’s behavior, the focus group voters did like his performance on the economy. One of the voters, Tara Biddle, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher, said, “I would be willing to vote for someone other than Trump who would continue the initiatives he's started” on the economy, trade, and immigration.
“The only thing I would say, I'd like someone to get his Twitter account away,” commented Tim G., 52.
When it comes to the Mueller report, the focus group’s swing voters were not impressed. “You could investigate every president; they’re all shady," said Jessica G. "Let’s just move on and let him do his job.”
The swing voters described their ideal leader as “assertive,” a “negotiator,” “powerful,” and “Christian.” Many of them agreed that these words also described President Trump.
The Pennsylvania voters stand in contrast to similar focus groups in Ohio and Wisconsin. Ohio voters yearned for Barack Obama while the Wisconsin voters liked much of Trump’s policy but were put off by his personality and temperament. Both groups seemed ready to abandon Trump for a Democrat.
The downside for Trump supporters is that the Pennsylvania focus group contained only eight swing voters, which is far too small to constitute a statistically viable sample. While the focus group’s voters solidly stand by their man, polling tells a different story.
One of the few polling firms that does regular state-level polling of President Trump’s approval rating is Morning Consult. The earliest poll in the series is January 2017, just a few months after the election. At that point, Trump had a net approval rating of 10 points. The most recent survey found the president underwater with a net approval rating of negative seven points. Another poll of Pennsylvania voters back in March yielded similar results with 61 percent of voters saying that Trump should not get a second term.
In 2016, Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania was a slim one. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent of votes cast, just over 68,000 votes. A swing of 17 points in his approval over the past two years could indicate that Trump’s support in the state has cratered despite the backing of the eight members of the focus group. It would take relatively few Trump voters going back to the Democrats to turn the state blue again.
While Pennsylvania with its 20 electoral votes is not a must-win state for Trump next year, his path to victory becomes much more difficult without it. Assuming all other state outcomes remain the same as 2016, if Trump loses Pennsylvania, he would lose the election if he also lost either Florida or Ohio.
With its mills benefitting from the president’s protective tariffs on steel and aluminum, Pennsylvania is one of the states most positioned to benefit from the trade war. If President Trump cannot win there, it is unlikely that he can carry the other Rust Belt states that he needs. Meanwhile, red states such as Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas are becoming battleground states, largely due to the impact of the trade war on farmers.
In the end, the picture of Pennsylvania is mixed. Neither Democrats nor Republicans can be certain of the holding the state at this point. President Trump’s re-election cannot be written off either is it assured.
“I’m not saying [Trump] will win the state,” pollster Terry Madonna told Philadelphia website Billy Penn in March. “I’m merely pointing out we better be careful about saying he can’t win the state.
Originally published on The Resurgent