To the disappointment of Democrats, public opinion polls to date have not found much “buyer’s remorse” among the voters who supported President Donald Trump. A recent Washington Post poll, for example, found a whopping 94 percent approval rating among Trump voters.
Nevertheless, there’s evidence of potentially growing regret among a small – but crucial – bloc of voters: those who see themselves as ideologically “stuck in the middle” between the two major political parties. These are the voters who see Democrats as “too liberal” and Republicans as “too conservative.”
Since 2015, we’ve tracked this group of “Stuck in the Middle” voters, who make up 21 percent of the electorate, according to our data. Although they are outnumbered by the share of partisans who identify ideologically with Democrats or Republicans, this group is the true swing electorate upon which the outcomes of 2018 and 2020 rest. This is because they voted for Trump in 2016, despite turning out for Obama in 2012.
“Stuck in the Middle” voters are a particularly interesting barometer because of who they are. They skew heavily toward being middle-aged, college-educated white males – a prized demographic that also shares many traits of the “typical” Trump voter, as highlighted by the comparison to exit poll demographics below.
“Stuck in the Middle” voters tend to be optimistic about the future of the economy, and more often than not, they believe the US economy has gotten better over the past few years, which is unlike the regular Trump voter, 44 percent of whom believe the economy has gotten worse. The “Stuck in the Middle” group does have mixed views on how the economy is faring in their own area of the country, with slightly more saying it is better than worse. However, they do feel slightly better about their own person economic situation, with 28 percent feeling things are going better and 21 percent who feel the opposite. These numbers aren’t far off from how Trump voters as a whole feel about the current state of things, but they do vary from “Stuck in the Middle” voters when it comes to the future: nearly three-quarters of Trump voters as a whole believe the economy will get better in the future, compared to less than half of “Stuck in the Middle” voters who say the same.
While the two groups find similarities in who they voted for in November, Trump voters as a whole and “Stuck in the Middle” voters certainly do not view the president in the same light. “Stuck in the Middle” voters’ mixed views are very different from the average Trump voter’s: nearly three-quarters of Trump voters as a whole approve of both what Trump has done in office and how he has gotten things done, while less than one-quarter of “Stuck in the Middle” voters approve of what he’s done – but not his methods – and a full 44 percent disapprove of both Trump’s actions and methods. And over half of Trump voters say that Trump is doing better in office than they expected him to do, with just five percent saying things are going worse than expected.
While much of the political discussion, particularly among Democrats, has been about efforts to mobilize the base and improve turnout, it’s also important not to forget that the large swath of voters who belong to neither base may hold the fate of future elections in their hands. As shown by their voting history in the last two elections, “Stuck in the Middle” voters can and will have an effect on the 2018 and 2020 elections, and congressional leadership must decide soon how to reach out to these Americans in order to win them over.