There’s plenty of interesting information in the data collected by the National Opinion Research Center during their latest nationwide survey. The headline takeaway is that Trump’s base of support is weaker than it may appear from just looking at the topline numbers. What stood out to me was something different, however.
The survey breaks voters into six basic categories: Strong Republican, Not-So-Strong Republican, Lean Republican, Strong Democrat, Not-So-Strong Democrat, and Lean Democrat. The two “lean” categories are essentially people who do not want to self-identify with either party. Among the three Democratic groups, it may surprise you to learn that Trump does best with people who identify as Democrats, but not too strongly. They like Trump better than “independents” who lean Democratic.
And it’s a pretty big difference. Strong Democrats strongly disapprove of President Trump (eighty-seven percent) and Lean Democrats are almost as hostile (eighty-three percent). But Not-So-Strong Democrats only register 68% strong disapproval.
This is the group where you’ll find the Obama-Trump voters. Many of them have already seen enough of Trump, regret their decision to give him a chance, and will not be voting for him again. Some of them are happy with Trump and may soon migrate into independence or a Republican affiliation. The significant thing is that, whether they voted for Trump or not, whether they regret voting for him or not, or whether they’re more sympathetic to him even in opposition or not, they’re people who still identify as Democrats.
For strategists who are actually interested in convincing Democrats to vote for Democrats, they should examine what this group likes about Trump beyond his anti-immigrant racism. It could be his opposition to NAFTA and other trade agreements. It could be his combativeness and willingness to tell elites where to get stuffed. It could be as simple as a more general social conservatism within this group. To be sure, there are still nearly seven out of ten people in this group who strongly disapprove of Trump, but the rest are a weakness for the Democratic Party as well as an opportunity.
The Obama-Trump Democrat is not a myth. Republicans will do better poaching them (again) than they’ll ever do with left-leaning independents. And Democrats have a better chance of shoring up support among their own than they do of poaching right-leaning independents who also support Trump by better numbers than Not-So-Strong Republicans.
In other words, the biggest minefield for vote switchers (for both parties) is among loose affiliates of the other party rather than independents, but they’re also the easiest voters to retain due to their historic allegiance. If you push your weak affiliates out, you’re doing our opponents’ work for them.