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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

June 15: Trump Losing Ground in Key 2016 Heartland States

Any time new state-by-state data about Trump’s popularity comes out, I am very focused on those once-blue “Heartland” states that shocked the world in 2016 and lifted him to the presidency. So I wrote about some new Morning Consult findings at New York:

The president’s ratings among registered voters are underwater (more negative than positive) in the very heartland states he flipped from a past heritage of Democratic voting in 2016: Wisconsin (-12), Michigan (-9), Iowa (-7), Ohio (-4), and Pennsylvania (-4). In the short term, that matters because all these states other than Iowa have Senate races in November, and there are a total of 12 highly competitive House races among them (according to the Cook Political Report).

There are some other Trump ’16 states where his high standing has eroded significantly, including six that are holding Senate races this year: Arizona (+2), Montana (+3), Florida (+5), Missouri (+5), Texas (+5), North Dakota (+6), and Indiana (+8). There are other 2018 Senate battlegrounds, however, where POTUS is still very popular, such as Tennessee (+20), Mississippi (+23), and West Virginia (+27).

It may be argued that Trump did, after all, win in 2016 despite poor favorability ratings. But presidential elections are comparative, and Trump was fortunate to face a Democratic opponent with pretty bad favorability ratings as well. Since midterms are typically more of a straight-up referendum on the president (and are likely to be so even more with a president who dominates the news like this one has), lack of presidential popularity should be a much bigger deal. Yes, Trump’s national approval ratings have drifted upward in 2018, but are still well south of 50 percent. And there’s one bit of historical data from Gallup that ought to especially worry Republicans: the parties of presidents facing midterms with job approval ratings below 50 percent have on average lost 36 House seats.

Of course, 2020 is a different matter, and what happens then will depend on a thousand variables, including the identity of Trump’s Democratic opponent (assuming he’s running for reelection). But let’s don’t forget he won in the first place by executing what amounts to an inside straight based on extremely narrow wins in heartland states in the context of a national popular-vote defeat. And that’s why we might pay especially close attention to how his party does this November in those very states.

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