As the midterm elections approach, President Donald Trump continues to drive the political news cycle. And an examination of the president’s support across the county types in the American Communities Project shows the GOP’s challenges and strengths vis-a-vis the president going into the fall.
A close look at six county types that were crucial to Trump’s win in 2016, places where Trump won at least 53% of the vote, shows varying levels of support and stability throughout a tumultuous year, according to an analysis of presidential job approval data from Gallup since January — about 48,000 adults.
First, there appears to be a rock-solid base for the president in the ACP’s Evangelical Hubs and Working Class Country communities. Second, voters in the Exurbs, home of the GOP’s establishment, remain consistently lukewarm toward the president. And third, voters in three community types, the Middle Suburbs, Graying America and Rural Middle America, seem the most likely to have shifting attitudes about the president.
The differences and swings in support in those communities could have serious impacts in November’s elections – particularly in the House, where districts can be heavily composed of voters from certain kinds of communities.
Trump’s Core Communities
The two lines moving across the top of that chart represent Trump job approval in the Evangelical Hubs and Working Class Country communities. In both those community types, Trump’s approval number has been north of 60% for most of the year and through a very turbulent summer. He won more than 70% of the vote out of each in 2016.
You can see where those counties are located on the maps below.
Working Class Country
The continued strength and stability in these communities suggests they are relatively unfazed by negative news reports about the president. That’s the good news for the GOP. Less positive for Republicans is the way those places are distributed across the county, based heavily in Appalachia and the rural south – places that are for the most part reliably Republican. That means they may not offer much boost for the party in the fall.
Uncertainty in the Exurbs
Another sign of stability, running though the center of the chart, is the yellow line representing the Exurbs. These populated counties that tend to straddle urban and rural places have long been the wealthy, well-educated home of the Republican establishment. No GOP presidential candidate has received less than 55% of the vote from these counties since 2000. Trump won 55.5%.
But since his inauguration, these counties have looked a lot more like reluctant Trump supporters than base voters. And they tend to be located in the suburban areas that Republicans are especially worries about this midterm cycle. Many of the biggest 2018 battlegrounds are suburban in nature.
The stability of Trump’s numbers in these communities suggests they know where they stand on the president. After a year of good news about a growing economy and some troubling White House controversies, their approval has moved in a narrow three-point band, between 48% and 45%. Something could still suddenly rock their views this fall, but that would break with a pretty steady trend. The bigger question in these places is whether voters will turn out in November, even if they are lukewarm on the president.
The Potential Movers
While Trump’s approval rating overall has been very stable, particularly in recent months – since April Gallup’s overall approval rate for him has hovered between 40% and 42% –some communities that voted for Trump in 2016 have been more volatile. Look at the chart above and you’ll notice that since June the president’s approval rating has dipped in the Middle Suburbs, Graying America and Rural Middle America. Since June, all have seen declines of 7 points or more.
One thing that stands out about these three types is their geography. They are not generally located in the south, and there is some concentration in the middle of the country and the Great Lakes region – as you can see on the maps below.
Rural Middle America
The states around that Great Lakes/Midwest area – Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Pennsylvania – hold 18 congressional districts the Cook Political Report rates as Lean Republican or worse.
What’s driven the changes in Trump support in these communities? In Rural Middle America, the president’s action of agricultural tariffs may have turned voters off. There is a big agricultural component to many of those places. The Middle Suburbs may be seeing some of the same reactions around auto tariffs. Talk of those surcharges has created concern among automakers, an important part of the economy in many of those counties. In Graying America, discussions about coming cuts to Social Security may be raising eyebrows.
Or it could be an especially bumpy summer of news events has shaken support in these communities in a broader sense.
But, more important, the shift in those communities may ultimately just be evidence that voters in them are more prone to change their views on the president. In a midterm where Trump is the primary focus of most news cycles, that means they warrant a close watch over the next few weeks.