Donald Trump has often alluded to building a new electoral coalition that runs through the Rust Belt. Our new Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies poll suggests that building remains a work in progress.
In the poll of middle income voters in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump trails Clinton 46-39. 15 percent of voters remain undecided. A few things jump out when you look at the data.
Policy vs. Prosperity. A battery of questions we asked about phrases people use to describe the candidates reveals a key difference. Clinton scores high on questions about foreign policy and questions that suggest she would pursue policies that directly benefit middle income voters. Trump scores higher on more broadly themed statements such as having new ideas to lead us into the future, creating new jobs and changing the way Washington works. Hillary is the candidate of specifics, Trump the candidate of generalities.
Hillary is more empathetic. Trump has made the “likable enough” Clinton more empathetic for these middle income voters. Clinton wins on questions like fighting harder for the middle class, caring about and understanding the challenges of “people like me,” being a good role model for children and a good guest in someone’s home.
A pox on both houses. 56 percent of middle income Rust Belt voters disapprove of Clinton; 64 percent disapprove of Trump. This is why 45 percent of voters surveyed are willing to consider a 3rd party candidate.
Obama may be helping Clinton with middle income voters. Obama’s approval rating is 47-44, mirroring his improvement in other surveys. These numbers are not far off from where the race stands overall, and presidential approval is often a key factor in an open seat election (just ask John McCain).
Paul Ryan matters. While 64 percent of Trump voters in the survey say a Ryan endorsement would make no difference, 29 percent say it would make them more likely to support Trump. Only 7 percent say Ryan’s endorsement would make them less likely to vote for him. Despite being called an establishment figure by some, Ryan’s nod could help solidify Trump’s support.
Temperament matters too. It will be hard for Trump to win if he remains this disliked by these voters. In addition to almost 2/3 of voters viewing him unfavorably, he trails by 25 on “temperament to be president,” 25 on being a good role model and 25 on being “a good guest in my home.” Today, Clinton is “likable enough.” Trump is not.
Both have enormous weaknesses. Of the criticisms of the candidates we tested, nothing hurts Trump more than his statements on women. Criticism of Clinton’s truthfulness on Benghazi was her biggest weakness. Several other issues were of great concern.
Opportunities for Trump. There is a lot of information suggesting Trump has many things of which he can take advantage. The one thing voters seem to universally reject is the status quo. Take at look at these data points which could favor a Trump candidacy:
• 66 percent think the country is “seriously off on the wrong track”
• 74 percent want “major changes to the way that the government does things”
• Trump leads by 11 on “new ideas” for the future, 28 on changing Washington and 16 on reining in Wall Street
With middle income voters in the Rust Belt, Trump should continue to play to his strengths. He is the candidate of action, the person who will force change upon Washington, create jobs and demonstrate strength abroad in a way Clinton cannot. But he has to shore up his “likability.” Trump simply must become a figure these voters don’t mind hearing from and representing them over the next four to eight years. They clearly want to do more than “hold their nose.” For Trump to lose an election to Clinton on personality would be quite a political epitaph indeed.
I invite you to look over the survey and share the results. There is plenty for fans of Clinton and Trump – and for those who don’t like either one – to debate, criticize and take comfort in.