In case you read that headline and thought “who cares?”, the answer is: Trump and all of his fans, hopefully. He’s supposed to be the populist-in-chief, the guy who brought the white working class in the Rust Belt back into the Republican fold after they blanched at Romney. He was certainly the more populist option on the ballot in 2016.
Would he be the most populist option on the ballot in 2020 if it’s Bernie Sanders on the other side?
Even if he lucks into facing another elitist technocrat next fall, you can treat the numbers among independents here as a sort of referendum on Trump’s first two years in power. WaPo doesn’t provide historical data so we can’t measure how opinion has changed over time, but we can safely say that most indies don’t think Trump’s populist revolution has led to any economic revolution yet.
This might be an artifact of partisanship. Republican opinion is surely being influenced by a bias in favor of the status quo since it’s their guy who’s presiding over that status quo. On Earth 2, where Hillary Clinton is in power, Democratic anxiety about the economy working for the rich is probably milder even though she had a friendlier relationship with Wall Street in 2016 than Trump did. But you look at these numbers and wonder how potent Sanders’s message (or any other Democrat’s message) might be with some disaffected blue-collar Trump fans. “He signed a tax cut that ended up being a giveaway to the rich,” Bernie will say. “He’s pushing for health-care reforms that’ll end up as a giveaway to the insurance industry.” Tariffs will be a trickier subject for protectionist Democrats but they’ll find a way to mention in Wisconsin that Trump’s trade policies are killing middle America’s dairy farmers. Sanders won’t have to reach far for evidence to support the argument that the great right-wing populist reboot of the system is a bust.
To which Trump has a potent counterargument, of course. All he has to do is point to the monthly jobs numbers and say “Scoreboard.” Democrats will spend the next 18 months straining to come up with an answer to that.
The poll numbers get worse when you ask whether the political system, rather than the economic system, works to mainly benefit people in power:
You can understand why independents would be frustrated with a two-party duopoly. I’m a little surprised by the degree of Republican opposition, though, especially given Trump’s branding as champion of “the forgotten man.” It may be that GOPers are less likely now to see the political system working in favor of the powerful than they’ve been in years past — again, no historical data here — and yet even a majority of Trump’s own party still thinks the little guy is getting screwed with him in power. The eternal tension between the base and the GOP’s congressional leadership contributes to that, I’d bet. To populists, the vote in the Senate on whether to override Trump’s border emergency was a sort of referendum on this question. Trump was at odds with America’s powerful business class in wanting to wall off the border; a bunch of Republican senators crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats to try to stop him, advancing the business class’s goals. They failed to override his veto but may yet succeed in blocking him thanks to a judiciary that’s been hostile to Trump’s policies, especially on immigration. Go figure that even a Trump-led government might be seen as too friendly to powerful interests to the GOP base.
One more number for you:
You might shrug that off on grounds that it’s a survey of all adults, not likely voters. After all, some of the NeverTrumpers in that 55 percent bloc won’t bother to register to vote; some who are registered won’t bother to turn out on election day; and some who do turn out will eventually be swayed by the roaring economy to pull the lever for POTUS in the end. Just note that we do have some historical data in this case. Per WaPo, the share during Obama’s first term who vowed they definitely wouldn’t vote for him was 47 percent — coincidentally the exact percentage that Mitt Romney got in the 2012 election. If Trump ends up with 55 percent against him next year, he’d better hope there’s a prominent third-party candidate in the race squeezing votes from the Democratic nominee or he’s a dead duck.
Exit question: Which state do these results, published recently by Emerson, come from?
The answer may surprise you!