This is fascinating.
By 2019, it was already clear that Trump was losing the Hard-Pressed Skeptics whose shift toward the GOP won him the presidency in the 2016 election.
“About a quarter of the electorate are “cross pressured” on economics and immigration — aligning with Democrats on one issue and Republicans on the other. The number of Americans who are liberal on economics but conservative on immigration is much larger than the number of Americans who are conservative on economics and liberal on immigration.
Since the 2016 presidential election, Trump has lost support among both economically liberal/anti-immigration Americans and economically conservative/pro-immigration Americans. However, he may yet gain it back; these cross-pressured Americans are more likely to be undecided ahead of the 2020 presidential election. …”
Do you remember this famous map from the Voter Study Group?
Look at this map from 2019.
It shows the relative position of Democrats, Republicans and Independents on immigration and economic issues. Independents are to the Right of the Democrats and Left of the Republicans.
The political battlefield is the 25% of the electorate that is socially conservative and economically populist. Republicans have to win decisively with Independents in this quadrant. In the 2016 election, Trump carried Indies and won 65% of the voters in the Populist quadrant with his MAGA agenda.
“About half (49 percent) of the electorate is consistently to the left on both dimensions (economics and immigration), while a quarter (25 percent) are consistently to the right on both dimensions. That leaves just over a quarter of the electorate as cross pressured: those that either lean left on economics and right on immigration (19 percent), or those that lean right on economics and left on immigration (8 percent).(4)”
… Compared to Trump’s performance in the 2016 presidential race, Republican candidates for Congress did worse in the 2018 midterms. To the extent that these different electoral results were driven by shifts in how Americans voted, those shifts were not evenly distributed across these economic and immigration attitudes. The second panel of Figure 4 shows the change in the percentage of voters in each cell who supported Trump in 2016, and the percentage who voted for a Republican for Congress in 2018. Blue cells reflect a shift towards Democrats; the darker the blue, the greater the shift. Red cells reflect a shift to Republicans; the darker the red, the greater the shift. White cells represent no change.”
In the 2018 midterms, conservative Republicans who were alienated by Trump shifted back toward the GOP while Trump’s voters didn’t turn out for the GOP. The Democrats won the House and Trump was impeached because those voters didn’t show up in 2018.
“The biggest shifts generally were among cross-pressured voters. The largest shift away from Republicans and towards Democrats was among voters who were left on economics and right on immigration. By contrast, the largest shift towards Republicans were among voters who were left on immigration and right on economics. Those Americans in the lower-left 2×2 region and upper-right 2×2 region didn’t change their minds very much. Taken together, these patterns may suggest that pocketbook issues played a more important role in voter choice in 2018 than in 2016.
Things appear worse for Republicans as we look towards 2020. The 2019 VOTER Survey asked respondents to choose between Trump and a generic Democrat. Overall, the generic Democrat outpolls Trump 48 percent to 36 percent, with 11 percent undecided and 5 percent saying they would not vote. The first panel of Figure 5 shows the difference between the percentage of Americans who supported Trump in 2016 and the percentage who say they will definitely support Trump again in 2020. Again, blue reflects a shift towards a generic Democrat while red reflects a shift towards Trump relative to how these groups voted in 2016.”
Trump was in big trouble in the Center in 2019.
Of course, this was always reflected in his dismal approval rating:
“This matrix is almost entirely in shades of blue, which does not bode well for Trump. He is struggling among both groups of cross-pressured Americans and is only holding his support among fairly consistent conservatives. However, as the first panel of Figure 3 showed, the 3×3 region in the upper-right represents only about a quarter of Americans. …”
As this report in August 2018 makes clear, Populists who had voted for Trump were not on board with the GOP in the 2018 midterms.
“Lee Drutman’s method of analyzing the electorate shows Republican weakness is especially concentrated among the two groups whose views on issues place them between hardcore Republicans and Democrats. People who hold mainly liberal views on economic and on identity questions comprise about 41 percent of all American voters according to Drutman’s 2017 report, and they back Democrats for Congress this year by an 81 to 4 margin. People, who hold conservative views on both sets of issues, comprise only about a quarter of all American voters, but they give Republicans a similarly lopsided 84 to 2 advantage on this year’s generic ballot. Ten percent of all voters are Libertarians (conservative on economics and liberal on identity issues), and while they supported Trump by a 35 to 31 margin in 2016, they currently give Democrats a 35 to 32 edge in the generic ballot.
The most important group in Drutman’s analysis, Populists, are the reason Democrats have a large lead in this year’s Congressional races. Populists, about 29 percent of all voters, hold liberal views on economic measures but conservative ones on identity questions. Over 65 percent voted for Trump in 2016, but this group currently gives Republicans only 49 percent of their support for Congress. Their support for Democratic congressional candidates, 24 percent, is nearly identical to the support they gave to Hillary Clinton (21 percent). The 27 percent who are not currently backing either party’s candidates were nearly all Trump voters just eighteen months ago. Which party these voters back — or whether they will vote at all — will be crucial to determining the outcome this fall, especially in the hot Senate races. …”
This is what happened in the 2018 midterms:
The Obama-Trump voters began cooling on Trump while the Romney-Other voters started warming to Trump:
“Only Obama-Trump voters have had a significant change in their view of President Trump over the last two years. In the 2016 VOTER Survey, more than 8 in 10 (85 percent) Obama-Trump voters held a “favorable” view of the president — 19 percentage points higher than in 2019 (66 percent). Even small movement among these voters — who represented 5 percent of voters in 2016 — may prove significant heading into the 2020 presidential election.(iv) Obama-Trump voters are also disproportionately white, non-college educated and, as a result, are likely to be well distributed geographically for the purpose of electoral impact. …”
Different parts of the electorate care about different issues: immigration and crime are winning issues in the Center for Republicans with Independents. Conversely, health care is a winning issue for Democrats in the Center. Health care was the biggest issue in the 2018 midterms.
Look where the health care voters are though.
Health care voters are moderates who are “more anti-immigration.” If the GOP could moderate its policy agenda on health care and economics, those voters would defect from the Democrats.
Note: This is a hopeless cause though.
In 2016, only 22.7% of voters were conservatives on social identity and economics while 28.9% of voters were populists on social identity and economics. Obviously, the only viable electoral strategy for conservatives to win is to align with populists against the 41% of voters who are progressives, but they refuse as a matter of principle to moderate their message and policy agenda thereby ensuring defeat.