Survey: Trump's unpopularity in Michigan hurts GOP candidates

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
President Donald Trump speaks to the press aboard Air Force One on September 7, 2018, as he travels to Fargo, North Dakota.

President Donald Trump has become unpopular with Michigan voters, and his poor rating threatens to drag down Republican candidates up and down the Nov. 6 ticket, according to a new statewide poll.

The survey conducted last week for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed women and independent voters hold especially negative opinions of the president two years after he narrowly won the state.

About 37 percent of the 600 likely voters polled Sept. 5-7 said they had a favorable opinion of Trump, compared to 57 percent who had an unfavorable opinion. The survey had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points, but the numbers were virtually unchanged from a January 2018 poll.

Trump’s job-approval rating rose 4.8 percentage points since January but remained negative overall, with 44 percent of voters saying they approve of his work and 51 percent voicing disapproval.

How voters view Trump’s presidency appears to be a significant factor in down-ticket races, with 68 percent of voters indicating Trump would play a major factor in how they voted this November.

The problem for Republicans is that far more voters have an unfavorable opinion of Trump nine weeks from the Nov. 6 election, said Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for the Lansing-based Glengariff Group.

Trump's favorability rating "is what’s driving voters in every single race right now," Czuba said.

In a test of generic state House candidates, 46 percent of voters said they would support a Democrat if the election were held today, compared to 34 percent for a Republican — a lead of 12 percent for the minority party that is seeking to flip control of the state Legislature.

"It looks like a flip of the 2010 numbers," Czuba said of the generic ballot. "Eight years ago when Republicans rolled, we were looking at these types of numbers."

"It pretty much fits into the national pattern. It’s another reminder of the fact that a good economy doesn't guarantee a president high ratings," said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. 

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Polls reflect a snapshot of voter sentiment at a specific time and do not predict election outcomes. Roughly 43 percent self-identified as Democrats, 37 percent as Republicans and 20 percent as independents.

The survey found Michigan voters believe the nation is on the wrong track by a 10-percentage-point margin — 38 percent saying it's on the right track, and 48 percent on the wrong track.

Voters largely split on partisan lines with nearly four-fifths of GOP voters saying the country is on the right track, and 80 percent of Democratic voters saying the nation is on the wrong track.

Rebelling against Republicans

Robert Merrill, a 34-year-old who lives in Portage and works in the mortgage industry, said he has voted straight Republican almost his entire life until Trump and now refuses to vote for any candidates who embrace the president’s endorsement.

“I’ll vote for (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Debbie Stabenow for the first time in three cycles that I’ve had the opportunity,” Merrill said. “I’ve actually spent money against her in the past.”

In the governor’s race, Merrill said he’ll vote Libertarian if he votes at all. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer’s policies would hurt his family’s business, he said, and Republican Bill Schuette “is just a Trump follower.”

Merrill supported U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the 2016 Republican primary but in the general election wrote in the name of Harambe — a gorilla who was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo that year after a boy climbed into his enclosure.

“I’m a capitalist at heart, so I’m not a huge fan of deficits, and I’m not a huge fan of the things he does on trade,” Merrill said of Trump, referencing federal spending and import tariffs adopted under the president.

“I honestly just don’t think he’s a good negotiator in general.”

Trump's trade policy, considered a strength in the 2016 campaign, is opposed by most Michigan voters, according to the poll. Half of those surveyed opposed Trump's imposing of trade sanctions on other countries, while 41 percent supported them and the remaining 9 percent were undecided.  

A stark difference between 2016 and 2018 election cycles is the professed motivation to vote, Czuba said.

In 2016, motivation was low among independent voters and those who lean Democratic, which translated into many not turning out at the polls. 

This year, Michigan voters across the spectrum are ranking their motivation to vote at 9.4 on a 10.0-point scale, according to the survey.  

"In 35 years, I’ve never seen any kind of motivation even coming close to this," Czuba said. "I’ve been joking, someone better go check the polling places because they may already be in line."

Independents are among those highly motivated to vote, Czuba said.

"When they’re highly motivated to vote, they’re going to turn out, and they (independents) are in every race sharply breaking against the Republicans because of how they personally view Donald Trump," Czuba said. 

He referenced the shortage of ballots that some precincts experienced during the record turnout in August's primary

"Every single clerk out there better have enough ballots and enough staff for election day. The voters are coming. They didn’t see it coming in the primary," Czuba said.

Sabato predicts a "surprisingly healthy" turnout for the midterm election but well below that of a presidential election year. 

"To this point, Democrats have been more energized and say they are more likely to vote than Republicans do. I caution everybody that can change. Trump can energize his voters with rallies in key states and districts, and Republicans might be able to pull it out," Sabato said. 

"But right now, Democrats are very anti-Trump, and they feel so strongly about it they're going to do what many of them rarely do, which is vote in a midterm election."

Female turnout 

In Michigan, college-educated women and Metro Detroit-area women gave Democrats a boost in the survey.

Women choose the generic Democratic candidate in the survey by a margin of over 20 percentage points — a 4-point increase since January 2018. That margin increased to over 33 percentage points among women in Metro Detroit, and 25 percentage points among college-educated women statewide, according to the poll.  

It reflects the trend of college-educated women across the country turning against Trump "in record numbers," including white women, Sabato said.

"They probably didn’t much like Trump anyway. Loads of people voted for him because they didn’t want Hillary Clinton. That didn’t mean they liked Donald Trump," he said.

"This information coming out is not just about women, but how he’s running the presidency has disturbed lots of people. Not his base. They’ll never care about anything, but other people do."

Susan Rhode, a 62-year-old retiree who lives in Roger City, said she likes what she’s heard from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer, including her vow to repeal the so-called “pension tax” on retirement income approved by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011.

“I don’t like Bill Schuette because of his association with Trump,” said Rhode, who worked as Presque Isle County clerk as a Democrat but said she was not a member of any party and votes for candidates on both sides of the aisle. 

Rhode said she is “appalled” by Trump, including his treatment of immigrants and other people. She voted for Clinton in 2016 as the “lesser of two evils.”

“I just can’t believe some of the stuff that he says, some of the stuff that he does, the lies he’s been caught in,” Rhode said.

"If your child was doing what he was doing as far as telling lies, you’d give them a spanking or try to teach them different.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.


Trump's favorability

Favorable 37%

Unfavorable 56.6%

No opinion 5.4%

Don't know 1%

Trump factor in voting

Yes, support Trump 27.3%

Yes, oppose 40.6%

No, not major factor 28.8%

Undecided 3.3%

Note: Numbers may not total 100 percent because of rounding. Poll of 600 likely Michigan voters had margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Source: Glengariff Group