Finley: Trump has the Hillary problem
If President Donald Trump were to look in a mirror in Michigan, he'd see Hillary Clinton's face staring back.
Trump is in the exact same place among voters here as Clinton was in her presidential bid four years ago.
"Looking at our Michigan presidential poll from June, 2015, Trump’s numbers today are really similar to Hillary Clinton's then," says Detroit News pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group. "Independents in 2015 viewed Hillary Clinton negatively by 21 points. That's exactly how independents view Trump today. When we did head-to-head polling then, Clinton never got above 42, 43 percent against the Republicans in the race.
"That's where Trump is now against Democrats. He has the Hillary Clinton problem."
While Clinton failed to woo her own party, Trump’s problem is with independents.
Just 28.3 percent of unaligned voters in Michigan view him favorably, while 48.7 percent hold an unfavorable opinion of the president, according to a Detroit News/WDIV-Ch. 4 poll released this week. That accounts for Trump's 12 point deficit in Michigan in match-ups against Democratic front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Don't expect those independents to stay home the way left-leaning voters did in 2016. Motivation is the story of this of this poll, Czuba says.
"In 2016, nobody was enthused about voting," he says. "Motivation among the party bases was at 6.5, 6.6 on a scale of 10. Independents were down in the 5s. Motivation to vote shot into the 9s in 2018, and now it's even a little higher, 9.5 overall. That’s what’s changed."
Even if both parties are equally motivated to cast ballots, the advantage goes to Democrats. Republican voter turnout in Michigan remains within a narrow range in presidential elections. The outcome always depends on Democratic turnout. When they vote, they win.
Michigan will be a key state in 2020. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania handed Trump the presidency, but winning those states again will be tougher, particularly since Democrats are holding their convention next year in Milwaukee.
What could help the president in Michigan is a viable third-party candidate. Czuba did a poll sample that included Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, who has hinted at a presidential run on the Libertarian ticket. With Amash on the ballot, Trump’s deficits decrease.
“The defection to Amash is primarily among independent men who don’t like either party and want another option,” Czuba says. “Give independents a place to go other than a Democrat, and the race becomes a lot more competitive.”
Trump supporters will note that pollsters universally failed to forecast his victory in 2016, missing the forgotten rural and blue collar voters who formed his base. So why should they believe the polls this time? Fair question. But again, Czuba says, the difference this cycle is voter motivation, which is higher than he’s ever seen.
“The great irony of the Donald Trump presidency is that he may have reinvigorated democracy,” Czuba says. “It’s a good thing for democracy when everyone is motivated and engaged.”
Good for democracy, but perhaps not so good for the president’s reelection hopes.