Meet the Supporters Trump Has Lost

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For some, the disenchantment started almost as soon as Donald J. Trump took office. For others, his handling of the coronavirus and social unrest turned them away. For all of them, it’s highly unlikely they will vote for him again.

These voters, who backed Mr. Trump in 2016 but say there’s “not really any chance” they will this year, represent just 2 percent of registered voters in the six states most likely to decide the presidency, according to New York Times/Siena College polls. But they help explain why the president faces a significant deficit nationwide and in the battleground states.

“I think if he weren’t such an appalling human being, he would make a great president, because I think what this country needs is somebody who isn’t a politician,” said Judith Goines, 53, a finance executive at a home building company in Fayetteville, N.C. “But obviously with the coronavirus and the social unrest we’re dealing with, that’s where you need a politician, somebody with a little bit more couth.”

“I’m ashamed to say that I’ve voted for him,” said Ms. Goines, who described herself as a staunch Republican.

Whom 2016 Trump Voters in Battleground States Say They’ll Support in 2020

86% Supporting Trump again in 2020

6% Don’t support Trump but say there’s “some chance” of voting for him again

6% “Not really any chance” of supporting Trump

2% Don’t support Trump, don’t know if they can vote for him again

86% Supporting Trump again in 2020

Don’t support Trump but say there’s “some chance” of voting for him again

Don’t support Trump, don’t know if they can vote for him again

“Not really any chance”

of supporting Trump again

By Lazaro Gamio

These 2016 Trump voters might not all be considered part of the president’s base — many were not enthusiastic about him four years ago. As 6 percent of battleground-state Trump voters, they are just a sliver of the overall electorate. Also, 2 percent of battleground-state voters who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 say they will vote for Mr. Trump.

But Trump defectors play an outsize role in the president’s challenge. He won by a narrow margin in 2016, and he has made limited efforts to broaden his appeal. Even a modest erosion in his support imperils his re-election chances. Another 6 percent of Trump voters in these states say they no longer support Mr. Trump, while allowing “some chance” that they’ll vote for him again.

A majority of the defectors disapprove of his performance on every major issue, except the economy, according to the Times/Siena polls. Somewhat surprisingly, they are demographically similar to the voters who continue to support him. They are only marginally likelier to be women or white college graduates.

How ‘Not Again’ Trump Voters Are Different From Other 2016 Trump Voters

About 6 percent of voters in battleground states who said they backed President Trump in 2016 said there was “not really any chance” they would do so in 2020. Here’s how these voters compare:

‘Not again’ Trump voters Other Trump ’16 voters
Trust Biden to do a better job unifying Ameria 86% 9%
Disapprove of Trump’s handling of race relations 87% 15%
Think Biden’s experience in the Obama administration will help him be a better president 84% 13%
Trust Biden to do a better job on managing the coronavirus pandemic 73% 3%
Disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic 78% 9%
Trust Biden to do a better job on race relations 81% 12%
Disapprove of Trump’s handling of criminal justice issues 75% 6%
Trust Biden to do a better job handling health care 70% 6%
Disapprove of Trump on protests after the death of George Floyd 83% 21%
Trust Biden to do a better job handling protests 69% 8%
Don’t think Trump’s business experience has made him a better president 64% 4%
Support vote by mail 78% 24%
Trust Biden to do a better job on immigration 54% 3%
‘Not again’ Trump voters Other Trump ’16 voters
Say systematic racism is a very serious problem 64% 17%
Say George Floyd’s death was part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African-Americans 73% 26%
Trust Biden to do a better job on China 49% 2%
Say the federal government’s priority should be to limit the spread of the coronavirus, even if it hurts the economy 69% 24%
Say the criminal justice system is biased against African-Americans 65% 21%
Say Trump lacks personal character 78% 34%
Say that it will take a long time for the economy to come back to health 75% 32%
Prefer a candidate who says we need to focus on the cause of the protests even when they go too far 74% 30%
Don’t think that discrimination against whites is as much of a problem as it is for Blacks 70% 27%
Trust Biden to do a better job on the economy 44% 1%
Disapprove of Trump on the economy 42% 1%
Oppose protests against coronavirus-related restrictions 80% 39%
Rate the economy as fair or poor 80% 40%
Support Floyd-related demonstrations 55% 19%
Oppose the tariffs imposed by Trump on China 42% 6%
Say the federal government is not doing enough to support the economy during the pandemic 47% 12%
‘Not again’ Trump voters Other Trump ’16 voters
Say Trump does not behave the way a president ought to act 83% 51%
Say they would feel uncomfortable voting in person if the election were held this week 38% 7%
Oppose the 2017 tax bill 44% 13%
Say social distancing restrictions don’t go far enough 40% 9%
Say the economy will get worse or much worse in the next year 37% 7%
Say that in general, the police are more likely to use deadly force against a Black person 44% 16%
Want a candidate who promises to find common ground with the other party 77% 51%
Support extending unemployment insurance 72% 47%
Say Trump has treated their state worse than others 26% 3%
Say their state is moving too quickly to ease restrictions and reopen businesses 33% 10%
‘Not again’ Trump voters Other Trump ’16 voters
Want a candidate who promises to bring politics in Washington back to normal 59% 39%
Say they are not very or not at all enthusiastic about voting 27% 11%
Personally know someone who has tested positive for coronavirus 40% 27%
Want a candidate who says we need more economic stimulus during the pandemic 46% 34%
‘Not again’ Trump voters Other Trump ’16 voters
Personally know someone who has died from coronavirus 17% 10%
Voters age 18 to 29 12% 6%
Someone in household newly unemployed 27% 24%
Voters with a college degree 28% 27%
Voters over age 65 30% 31%
Men 47% 50%
White voters 80% 83%
White voters without a college degree 56% 62%
“Other Trump ’16 voters” describes voters in battleground states who said they voted for President Trump in 2016 and were open to voting for him again in 2020. Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 3,870 registered voters from June 8 to June 18.

In interviews, many said they initially backed Mr. Trump because he was a businessman, not a politician. In particular, he was not Mrs. Clinton. But they have soured on his handling of the presidency. Several mentioned his divisive style and his firing of officials who disagreed with him, and especially his response to the coronavirus and to the unrest in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Not all of them are ready to back Joe Biden, but they no longer entertain the possibility of backing the president.

Over all, 78 percent of respondents in battleground states who said they wouldn’t vote for Mr. Trump again disapproved of his handling of the pandemic.

John Crilly, 55, a retired commercial diver in Reeders, Pa., said he voted for Mr. Trump “because the other option was Hillary Clinton.”

“What changed my mind? 120,000 deaths,” he said. “He refused to realize, ‘Oh my god, there’s a virus coming our way; shouldn’t we do something, guys?’ Covid was the turning point. It’s the thing that touches home with everybody.”

He plans to vote for a local write-in candidate instead of Mr. Biden, who he worries is too old.

Coronavirus also changed the mind of Ariel Oakley, 29, who works in human resources in Grand Rapids, Mich. “With coronavirus, even just watching the press conferences, having him come out and say it’s all fake,” she said. “I have family who have unfortunately passed away from it.”

It made her wonder how often he hadn’t told the truth before, she said. She plans to vote for Mr. Biden.

Image
Credit…Charlotte Kesl for The New York Times

The president also lost voters because of his handling of the growing movement against police brutality and entrenched racism. More than 80 percent of those who won’t vote for him again say that Mr. Biden would do a better job on race relations or unifying America. Of the Trump voters who have not ruled out voting for him again, only around 10 percent said they trusted Mr. Biden to do a better job on race relations.

Kelvin Pittman II, 34, who is self-employed doing car detailing in Jacksonville, Fla., said he voted for Mr. Trump because “he was a great businessman.” As a Black man, he said he aligns with Democrats on many issues, but as a businessman, he favors certain Republican policies.

Then came the death of Mr. Floyd. Mr. Pittman felt the president didn’t take it seriously: “It was kind of the last straw. It was like, this dude is just in it for himself. I thought he was supposed to be for the people.”

Cathleen Graham, 53, a nurse who lives in a mostly white suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., has had very different life experiences, but came to the same conclusion. She said she had been shocked to learn how much racism still existed.

“I understand the movement and why it’s going on a lot better than I did than when the gentleman was kneeling at the football game,” she said, referring to Colin Kaepernick. “Even speaking up to support it, I’ve lost friends, friends that were crude, and I was like, ‘How can you even think that of another race?’”

Mr. Trump fits in that category, she said. She plans to vote for Mr. Biden.

Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

Some former Trump voters said it was his personality more than any specific policy that turned them off. They observed his behavior as a candidate, but expected him to act with more decorum in office.

Robert Kaplan, 57, a supervisor at a water utility in Racine, Wis., voted for the president because he wanted to abolish Obamacare, and he didn’t trust Mrs. Clinton. But he was disappointed from the start.

“He’s an embarrassment,” he said. “He’s like a little kid with a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get things to go his way. He’s very punitive — if you disagree, he fires you. He disrespects very good people in Washington trying to do some good. And I think it’s very disrespectful of the office to be tweeting all the time.”

More than 80 percent of the voters who won’t back Mr. Trump again agreed with the statement that he doesn’t behave the way a president ought to act. Their view is shared by 75 percent of registered voters across the battleground states.

“He said he was going to, quote unquote, drain the swamp, and all he’s done is splashed around and rolled around in it,” Mr. Kaplan said.

Mr. Biden wasn’t his first pick, but he believes he has a chance to “bring the people back together.” His choice of vice president is important, he said — he hopes it’s someone younger, who can close the divide between the two parties.

John Chavez, 45, a manager at a car dealership in Queen Creek, Ariz., voted for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His 2016 vote was not so much for Mr. Trump, he said, as against Mrs. Clinton — he was “spooked” by things he’d heard about her potential involvement in scandals.

“I thought, obviously he’s going to step it up and he’s going to have to change, he’s going to have to become more presidential,” he said. “But little did I know, he’s not. He got worse.”

There was one moment, he said, when “he lost me forever”: when Mr. Trump did not wear a mask during his recent rally in Tulsa, Okla. He said that the president should not have made masks into a political symbol, and that if the public should wear masks, so should he.

Mr. Chavez will vote for Mr. Biden, mostly as a vote against Mr. Trump.

Though many voters similarly described Mr. Biden as the least objectionable choice, some were more enthusiastic.

Craig Smith, 64, a veteran in Big Rapids, Mich., said he planned to vote for Mr. Biden because “he’s got integrity, he tells the truth, he’s got compassion and empathy.”

“Donald Trump represents the past,” he said, “and I believe that the Democrats and Joe Biden and the young people of the world are looking at the future.

“I will never vote for another Republican in my life because of Donald Trump,” Mr. Smith added. “What changed? Well, three years.”