Independent voters will make Donald Trump a one-term president
Since the impeachment process began in earnest with Speaker Pelosi’s Sept. 24 inquiry announcement, polls have repeatedly shown that the American electorate is divided when it comes to removing the 45th President of the United States.
The latest Fox News Poll indicates that some 50 percent of respondents believe the president should be impeached and removed from office, while 41 percent believe he should remain in office. This poll, which was conducted between December 8 and 11 — before the two formal Articles of Impeachment were announced by House Democratic Leadership, registered nearly the same public sentiment as a month before.
The same Fox News poll indicates that registered independents are split evenly on the question of impeachment at 45 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. The 45 percent of registered independents supporting impeachment is up 6 points since the same poll was conducted by Fox News in early October.
In 2016, according to exit polls, then-candidate Donald Trump won the independent vote 47 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. Roughly 28 percent of Americans identify as an independent or with another lesser known political party. For context, it’s important to remember that Trump won Wisconsin by 0.77 percent, Pennsylvania by 0.72 percent and Michigan by just 0.23 percent of votes cast, enjoying the support of these independent voters who broke for him in the closing weeks of the campaign. If the electoral map remains the same as in 2016, the Democratic nominee just needs to win back those three states in order to win the presidency.
In 2012, Wisconsin, the 10th most competitive state, was decided by 6.7 percentage points compared to just 3.9 percentage points in Arizona, the 10th most competitive state in 2016. As election results in the states become closer, the independent or unaffiliated vote will be even more critical in 2020 between President Trump and the eventual Democratic nominee.
Democratic candidates for Congress were the big winners in the 2018 midterms when it came to the independent vote, taking 55 percent of independents compared to just 41 percent for Republican candidates.
Taken together, these polls and trend lines from the 2018 midterms spell disaster for President Trump’s reelection prospects when it comes to independents.
Aside from the power and prestige of incumbency, President Trump does have one huge advantage heading into 2020: cash. Trump’s campaign has $83 million in cash on hand, and the Republican National Committee has over $61 million. Compare that to the Democratic National Committee that has just $8 million on hand along with the eventual nominee who will be hard pressed for campaign dollars after the primary election.
Those kinds of resources can certainly persuade a lot of voters to reelect the president. However, as any political operative will tell you, it takes a lot more money to change a voter’s perception of your candidate than it does to turn out a less-frequent voter who’s already a part of your base. Then-candidate Mitt Romney learned that lesson in 2012 when President Obama’s team, having a cash advantage during the summer before the election, bet the house on painting the former governor as a corrupt, out-of-touch, greedy businessman. The gambit worked, and the GOP nominee and RNC learned the hard way that it is far more difficult to change a voter’s perception of a candidate once it’s decided. Of course, Romney’s “47 percent” comments coming on the heels of Team Obama’s ad campaign didn’t help his efforts to change voters’ perceptions either.
Trump is facing an even larger deficit when it comes to voters’ perceptions heading into 2020, especially with independents. A recent Reuters/Ipsos Core survey found that 62 percent of independents “disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president.” With an evenly-divided electorate when it comes to the question of impeachment and removal from office, job performance is also a key indicator of a president’s prospects for reelection. Both are hugely problematic for this president and the GOP — and will test the limits of cash advantages, messages and targeting.
Kevin Walling (@kpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business.