YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — While pundits breathlessly reported this week that President Trump’s Gallup approval rating has plummeted to a historic low (dipping to 37 points), not all approval ratings are created equal.
Because in American politics, geography is everything.
Live in an urban, minority or college setting, and Donald J. Trump is underwater in the polls in a big way; he gets a frosty 29 percent approval rating in the cities, 35 percent approval in the urban suburbs, in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.
But, live in the second ring of suburbs outside the cities, or the exurbs or the third and fourth rings that comprise rural America, and the president gets a 53 percent to 59 percent job approval rating in the same poll.
For the most part, the people who live in those regions are pretty much happy with him.
That’s a puzzling notion that has befuddled many journalists, members of the permanent establishment and pundits on both sides of the aisle since the day Trump was inaugurated.
And, in all likelihood, that effervescent support will continue for a very long time. Why? Because the people who live in those outer rings of cities aren’t just separated by geography; they’re separated by culture, traditions and aspirations that differ from those of their city cousins.
They also are so tired of being ridiculed by the political class over the notion they’re digging in for Trump, more so than they normally would. Especially when they read (yes, they do read) columns in New York Magazine by former theater critic Frank Rich who takes a deep swipe at Trump’s base, writing: “While you can’t blame our new president for loving ‘the poorly educated’ who gave him that blank check, the rest of us are entitled to abstain. If we are free to loathe Trump, we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.”
Such broad swipes at their lives, their beliefs and their intellects — which they imagine Rich and his ilk chuckling over while sipping chardonnay — are what pushed them away from an increasingly elitist Democratic Party in the first place.
Don Brick is one of those voters. He voted for Obama, but then Trump. And though he bristles at the president’s habit of getting himself in trouble, there’s no way he’s withdrawing his support.
“I understood who I was voting for. I understood that he is loose with the truth. I wanted someone who was not a politician, and I am very satisfied with how he has conducted business in Washington when it comes to getting things done,” says Brick.
The retired grocery executive, who went back to work part-time just because he loved his job, is especially happy with Trump’s dismantling of ObamaCare.
“My wife, who is much too young to retire, saw her health-care premiums jump 40 percent under ObamaCare,” he says. “Everyone forgets, this past summer, the announcement that the premiums were even going to go up more, and that health-care providers were pulling out of states at such an alarming rate that the health-care markets were on the brink of collapsing,” he said.
Brick is one of those voters who Democrats are going to have a very hard time ever winning back; he is the type who was reluctant to express himself freely about who he intended to vote for, because of the derision such voters faced from progressive activists and pundits.
It’s more important to know how folks see the president in northeast Ohio or Scranton, Pa., than in Boston or Baltimore or Philadelphia.
In addition to cultural attitudes, Brick also represents the issue of geography. He is from one of the Democratic counties in Pennsylvania — Westmoreland — that went big for Trump.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won Westmoreland by 40,000 votes, but Trump upped that significantly, handing Clinton a 57,000-vote defeat there.
If you’re looking toward the midterms in 2018 and hoping Trump will be a drag on a House congressional seat, it’s more important to know how folks see the president in northeast Ohio or Scranton, Pa., than in Boston or Baltimore or Philadelphia.
Why? Because here in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, there was a 21-point shift in support from Barack Obama toward Trump in the 13th Congressional District held by Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan didn’t lose, but a once-solid Democratic seat is now vulnerable in the 2018 midterms.
And, in Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, where Scranton sits, Trump turned Mitt Romney’s 12-point shortfall in 2012 into a 10-point victory over Hillary Clinton. That’s a net 22-point change in support away from Democrats. While Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright managed to hold his seat in that district, his win was tepid, even though his opponent was a completely unfunded, untested, unknown Republican.
And those seats in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia, where Trump has bottomed out in the polls?
Well, he was never going to do well in those heavily progressive areas anyway. Democrats won’t expand their universe by winning seats they already have.
Simply put, it’s misguided to focus on the big national numbers that don’t capture the voters’ anti-establishment sentiment where it counts — in working-class America, much of which is historically part of the Democratic base. It is a base so soured on its own party, for not listening to its concerns for nearly an entire generation, despite voting for the party time and time again, that it made a clean break and threw its weight behind Trump.
And despite all of the damage Trump is suffering in Washington — some of it self-inflicted — these voters have yet to give up on him.
Given all his troubles of the past 60 days, pundits may shake their heads at this notion. They only see Trump collapsing. But they need to take a drive out of their own regions and listen to what other kinds of voters are saying. So far, their support for Trump has not changed since Election Day — and that could bode poorly for Democrats next year.