Trump Risks Slump with Rural Voters Over Inaction on Agenda

Survey finds small-town Americans growing impatient with lack of 'America First' accomplishments

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 10 Oct 2017 at 6:38 AM

Less than nine months into his new administration, President Donald Trump’s popularity has begun to erode among Americans in rural areas and small towns, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll released Monday found.

The poll analyzed responses from more than 15,000 adults hailing from “non-metro” areas across the country. Noting that approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population resides in the small communities, Reuters observed that these voters supported Trump over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 26 percent, thus aiding Trump in key battleground states that he won by the slimmest of margins.

Although Trump's populist-conservative platform resonated with rural voters and spurred them on to cast their votes for him, his turbulent first several months — marred by a jarring lack of legislative cooperation from Congress — appear to have taken a toll.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found voters evenly split in their approval of Trump: 47 percent expressed their approval while 47 percent disapproved of the president. At the beginning of Trump's term, 55 percent of small-town voters had approved of the new president, while 39 percent had disapproved.

"The poll found that Trump has lost support in rural areas among men, whites, and people who never went to college. He lost support with rural Republicans and rural voters who supported him on Election Day," Reuters noted. "According to the poll, Trump's overall popularity has dropped gradually, and for different reasons, this year."

The survey's methodology included asking Americans whose zip codes fell within "non-metro" counties labeled by the federal government to rate the president's performance on a variety of issues during the span of nine four-week periods.

Eddie Zipperer, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College, suggested to LifeZette in an email that "the main reason for the fluctuation in numbers is the bias inherent in the poll itself."

"The Reuters/Ipsos poll methodology uses an online survey and non-probability sampling, which makes it impossible to know if the sample is representative of the overall population," Zipperer said. "Add in the fact that 'people in rural areas' is a subsample of the poll's overall sample, and the veracity of the data becomes highly questionable."

But the Reuters/Ipsos poll reported that "rural Americans were increasingly unhappy with Trump's handling of health care in March and April" before various bills seeking to either repeal and repeal Obamacare or reform the current system failed repeatedly in a GOP-led Congress.

"In May and June, they were more critical of Trump's ability to carry out U.S. foreign policy, and they gave him lower marks for 'the way he treats people like me,'" Reuters noted. "In August, they were increasingly unhappy with 'the effort he's making to unify the country" after Trump blamed "both sides" for the violence that racked a race-fueled rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in mid-August.

The "rural voters" polled also expressed their increasing dissatisfaction with the implementation — or lack thereof — of Trump's immigration policies and enforcement measures, including the delayed construction of the border wall and the ongoing controversy over the president's proposed travel bans concerning terrorism-compromised countries.

"However, assuming the data is correct, the fact that Trump's approval rating has dropped several points since the beginning of his presidency is to be expected," Zipperer noted. "A president comes in with a clean slate and nothing on his leadership record other than full potential to enact his agenda. All presidents fall in the polls after they start actually doing things."

"In Trump's case, he failed twice on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he doesn't seem to have made a great deal of progress on his border wall or the rest of his agenda," he added.

Although some news outlets pounced upon the dwindling presidential approval numbers as an indication that Trump's "America First" agenda doesn't resonate with voters, Zipperer argued that part of the slump in Trump's approval rating among rural Americans represented voters' frustration with a sluggish Washington, D.C., that isn't on board with the policies Trump campaigned and won on.

"A drop in popularity at this point in many ways reflects the popularity of Trump's 'America First' agenda. Failure to see that agenda realized is pushing the drop in popularity," he explained. "I expect if border-wall construction begins tomorrow, popularity in this subsample goes back up.  If Obamacare is repealed tomorrow, popularity in the subsample goes back up."

Zipperer also noted, however, that when new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly took over the reins in late July, the Trump administration began "concentrating on raising [Trump's] aggregate approval nationwide in order to build political capital to spend on his agenda." Naturally, this move served to alienate some of Trump's supporters who firmly adhered to his populist conservative agenda.

In particular, Trump's recent moves to come to the negotiating table with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on debt-ceiling limits and protecting illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children served to outrage some members of his loyal base.

"The tough part of that mission is that doing the things that will raise his overall approval — things like working with Schumer and Pelosi on [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA] — actually cost him with his base," Zipperer said of Trump. "It's a balancing act, but if he gets it right, it will mean a long-term victory for his base."

(photo credit, homepage image: Donald Trump in Reno, Nevada, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Darron Birgenheier; photo credit, article images: Donald Trump at Hershey PA, CC BY 2.0, by Michael Vadon)

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