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Trump is really unpopular in the most important 2020 battleground states

Trump is deep underwater in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other key 2020 states.

President Donald Trump in profile.
Donald Trump’s odds of winning reelection look grim given his approval rating in some of the most important 2020 election battleground states.
Peter Summers/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

As he seeks a second term in the 2020 election, President Trump should be able to lean on his advantage in the Electoral College — in 2016, as you might remember, he lost the national popular vote but won enough states (and the right states) to secure 270 electors and take the presidency.

But new polling of his state-by-state approval ratings suggests the president is unpopular in some of the most important battleground states for 2020, an ill omen if the trends hold until Election Day 2020.

Trump has been unpopular since his first day in office. The question now is whether he’s so unpopular that it overrides his advantage as an incumbent and a pretty strong US economy. The new state polls from Morning Consult don’t bode well for him.

Here are the raw numbers for Trump in the states that are expected to be competitive in the 2020 election:

  • New Hampshire: 39 percent approval, 58 percent disapproval
  • Wisconsin: 42 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval
  • Michigan: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
  • Iowa: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
  • Arizona: 45 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval
  • Pennsylvania 45 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval
  • Ohio: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
  • North Carolina: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
  • Florida: 48 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval
  • Indiana: 49 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval

It’s a grim picture. Wisconsin and Michigan were critical Midwestern pieces of Trump’s Electoral College puzzle and he is now deeply unpopular in both states. Pennsylvania was maybe his most surprising win in 2016, and now he is seven points underwater. Perhaps Trump can take solace in his even job approval rating in Florida, but that is the only swing state where the president looks as strong as he did on Election Day 2016. Everywhere else, his support has deteriorated.

Maybe the most striking finding is in Iowa, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 points. Iowans disapprove of his job performance by a 12-point margin now, in a farming state that’s been hit hard by Trump’s trade war. That would suggest the president’s cult of personality will not totally inoculate him from the unpopular parts of his policy agenda.

We still have a year and a half to go before the 2020 election. These approval numbers aren’t the same as a head-to-head match-up with a specific Democratic candidate (though those have not been very encouraging for Trump either). But they do indicate the unusual weakness of the president heading into his reelection campaign.

Trump’s presidential approval rating has been stubbornly low

Head-to-head polling between Trump and any prospective Democratic nominee seems nearly useless at this point. Aside from Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, many Americans haven’t yet formed their opinions on the various Democrats seeking their party’s nomination.

But presidential approval ratings have always been strongly linked to voting behavior, and everybody knows Trump. Here is the RealClearPolitics average of the president’s approval rating, from the start of his presidency to now:

Real Clear Politics

Trump has been consistently unpopular throughout his first two years. At his best, so far, he was seven points more unpopular than popular. A recent uptick has swiftly eroded. And as Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote last summer, this has been in defiance of a relatively solid economy:

“Trump’s poll numbers are probably 20 points below where a president would typically be with consumer sentiment as high as it is now,” says John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University who has done work benchmarking presidential approval to economic indicators.

So here, then, is what we can say: Judged on the economy, which is the traditional driver of presidential approval, Donald Trump’s poll numbers should be much, much higher than they are now. Far from finding a winning strategy, he seems to have found a losing one despite holding a winning hand.

Trump’s approval rating is the metric to watch as we endure all the unpredictable twists and turns that will precede the 2020 election. The new numbers from Morning Consult show it isn’t just the Democratic states that are down on Trump; the states he would need to win reelection aren’t very happy with the president, either.