By Oliver Gladfelter
According to our most recent poll in October, just 5.8 percent of Denison students approve of President Trump’s job performance. This is down from his 8.9 percent approval rating among Denison students back in March.
But for anyone who’s been on this campus for a while, that’s not exactly groundbreaking news – it’s common knowledge Denison’s student body leans left.
What is noteworthy, however, is that Trump has taken a huge hit among those who supported him during the election. In March, 72.1 percent of Denison’s Trump voters approved of his job as president. Seven months later, that dropped to 43.6 percent – a drop of 28.5 points. Such a massive drop by his voters at Denison may indicate that Trump’s base on campus is melting – meaning we should expect to see his approval rating dissipate even further.
Yet there’s been plenty of journalism showing that although many Trump voters have begun to grow dissatisfied with their presidential choice, the core of his base is still largely intact. It’s wholly possible that Trump supporters at Denison who have grown dissatisfied were reluctant about him to begin with, meaning they weren’t part of his ‘base.’ If this is the case, the 43.6 percent of Trump voters who still support him by this point may stick with him until the end. Only time will tell.
We do have one hint about the future direction of his support. In the March poll, everyone was asked if they approve or disapprove of Trump’s job as president, but only half of survey respondents were given an ‘unsure’ option; the other half were forced to choose between approve and disapprove.
Many students prefer not to choose a side, but in reality they’re not completely neutral – they lean one way or another. Giving an ‘unsure’ option in approval rating polling is commonplace, but taking it away gives us a good idea which direction those sitting in the middle are likely to move when push comes to shove.
Figure 1 – Disapproval of Trump Much Higher When Not Given An ‘Unsure’ Option (March 2017)
When given the option, 18.2 percent of students said they were unsure about Trump, leaving 8.2 percent in approval, and 73.7 percent expressing disapproval. Yet out of the other group that was not given an ‘unsure’ option, 9.6 percent indicated approval of Trump, with 90.4 percent in disapproval. This suggests that at one point, close to a fifth of Denison students were on the fence about Trump, but leaned far closer towards disapproval than anything else.
For any president looking to improve their approval rating, it’s a much better bet to try to win over those in the middle rather than trying to convert hardline opponents. Given the fact that Denison’s fence-sitters break decisively towards disapproval when forced to choose, there’s little reason to expect Trump’s approval rating on campus will improve any time soon.
Oliver Gladfelter is a huge advocate of procrastination and spends most of his time finding new ways to waste time. He also studies political science on the side.
1. This is in reference to Denison students who said they voted for Donald Trump, which included 8.1% of this sample.
2. The group given the ‘unsure’ option contained 65.2% Democrats, 19.9% Independents, and 14.9% Republicans. The group forced to choose contained 66.7% Democrats, 17.8% Independents, and 15.6% Republicans. Moreover, both groups were 64% female (the sample mean). These comparisons show that the samples are indistinguishable from one another and that the distribution to the experimental groups was indeed random.
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