Clinton Beats Trump With Middle-Income Rust Belt Voters: Bloomberg Poll

Clinton Tops Trump With Middle-Income Voters in Rust Belt

Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton by 7 percentage points among middle-income voters in the Rust Belt, a key demographic he almost certainly needs to become president.

Likely voters with annual family incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin back Clinton over Trump, 46 percent to 39 percent, the latest Purple Slice online poll for Bloomberg Politics shows.

The findings should sound an alarm for Trump because they show he's failing—at least so far—to dominate among the sort of voters thought to be more sympathetic to him. The poll also splashes cold water on suggestions that the real-estate developer and TV personality is well positioned to win in the Rust Belt.

Read the questions and methodology here.

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“If he can’t improve his performance among these working-class voters, he may need to build a more conventional Republican coalition to win,” said pollster Doug Usher. 

The survey, led by Usher, was conducted May 18-24 by Washington-based Purple Strategies, using a nationally representative opt-in panel of 803 respondents. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Since the four states vary in size, they were weighted based on their number of voters in past elections.

The poll is the latest in a series commissioned by Bloomberg Politics on key slices of the electorate that will help determine the outcome of the 2016 election. The last survey, in April, found Trump was seen negatively by almost three-quarters of married women likely to vote in the general election.

Voters in the income bracket polled, a group that represents more than four in 10 of past presidential-election voters in these Rust Belt states, almost always vote for the winner.

In 2012, exit polling didn't have these exact income breaks. Four years earlier, Barack Obama carried these voters nationwide by slightly less than his overall margin. In these four states, he carried them by the same margins he won statewide. Nationally, the income range in the poll voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election from 1992 through 2008.

If the same patterns hold, Trump, 69, would likely have to carry this group to win. He plans to focus on the Rust Belt in part because he may face greater headwinds in some other swing states with larger populations of Hispanics, many of whom he has alienated. If he carries Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—and all other states follow their 2012 vote—he would win the presidency with 270 electoral votes, the exact amount necessary.

The poll illustrates the racial divide playing out between Clinton, 68, and Trump. When only the white middle-income participants are considered, the billionaire beats Clinton 44 percent to 40 percent. 

That's behind where Republican Mitt Romney finished with white voters against Obama in the last election, when exit polls showed the former Massachusetts governor winning 59 percent of the white vote.

Whites made up 84 percent of the poll’s participants. Besides race, there are several other major demographic differences in support for Clinton and Trump among these voters in the four states.

Clinton leads among women, 49 percent to 34 percent, while Trump has a narrow advantage among men. Trump does best among those with a high-school education or less, while Clinton is strongest among those who have a college degree or more.

The former secretary of state has more support in urban and suburban areas, while the real estate investor and former reality television star is strongest among those who live in small towns or rural areas. Among independent voters, always a critical in presidential elections, Trump leads 40 percent to 37 percent.

Trump is viewed much stronger than Clinton on two themes strongly resonating with this year's electorate: knowing what it takes to create jobs and having the ability to change the way Washington does business.

Overall, almost three-quarters of those polled say they see the need for major changes in how government does things.

“Middle-income voters in these states are hungry for change in the way government works, and they are hungry for jobs,” Usher said. “These are the two issue areas where Trump holds solid leads over Clinton. It’s his foundation for growing his support.”

Trump also wins on reining in Wall Street and confronting terrorist threats, while Clinton is viewed as the stronger candidate in terms of temperament, skills in foreign policy, and preparedness for the job.

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Some seemingly conflicting views are also found in the survey results. Clinton leads by 14 percentage points on fighting for the middle class, while Trump leads by 15 points in creating jobs. Clinton has a 32-percentage-point advantage on having the skills to conduct foreign policy, but Trump leads by 11 points on battling terrorist threats.

The middle-income voters surveyed view Clinton as slightly more trustworthy than Trump, 29 percent to 23 percent, with 48 percent saying they're not sure who should be trusted more. Clinton is easily the favorite when it comes to who would be a better role model for children, 39 percent to 14 percent.

A Republican win in the four states would counter recent history. The GOP's presidential candidate hasn't won Ohio since 2004 and it hasn't happened in Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988. Ronald Reagan in 1984 was the last Republican to carry Wisconsin.

As is the case with likely voters as a whole, Clinton and Trump are hugely unpopular with this group of voters. Trump is viewed unfavorably by 64 percent, while 56 percent hold a negative view of Clinton.

Like many Americans, these voters aren't happy with their two most likely options in the presidential election. Almost half—45 percent—say they would consider a third-party candidate if Trump and Clinton are their choices.

They're also girding for the months ahead, with 31 percent choosing “afraid” from a list of words as best describing their feelings about the presidential campaign. “Disillusioned” was the next pick at 19 percent, followed by “pessimistic” at 17 percent, “optimistic” at 16 percent, and “enthusiastic” at 9 percent.

Six in 10 of those polled say a candidate's past statements and record are relevant to them in making a decision, while 32 percent say current positions on issues are what's key.

Clinton wins the betting among this group of voters on who will ultimately win the election, with 42 percent saying she'll be the next president and 34 percent naming Trump.

An endorsement for Trump from House Speaker Paul Ryan or other Republican leaders doesn't matter to most of Trump’s supporters in this poll. Roughly six in 10 say it wouldn't influence them, while 29 percent say it would make them more likely to back him and 7 percent say it would be a turnoff.

Among seven other top Democrats and Republicans tested for popularity, Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were the only two figures close to Trump in unpopularity, at 64 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

Even with almost two-thirds of poll participants saying the nation is seriously off on the wrong track, Obama is viewed favorably by 50 percent. More approve of his job performance than disapprove, 47 percent to 44 percent.

Only two people tested scored higher on favorability than Obama. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator still pressing a long-shot challenge of Clinton for the Democratic nomination, is viewed positively by 55 percent.

The other is Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, who is viewed favorably by 51 percent of middle-income voters in the four states.

On possible lines of attack against the likely Democratic and Republican nominees, the survey found several that resonate strongly with this group.

Sixty percent said they're bothered a lot by Trump's use of words like “pig,” “slob,” “bimbo,” and other lewd comments to describe women.

Nearly as many—57 percent—were deeply troubled that Trump has proposed tax cuts for those who make more than $1 million a year. Just more than half were that bothered about Trump University, his for-profit real estate investment school that's been accused in lawsuits and by state officials of misleading students.

For Clinton, just more than half are bothered a lot by allegations that she lied about the cause of the Benghazi attacks and failed to do more to protect embassy workers, while 49 percent say that of suggestions that her decisions as secretary of state helped allow the Islamic State to form and gain strength.

Just less than half, 47 percent, say they're bothered a lot when presented with this statement: “Critics say that Clinton is totally controlled by Wall Street—they have paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches, and she'll do what they say if she becomes president.”

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