Michigan Poll: Trump’s Handling of Economy Losing Him Support, Opening Door for Democrats

September 24, 2019


New polling about Michigan voters’ views on Trump’s handling of the economy and their own personal financial experiences shows Trump’s grip on the economy as a winning issue slipping away from him. Yet Democrats have much to do to win the messaging on this issue.

Fifty-two percent of Michigan voters surveyed said that what they’ve seen and heard lately about Donald Trump has made them feel less favorable toward him. When asked what they had heard about Trump that made them feel less favorable to him, the top things they offered were complaints about his tweeting, his racist remarks, his lying, and not being a good person.

While these are important actions to hold him accountable on both electorally and civically, persuadable voters need to hear much more about issues that affect them personally, like health care, wages, and the ability to find a good-paying job. This is particularly true for women and other key groups of voters who report that their incomes are not keeping up with the rising costs of living. This will likely only become more important as troubling economic trends for working families continue.

The majority of Michigan voters (51%) disapprove of how Trump is handling the economy, and the vast majority (70%) feel that, personally, they have only benefited from Trump’s economic policies a little or not at all. Yet very little of the conversation about 2020 has been dedicated to these critical pocketbook issues, which many voters had previously pointed to as reasons for supporting Trump.

Democrats must spend time and money to make the case that Donald Trump’s agenda is leaving middle-class Americans and working families behind. If Democrats don’t make this case in earned and paid media, many voters in Michigan may be inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt based on the economy again, handing our battleground state to him again in 2020.

State of the Race in Michigan

Donald Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. But in 2018, voters elected Democratic women to all three major statewide offices (Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, all previously Republican), shrank Republican majorities in the Michigan Legislature, and flipped two formerly Republican seats in the U.S. House of Representatives blue. Now, against a generic Democratic candidate for president, Trump trails by eleven points: 49% for the Democrat, 38% for the president, with 12% undecided.

This gap reflects Michigan voters’ overall opinions of the president, with a 58% disapproving of how he’s doing as president and only 42% approving. Among certain populations in Michigan, the gap is even wider: Sixty-seven percent of Michigan women, 73% of voters in the Detroit area, 70% of voters under 35, and 60% of voters between 35-49 all disapprove of Trump’s job performance.

Those younger voters unfortunately are less motivated to vote than the group of respondents at large. When asked how motivated they are to participate in the 2020 elections, only 58% of younger voters reported being highly motivated to vote. As a point of comparison, 73% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans reported being highly motivated. We have more to do to make sure young voters make it out to the polls.

Trump is particularly unpopular with Michigan women: overall, 65% view him unfavorably, including 52% of white non-college women and 76% of white women with a college degree. Trump has strength among men: 49% view him favorably, and 54% of white men without a college degree approve of the job he’s doing. In a state that was so close in 2016, Democrats will need to do more outreach to these voters with information about how Trump and his actions as president have harmed people like them, while putting big corporations and the wealthy first.

Key Issues in Michigan

Just as the issue of health care dominated the 2018 midterms, it’s still top of mind for Michigan voters looking to 2020. Forty-seven percent cited health care in their top four issues. This topic was particularly salient with women (54% selected it as a top issue) and voters ages 50-64 (51%). Sixty-one percent of voters think the cost of health care is getting worse. A mere 10% think the cost is getting better.

The other top-ranked issues with Michigan voters include government corruption and wages keeping up with the cost of living.

Given these ratings, health care remains one of Democrats’ biggest advantages against the president. More than half of Michigan voters find Trump’s handling of health care a reason to elect someone else with a different approach. On the cost of prescriptions and drug companies, 50% think Trump’s handling of it more of a reason to elect someone with a new approach — only 23% think it’s a reason to reelect him.

While health care stands out as an issue where voters have more doubt than confidence in the president, Trump’s handling of issues related to the economy is also causing Michigan voters to reconsider.

Economic Insights into Michigan Voters

This poll showed that beneath the surface, voters share real concerns about Trump’s handling of the economy and his economic policies.

Fifty-nine percent of voters said they think the economic situation for people who are already wealthy is getting better, while only 24 percent of voters said they think the economic situation for the middle class and average working families is also getting better. Forty-six percent of voters think the latter is actually getting worse.

Voters are beginning to connect this growing wealth gap to Trump. The majority of Michigan voters, 51%, disapprove of how Trump is handling the economy, and only 35% think the availability of good jobs in their community is getting better.

Voters show concerns about their income not keeping up with the cost of living: 49 percent of voters reported that their income is falling behind the cost of living and another 43 percent reported that it is merely staying even with the cost of living. Just 38% of voters reported that they can pay their monthly bills and obligations and have money put aside for savings.

This may explain part of the reason why Trump is underwater in Michigan with women, who report struggling in Trump’s economy to a higher degree. While only 41% of men said their income is falling behind the cost of living, 57% of women answered the same. Non-college white women (61%) and voters in the Detroit area (54%) were also likely to say their income is falling behind the cost of living.

Democrats need to combat the prevalent view that Trump has been good on the economy by expressing to persuadable voters that Trump’s policies are benefitting the ultra-wealthy and harming working families. Only 30% of voters feel they’ve benefited some or a lot from Trump’s economy. 

Despite financial concerns, when asked what they’d seen or heard lately about Donald Trump that made them less favorable toward him, voters cited his tweets, racist remarks and general behavior. With such relatively little talk of pocketbook issues in the national conversation compared to that of Trump’s tweets, etc., it’s crucial that we drill down on messaging about these issues with persuadable voters.

Emphasizing economic issues may also impact motivation. As previously mentioned, younger voters reported being less motivated to participate in the 2020 election than voters at large. Voters under 35 were also more likely to prioritize the issue of wages not keeping up with the cost of living, with 40% naming it as a top  issue. Among this group, it was the second most cited issue after health care.

Moving Forward: Messaging on These Issues

Health care and pocketbook issues are core to the most effective overall narratives against Trump. These are the issues affecting Michigan families every single day. Though voters had seen the economy as a positive reason to support Donald Trump in the past, they’re sensing negative trends in their own lives as costs of living continue to rise faster than their wages. It’s also clear that they’re increasingly attributing these concerning trends with Trump’s actions as president.

Donald Trump is losing favorability among women, perhaps due in part to his handling of economic issues, which are disproportionately harming women. If Trump can’t improve his standing with voters, he’ll likely be forced to rely on rallying his base, abandoning attempts to reach persuadable voters. Democrats must seize this potential opening with strong communication about pocketbook issues and how Trump’s policies on them are harming working families.

We also need to continue connecting the dots about how Donald Trump’s health care policies are bad for Michigan families’ bottom lines. With health care being a top issue for Michigan voters, illustrating that Trump’s actions contribute to higher premiums and less coverage will be key.

While issues of immigration, racial discrimination, and unpresidential tweeting are clearly critical ones for Democrats to talk about both from an electoral and of course a moral standpoint, with so much talk of them already permeating the discussion, we need to ensure that voters are also hearing the message across paid and earned media that Trump’s economic and health care policies are harming Michigan’s working families and middle class. Our role is connecting voter’s personal financial concerns to Trump’s policies in an aggressive and comprehensive way, which will be key to defeating Trump in this battleground state in 2020.


Garin-Hart-Yang and Global Strategy Group conducted this poll online August 13-25, 2019, with a total sample of 603 voters in Michigan. The distribution of voters across demographic, geographic, and political factors reflect the expected composition of the 2020 electorate for Michigan.