Trump’s Exurban Slide And Signs Of A GOP Split

President Donald Trump’s struggles in public opinion polls have been well-documented, but the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows he may be having trouble in one area that is particularly important to Republicans, exurban communities.

An analysis of the latest NBC/WSJ poll data by the American Communities Project finds that Trump’s job approval number in Exurb counties, 35%, is below his national figure 39%. That marks the first time since Trump took office that his approval in those reliably Republican areas is below his national average.

Trump’s Slide in the Exurbs

February Poll April Poll May Poll
National Job Approval 44% 40% 39%
Exurban Job Approval 48% 43% 35%
Difference Exurbs +4 Exurbs +3 Exurbs -4

You can see the Exurbs on the map below in yellow. They tend to sit at the edge of metro areas and are a transition point between urban and rural America. On the whole, Exurb counties are less diverse and less densely populated that big city or suburban areas.

The May number is significant not only because Trump won the vote out of the Exurbs in November by a solid 17 points (55% to 38%) but also because those counties tend to be home to a particular type of Republican.

Exurb counties tend to have higher rates of educational attainment than the nation as a whole with higher median household incomes and lower rates of unemployment. In other words, they are home to people who are winners in the modern global economy.

The Thriving Exurbs

United States Exurb Counties
Bachelor’s Degree or More 29.8% 33.5%
Median HH Income $53,889 $64,224
February Unemployment 4.9% 4.3%

In this way, the Exurbs were never especially good targets for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” messaging that focused on bringing back older, struggling industries and rural communities.

The Exurbs attraction to Trump was more partisan in nature. Voters in those counties have voted for the Republican candidate by double-digits in every presidential election since 2000.

But Trump’s slip in the Exurbs, suggests that partisan loyalty may not be enough to keep the president afloat in those places, at least in the current storm of troubles he’s facing.

The slide also raises more fundamental questions about the splits within GOP.

Since his announcement for president Trump has cut a different figure than the usual GOP standard bearer. His populist economic words did not fit with the free-market approach generally advocated by Republicans and his strained relations with the party establishment made some of the party’s leadership uncomfortable.

In terms of economic and educational attainment, it’s helpful to think of the Exurbs as the home of the GOP’s establishment wing. If the numbers from this May poll appear in future months, the GOP could be headed for bumpy days ahead and possibly a schism over President Trump that may push party members to choose sides on how to handle the White House.



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