They Voted Democratic. Now They Support Trumphttps://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/26/upsh ... -2020.html
Two-thirds of battleground state voters who chose Trump in 2016 but selected Democrats in the midterms say they will return to the president next year.
Midterm victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin gave Democrats hope of retaking the Rust Belt battleground states that handed the presidency to Donald J. Trump in 2016.
Yet success in the midterms might not mean as much for Democratic presidential candidates as the party might think. Nearly two-thirds of voters in six battleground states who voted for President Trump in 2016 — but for Democratic congressional candidates in 2018 — say they intend to back the president against each of his top rivals, according to recent polling by The New York Times Upshot/Siena College.
The results suggest that the party’s winning formula in last year’s midterms may not be so easy to replicate in a presidential election. The Democrats’ relatively moderate House candidates succeeded in large part by flipping a crucial segment of voters who backed the president in 2016. If these voters remain open-minded again in 2020, Democrats will have a ready-made blueprint for winning back the crucial Rust Belt battlegrounds.
This group is only a sliver of the electorate — 2 percent of registered voters — and is not representative of all voters. They are overwhelmingly white, 60 percent are male, and two-thirds have no college degree. But the president’s strength among them helps explain why he is highly competitive in states that Democrats carried just one year ago.
Many of the voters who said they voted Democratic but now intended to vote for Mr. Trump offered explanations that reflect longstanding theories about why the party out of power tends to excel in midterms.
Michelle Bassaro, 61, is a Trump supporter, but in the midterm election, she voted for the Democrat in her district to balance the administration’s power. She said she had voted for Republicans when Democrats were in the White House for the same reason, consistent with research that shows that some people intentionally vote for divided government.
Another reason was local: The Democrat promised to bring more jobs to her area, Nanty Glo, Pa. (The name comes from a Welsh phrase that means “streams of coal,” but its coal jobs have disappeared.)
Voters often think differently about state and national issues. Some said they had voted for their local Democrat in the midterms because the person had served well for a long time, or because the candidate’s policies would directly help their community. But presidential politics were another story, they said. Many of the white working-class voters in the Rust Belt who supported the president in 2016 were traditionally Democratic voters who backed President Obama in 2012 and even continued to vote Democratic down-ballot in 2016. Democrats generally held on to these voters in 2018, but the reasons many of them voted for Mr. Trump, like his promises on immigration or the economy, could still be relevant.
Michael Townsend, 38, a high school-educated construction worker in Dunmore, Pa., was a lifelong Democrat — until he voted for Mr. Trump.
“In the last couple years, the Democrats had kind of been losing the work, and I thought Trump might get us that work,” he said. “And to be honest, I’ve been in construction 21 years and the last two years were the best years I’ve ever had.”
He voted for the Democrat in the midterms because he liked his ideas on less polarizing local issues, like veterans affairs and opioids, while he said the Republicans were too focused on Washington politics. He has also been intrigued by Bernie Sanders. But he’ll probably back Mr. Trump again, he said.
Mr. Townsend, who lives just outside Scranton, is in a district that swung from a 12-point victory for Barack Obama to a 10-point win for Mr. Trump in 2016. On the same day in 2016, the district voted to re-elect its Democratic congressman, Matt Cartwright, who won again in 2018.
The district’s continued Democratic tilt down-ballot, even after it flipped at the presidential level, bears out the tendency of congressional races to lag geographic shifts in presidential elections, particularly if the district is controlled by the party out of power.
Nowhere was that more true than in the South, which remained Democratic in the House for decades after Republicans started carrying it in presidential elections.
Danny Destival, 56, who runs a greenhouse supply business in Panama City, Fla., said he’s “been a Southern Democrat all my life.” But in 2016, he cast his first Republican vote because he liked that Mr. Trump was a businessman, not a politician — and he disliked Hillary Clinton.