Every shrewd politician keeps a watchful eye on his base, but the relationship between President Trump and his core supporters has become an object of near-fetishistic obsession. Even as his poll numbers continue to gradually settle toward the basement, Trump’s more outlandish actions are often interpreted as base maintenance, and it’s said that Trump’s base remains unshakably loyal to him.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday suggests this is half-right and half-wrong. Trump’s base does appear to be shrinking, but the people who are sticking with Trump are true diehards.
The idea of a shrinking Trump base is not new. In May, Nate Silver pointed out that the group of people who “strongly approve” of Trump was down. Steven Shepard noted in August that the president’s approval among Republican voters had decreased. And Brendan Nyhan argued that the base might never have been big as anyone thought anyway, because some anti-Trump Republicans would just quit identifying as Republicans, leaving an unrepresentative sample.
But the WSJ/NBC poll offers actual evidence of voters drifting away from Trump. For the last few months, the pollsters have been asking Republicans and Republican-leaning voters to say, regardless of their feelings about him now, whether they supported Trump in the GOP primary. Since April, that number has been steadily sinking, from 46 percent in April to 39 percent now. In fact, Trump won about 45 percent of the Republican primary vote. That’s a sure sign of base erosion: Not only are Republicans writ large drifting away from Trump, some voters who backed him are no longer willing to admit they did so.