Tom Dawe of Kent, Ohio voted for Donald Trump last year for a familiar reason: He didn’t feel he could vote for Hillary Clinton. But now that he has seen Trump in action, Dawe, 61, feels he made a mistake.
Trump has endorsed a Senate healthcare plan that, if enacted, would cut back Medicaid benefits for Dawe’s wife, Catherine. And Dawe, the retired manager of print operations for a container company, feels that instead of strengthening America’s standing around the world, Trump’s leadership style has weakened it. “If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have voted for him, because I think he’s a quack,” Dawe says. “His talk about how everybody was going to prosper—I fell for it.”
Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained low but steady at around 40% during his embattled presidency. But new research by Yahoo Finance has identified a key subset of Trump voters who are turned off by his actions as president, including some who would change their votes if they could. In a Yahoo Finance online survey conducted in late June, 12.6% of Trump voters said they were dissatisfied with his performance as president, and 11.1% said they wouldn’t vote for him again. That’s a much larger portion than Trump’s margin of victory in key states that put him over the top last November, including Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin—which Trump won by less than 2% of the vote. The poll results suggest Trump has lost the voters who provided his margin of victory in 2016—and would be needed again were he to run for reelection in 2020.
The Yahoo Finance survey included 25,271 people who said they voted for Trump for president. About 83% of them said they were satisfied with Trump’s performance so far, and 73% said they felt they’d be helped by policies Trump has backed as president. So Trump’s so-called base remains more or less intact. But a meaningful minority of Trump voters said they’d be hurt by his healthcare policy, along with a rollback of environmental regulations, changes to trade agreements, tax cuts perceived to help the wealthy more than the middle class, and other Trump priorities. (See the full survey results.)
Trump voters have confounded pundits who consider them oblivious to Trump policies that would leave some of his own supporters worse off. But in follow-up interviews with Trump regretters, we found thoughtful voters very aware of the likely impact Trump’s policies would have on them. Some are disappointed that Trump didn’t moderate his combative views and behavior once elected. Others feel he has abandoned campaign promises while obsessing over negative news coverage. And some simply feel they made a mistake. Here are a few vignettes on topics that came up most frequently in interviews with Trump regretters.
Competence. Trump impressed many voters with his success as a businessman, which they hoped would translate into success as a political leader. For many, it hasn’t. “I expected competence,” says Fred Wedel, 74, a retired petroleum engineer who lives outside Sacramento. “The only thing I’ve seen is gross incompetence. It started his first week in office, when he put out the immigration edict. I’m not a lawyer, but I read it and I knew it’s unconstitutional. I realized, he may know how to run his Trump business but he has no clue how to run a government.”
[Related: Read about the “contrarians” who didn’t vote for Trump, but would now]
Wedel says Trump reminds him of the worst boss he ever had, a man named Roger who took credit when things went right and blamed others when things went wrong. “We got another Roger,” he says of Trump. “I’m sure Trump, in his business, surrounded himself with what we used to call the ‘nodders.’ People are afraid to tell him the truth. I am so disappointed in the arrogance he’s running the office with. What I’ve seen so far is incompetence and I’m sorry I voted for him.”
Favoring the wealthy. During the campaign, Trump undoubtedly connected with working-class voters and others who feel traditional politicians have lost touch with middle America. But that connection is fraying. “He’s an embarrassment. I don’t know how else to say it,” says Cynthia Shearer, 67, a retired counselor and parole agent in Norristown, Pa. She began losing confidence in Trump when he started appointing his Cabinet. “All these bankers,” she says. “He needed to hire people, like maybe economists, but not these rich billionaires who are just going to help themselves. I think he’s going to hurt the working and middle class. Look at the money he wants to spend on defense, while he wants to cut out the estate tax. Why should a rich billionaire not have to pay estate taxes when they’ve already gotten these big tax breaks?”
Dishonesty. Some Trump supporters don’t mind his lies and exaggerations, since they feel he’s simply jousting with corrupt media outlets. But others feel Trump has squandered his credibility. “I get tired of the lies,” says William Fenn, 57, a machinist in Washington, Maine. “You can’t believe any word he says. Who in the world is going to believe him? Do you think Angela Merkel is believing him? Xi over in China? How this makes America great is beyond me. I had hoped that he would become more presidential. I’m disappointed he has not become presidential. He thinks he’s still on ‘The Apprentice’—and if he were on his own show, Trump would fire him.”
The environment. Jim McDonald, 62, of Westport, Conn., is a former Wall Street trader who voted for Trump because he agreed with Trump’s calls for better trade deals, lower taxes, deregulating banks and bringing down drug prices. He’s seen little action on those issues, however, and is appalled Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. “His environmental policies might harm me or my two offspring, who are in their 20s,” he says. “The guy’s a nutcase and nothing can get done because he’s too busy talking about Joe Scarborough or insulting the prime minister of Germany. He’s constantly on the back foot trying to recover. If it were possible to impeach the guy by popular vote, I would sign on the dotted line right now.”
Healthcare. The most contentious issue in Washington, without a doubt, is the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something that might slash funding for Medicaid or otherwise limit coverage for lower-income Americans. Trump regretters express frustration that the president doesn’t seem to have a plan of his own, as he promised during the campaign, and hasn’t backed anything likely to make the US healthcare system better, overall. “Healthcare is of particular importance to me as I age,” says Mike Comrie, 60, a technology management consultant who lives in Orlando. “I have not seen anything come out of the Trump administration that I think solves the problem with healthcare. You don’t just go and repeal Obamacare, because then what? You’re removing something but you don’t have anything to replace it with. That’s where I have a problem with this line of thinking. He tends to shoot first and ask questions later.”
Yahoo Finance contacted one Trump voter who estimates the GOP cutbacks to Medicaid would cost his family several thousand dollars per year—and doesn’t mind. “I’m pretty darn sure I’ll be harmed, but I don’t’ think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a good thing,” says Doug Krotzer, 75, an entrepreneur from Jacksonville, Fla., whose daughter has special needs and qualifies for Medicaid. “I think all this socialized medicine has been a disaster for the country, and anything I can sacrifice to help get past that, I’m happy to do.”
While some Trump regretters say they’d change their vote if they could do it over, others say it would depend on who Trump were running against—and if Hillary Clinton were the opponent again, they might still choose Trump. “My support has tapered off, but not enough to become a Hillary supporter,” says Fenn. Jim McDonald wouldn’t vote for Clinton, either. “The two choices were the worst I’ve ever seen,” he says. “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have voted or I would have written in… whoever.”
Can Trump turn his presidency around? Some disillusioned Trump voters say yes—if he could stop the manic tweeting, focus on pragmatic solutions to problems and maybe court compromise with Democrats on an issue or two. Others think Trump will never change, and they gird for another three-plus years of disappointment. “It takes a humble person to change,” says Shearer. “He’s an arrogant person and will never change.” Her disappointment is so profound, she says, that “to tell you the truth, sometimes I wish I ended up voting for her.”
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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman