WASHINGTON: Outside the Morgan County fair in McConnelsville, in a rural swath of Ohio that fervently backed U.S. President Donald Trump in last year’s election, ticket seller John Wilson quietly counts off a handful of disappointments with the man he helped elect.
The 70-year-old retired banker said he is unhappy with infighting and turnover in the White House. He does not like Trump’s penchant for traveling to his personal golf resorts. He wishes the president would do more to fix the healthcare system, and he worries that Trump might back down from his promise to force illegal immigrants out of the country.
“Every president makes mistakes,” Wilson said. “But if you add one on top of one, on top of another one, on top of another, there’s just a limit.”
Trump, who inspired millions of supporters last year in places like Morgan County, has been losing his grip on rural America.
According to the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, the Republican president’s popularity is eroding in small towns and rural communities where 15 percent of the country’s population lives. The poll of more than 15,000 adults in “non-metro” areas shows that they are now as likely to disapprove of Trump as they are to approve of him.
In September, 47 percent of people in non-metro areas approved of Trump while 47 percent disapproved. That is down from Trump’s first four weeks in office, when 55 percent said they approved of the president while 39 percent disapproved.
The poll found that Trump has lost support in rural areas among men, whites and people who never went to college. He lost support with rural Republicans and rural voters who supported him on Election Day.
And while Trump still gets relatively high marks in the poll for his handling of the economy and national security, rural Americans are increasingly unhappy with Trump’s record on immigration, a central part of his presidential campaign.
Forty-seven percent of rural Americans said in September they approved of the president’s handling of immigration, down from 56 percent during his first month in office.
Poll respondents who were interviewed by Reuters gave different reasons for their dissatisfaction with the president on immigration.
A few said they are tired of waiting for Trump to make good on his promise to build a wall along America’s southern border, while others said they were uncomfortable with his administration’s efforts to restrict travel into the United States.
“There should be some sort of compromise between a free flow of people over the border and something that’s more controlled,” said Drew Carlson, 19, of Warrensburg, Missouri, who took the poll.
But Trump’s “constant fixation on deportation is a little bit unsettling to me.”
The Trump administration would not comment about the Reuters/Ipsos poll.
To be sure, Trump is still much more popular in rural America than he is elsewhere.
Since he took office, “I like him less, but I support him more,” said Robert Cody, 87, a retired chemical engineer from Bartlesville, Oklahoma who took the poll.
Cody said that Trump may rankle some people with the way he talks and tweets, but it is a small price to pay for a president who will fight to strip away government regulations and strengthen the border.
Dropping off the screen
When Trump called the election a ”last shot“ for the struggling coal industry and when he called for protecting the nation’s southern border with a “big, fat, beautiful wall”, he was speaking directly to rural America, said David Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University.
“Feelings of resentment and deprivation have pervaded a lot of these places,” Swenson said. “And here comes a candidate (Trump) who’s offering simplistic answers” to issues that concern them.
Rural Americans responded by supporting Trump over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by 26 percentage points during the election, an advantage that helped tip the balance in battleground states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump won by less than 1 percentage point.
But after 10 months, many are still waiting to see concrete changes that could make life easier in rural America, said Karl Stauber, who runs a private economic development agency serving a patchwork of manufacturing communities in south central Virginia.
“Rural people are more cynical about the federal government than people in general are,” Stauber said. “They’ve heard so many promises, and they’ve not seen much done.”
Despite all the talk of bringing manufacturing jobs back, Stauber said he has not seen any companies which have relocated to his region, or anyone expand their workforce, due to new federal policies.
“It just seems like we’ve dropped off the screen,” he said.
According to the poll, Trump’s overall popularity has dropped gradually, and for different reasons, this year.
Rural Americans were increasingly unhappy with Trump’s handling of healthcare in March and April after he lobbied for a Republican plan to overhaul Obamacare and cut coverage for millions of Americans.
In May and June, they were more critical of Trump’s ability to carry out U.S. foreign policy, and they gave him lower marks for “the way he treats people like me.”
In August, they were increasingly unhappy with “the effort he’s making to unify the country” after he blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a suspected white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English across the United States. It asked people to rate the president’s performance and the results were filtered for people who lived in zip codes that fell within counties designated as “non-metro” by the federal government.
The poll combined the results of “non-metro” respondents into nine, four-week periods. Each period included between 1,300 and 2,000 responses and had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points.