MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Tennessee’s 11 Electoral College votes were an easy win for President Donald Trump in the November 2016 presidential election, with 61 percent of the popular vote in the state. Now though, only a narrow majority of the state’s voters say they approve of the job he has done as president since taking office in January, according to the latest statewide poll from Middle Tennessee State University.
The latest MTSU Poll of 600 registered voters was conducted Feb. 12-16 with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Trump’s Tennessee “hangover” similar to Obama’s Tennessee “honeymoon”
Asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?” the poll found that 51 percent approve, 32 percent disapprove, and 17 percent don’t know or don’t answer.
For comparison, when the spring 2009 MTSU Poll was conducted shortly after Barack Obama took office, it asked whether respondents approved of the job he was doing as president and found that 53 percent approved, 27 percent disapproved, and 20 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer.
Those were Obama’s best job approval ratings in Tennessee during his presidency. In most of the polls that followed, around 35 percent of Tennesseans said they approved of the job Obama was doing. Similarly, when asked to look back on Obama’s presidency as a whole in the latest MTSU Poll, only 39 percent said they approve, and 56 percent said they disapprove.
Obama lost the state of Tennessee with only 42 percent of the vote in 2008. Trump won the state with 61 percent of the vote in 2016.
“New presidents often enjoy a so-called honeymoon shortly after winning their first election, when unifying inaugural addresses and a public that hopes for the best contribute to even greater support and job approval than their winning vote totals,” said Jason Reineke, Ph.D., associate director of the poll. “But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Trump.”
“The numbers are very similar, but they represent more of a hangover for Trump, whose job approval at the outset of his presidency is actually worse than his winning vote total in the state,” Reineke said.
Accounting for a surprising win
The fall 2016 MTSU Poll, conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2 of that year, found that 48 percent of all Tennessee voters and 54 percent of decided voters in the state chose Trump at that time. Trump went on to win the election with 61 percent of the vote in Tennessee.
The accuracy of polling about Trump has been in question since his surprise, national Electoral College win. To address this and determine whether Trump supporters were fairly represented in the sample, the spring 2017 MTSU poll asked respondents whom they had voted for in the 2016 presidential election.
Of poll respondents who answered the question and said that they had voted in the presidential race, 60 percent reported voting for Trump, just one percentage point different from the proportion of voters who chose him in the state on Election Day.
Poll respondents who said they had voted in the presidential election were also asked when they had decided on the candidate they chose. According to the results:
- 52 percent decided before the party conventions
- 31 percent decided between the beginning of the conventions and the end of the debates
- 14 percent decided after the debates
- 3 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer
Of those who said they made up their minds after the debates, 58 percent reported voting for Trump, while only 18 percent said they voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Although Trump had Tennessee wrapped up for some time, it appears that his ability to maintain his gains late in the race helped to increase his margin of victory in the state,” said Reineke
Between Feb. 12-16, 2017, Issues & Answers Network Inc. completed 600 telephone surveys for the poll among a random sample of registered Tennessee voters aged 18 and over. Data were collected using a Tennessee statewide voter registration sample with 60 percent landlines and 40 percent cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes.
Quotas by gender and Grand Region were implemented. Data were weighted based on respondent age to ensure the data are representative of Tennessee registered voters. Landline numbers represent 58 percent of the completed interviews and 42 percent are from cell phones
The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning one can be 95 percent confident that the population percentage being estimated lies within four percentage points, in either direction, of the result the sample produced.