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Knox Co. voters split on Trump, accoring to poll

Barry McNamara
12/19/2018
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Knox County voters are evenly split on their view of President Donald Trump’s performance, according to a Monmouth College survey.

About 46 percent of voters surveyed in the county have a favorable view of the president and 46 percent have an unfavorable view, with 8 percent expressing no opinion, according to the poll.

“President Trump is holding his own in Knox County two years into his presidency,” said Monmouth political science lecturer Robin Johnson, whose “Parties and Elections” class sponsored the survey of 507 likely 2020 general election voters in the county.

The Monmouth poll was conducted Nov. 27-29 in neighboring Knox County, which is one of several “Obama-Trump” counties in Illinois – counties that Barack Obama carried in the 2008 and 2012 general elections and then supported Trump in 2016.

Trump carried Knox County in 2016 with 48 percent of the vote, three percentage points more than Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In the Monmouth survey, 38 percent of respondents identified as Republican, 36 percent Democrat and 26 percent non-partisan.

Trump’s approval rating in Knox County is about eight points higher than the average of his national approval rating being reported by the Gallup organization, which is about 38 percent.

Johnson noted that male voters who responded to the Knox County poll are more likely to hold a favorable view of the president.

“A nearly 20-point gender gap exists: men are more favorable to Trump (56 percent favorable to 39 percent unfavorable) while women are more unfavorable (37 to 51 percent),” he said.

Trump before party

Another Johnson class, “Politics and Government in the Midwest,” also studied the poll. During a recent Skype session New York Times national correspondent Campbell Robertson, they discussed Galesburg’s economic situation as a reason for shifting party alliance. The students’ take – which was echoed by Robertson – is that some Knox County residents felt that promises made by Obama to the region weren’t kept, so they decided to “give the other guy a chance.”

“As many people in Knox County believe in Trump as detest him,” said Sean Young ’20 of Galesburg. “People don’t believe in the Republican Party anymore as much as they believe in Trump.”

Johnson pointed to another set of results to support that statement. When voters favorable to Trump were asked whether they want someone in Congress who will fight for the president or fight for the Republican Party, 84 percent said they want their representative to fight for Trump. In contrast, 38 percent of voters unfavorable to Trump want their representative to fight for the Democratic Party, and 62 percent want that person to oppose Trump.

GOP ‘ideological alignment’

When respondents were asked what influenced their vote the most, the qualities of the candidate came in first at 39 percent, followed closely by issues at 38 percent. The political party mattered most to 23 percent of the respondents.

When broken down by party allegiance, however, Republicans said they vote most often based on the candidate (41 percent) while Democrats vote most often based on issues (42 percent).

Johnson noted that result underscores the fact that Republicans enjoy “greater ideological alignment.” An overwhelming majority of Republicans surveyed view themselves as conservative (84 percent), while Democrats are more ideologically diverse (46 percent identify as moderate and 40 percent liberal).

Another telling result was how much politics is on voters’ minds, compared to 10 years ago. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they think about politics more now, while only 9 percent think about it less than they did a decade ago.

That rise was due in large part to voter perception that the country is threatened by the opposition party (71 percent), which easily outdistanced all other response options.

“Seventy-one percent of poll takers feel threatened by the opposing party and their policies,” said Rodolfo Garcia ’19 of Chicago. “Not only is this concerning, but it’s disappointing to see that party affiliation has divided the United States.”

Eli Denton ’19 of Lombard, Ill., said some of the results “seemed almost contradictory.”

“How can 81 percent of Knox County voters say they want to see compromise, but 71 percent of the 69 percent who think about politics more often do so due to fear of the other party?” he asked. “It seemed strange that voters want the parties to work together but fear the policies of the other party.”