Since the day he was sworn into office, President Trump has pursued policies and practiced politics with a single-minded focus on bedrock Republicans, showing little interest in appealing to independent voters. That has made him one of the most powerful figures ever in his party, and rewarded him with strong conservative support in his re-election campaign.
But Mr. Trump’s focus on his base at the expense of swing voters, who have historically been a key target for presidential campaigns, is almost certainly not enough to win him a second term in the White House, as even some Republicans concede.
A national poll of registered voters by The Times and Siena College shows Mr. Trump drawing 36 percent of the vote, a far cry from the 46 percent he won in 2016. Perhaps even more troubling for Mr. Trump is that he has not assembled a broad coalition of voters, which is critical to winning battleground states. While Republicans support him overwhelmingly, he has the support of just 29 percent of independents and nonaffiliated voters — 18 points behind Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic opponent. Mr. Trump narrowly won independents in 2016, according to exit polls.
Whether Mr. Trump can still expand his support at this point, especially in the battleground states that are crucial to his Electoral College calculus, is an enormous challenge that the president, to date, has shown little interest in meeting. Much of the nation has recoiled from Mr. Trump’s brash conduct and harsh language in office, and at the same time has moved to the left on health care, civil rights, same-sex marriage and other issues.
“He is losing, and if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he is discussing and the way that he approaches the American people, then he will lose,” Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and a former close adviser to Mr. Trump, said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide social unrest have all contributed to Mr. Trump’s diminished standing, including among swing voters — only 17 percent of independents strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance, the poll shows
“It’s not enough to win re-election,” Sara Fagen, who was the White House political director for President George W. Bush, said of tactics focused on turning out the base. “In this environment, it will be difficult to win an election without expanding the number of people who support you.”
Mr. Trump has told advisers and allies that he has to run as himselfand that he has defied polling experts before, pointing to 2016. He won the presidency despite losing the popular vote, with narrow wins in three states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — that gave him an Electoral College victory.
In that first race he sought to appeal primarily to Republican voters, but his defiant, outsider message, with its emphasis on trade and immigration, drew Americans alienated by Washington, hungry for a change after eight years of Democratic rule and put off by Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.