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WBUR Poll: In Central Mass. Towns, Trump Voters Are Sticking By Him06:26
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A banner welcoming local soldiers home from military service is displayed on the Townsend green. In Townsend, voters chose Trump over Hillary Clinton 50 to 41 percent. It's one of about 50 towns in the central part of the state that went for Trump. And they are the focus of the WBUR poll. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
A banner welcoming local soldiers home from military service is displayed on the Townsend green. In Townsend, voters chose Trump over Hillary Clinton 50 to 41 percent. It's one of about 50 towns in the central part of the state that went for Trump. And they are the focus of the WBUR poll. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Despite setbacks on his effort to repeal and replace Obamacare and court challenges to his executive orders on immigration, President Trump remains very popular among his supporters in Massachusetts.

That's according to a new WBUR poll (topline results | crosstabs) of voters in towns across the central part of the state that voted for Trump in November.

In Townsend, voters chose Trump over Hillary Clinton 50 to 41 percent. It's one of about 50 towns in the central part of the state that went for Trump. And they are the focus of the WBUR poll.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

'Pretty Much A Total Polarization'

Townsend has about 9,000 residents. It's a picturesque town along the New Hampshire border, with a pair of churches with white steeples that rise above a Civil War monument on the village green.

Across the street from the green is Pete's barber shop, which has been at the center of this community for a long time.

Pete Lareau has been in business for 56 years, in the same location. And like many folks who run businesses around here, Lareau would rather not talk about politics, for fear of alienating his customers.

But Jim Wiswell is here for a trim. He's a Trump supporter and is happy to talk about how the president is doing so far.

"I give him a lot higher marks than I would the previous administration," Wiswell says. "You know, it's a learning process, the same as anything else. You know, he's only been in there, what, 70-something days. You know, I think he will do a good job for us."

Pete Lareau gives a haircut to Randy Elwell at his barber shop in Townsend, where Lareau has been cutting hair for 56 years. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Pete Lareau gives a haircut to Randy Elwell at his barber shop in Townsend, where Lareau has been cutting hair for 56 years. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

That view is consistent with the new WBUR poll, which found 80 to 90 percent of Trump voters in these central Massachusetts towns still view him very positively and as likely to make good on his promises.

The survey found that 42 percent of all voters in these towns view Trump favorably, while 45 percent view him unfavorably. Those numbers might not sound great for Trump, but they're a lot better than his national numbers. And Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the WBUR survey, says they reflect strong support from those who voted for him in these towns.

Koczela says the poll also found evidence of a stark partisan divide.

"What those numbers are is pretty much a total polarization between his voters and Clinton's voters," Koczela says. "Eighty-six percent of his voters still have a favorable view of him; 92 percent of Clinton voters have an unfavorable view of him. So there's pretty much a perfect split between people who voted for him and people who didn't."

And yet the poll found that Trump and Clinton supporters in these towns more or less agree on a series of national priorities, including comprehensive immigration reform, overhauling the tax code, and passing a major infrastructure bill — which is high on Wiswell's list.

"Well, you can go anywhere," he says, "you can look at the roads right outside the door. They need to be improved. Our bridges are getting to the point that they're dangerous. The railway systems need work. You know, the exact dollar figure, that can be argued. But they should at least agree that we're going to start."

'Pass The Buck And Spin Our Wheels'

In Townsend, it's easy to find evidence of the political divide. Back on the village green, Krystal Morini is enjoying summer-like weather with her 4-year-old daughter, Kiara. Morini says she didn't vote in November because she didn't want to choose "the lesser of two evils." But now she feels differently.

"I wish I had voted for Hillary," she says. "I'm disgusted at just the tweets, that whole thing. Being a millennial, I don't even use that stuff. And for the president to be bringing up political issues over social media just disgusts me."

Morini says that kind of behavior makes her worry about the president's fitness to handle national security. Another issue of concern: Morini says her family relies on MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, so she opposes the Republican push to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"I am not a fan of that at all," she says. "I think we started here in Massachusetts with it before it even went national and it worked wonderfully. It's been working wonderfully. It's kind of like, why change something that's not broken, you know?"

Priorities

The WBUR poll found that the push to repeal and replace Obamacare is among the most divisive issues in these towns.

"There you have almost no Clinton voters saying that should be a [major] priority," pollster Koczela says, "and a large majority of Trump voters — 71 percent — saying it should be a [major] priority."

Koczela points out that the president has devoted a lot of energy and time to two of the most divisive issues: trying to kill Obamacare and promising to build a wall along the Mexican border — a proposal that, according to the new poll, lacks wide support in both parties.

"Even Trump voters aren't that excited about the idea," Koczela says. "Only 48 percent say that should be a major priority. And among Clinton voters, it's even fewer, less than 2 percent who say that should be a major priority."

The WBUR poll finds that both Republicans and Democrats in these towns agree that comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship should be a priority. Partisans on both sides would put this goal ahead of building a wall, which is modestly popular among Republicans but toxic among Democrats.

But back at Pete's barber shop, customer Jim Wiswell says he's most concerned that the two parties seem incapable of working together in Washington, despite the evidence of some common ground.

"Maybe it's a divide that's been building over many, many years, over several presidents," he says. "It worries me a lot. We have to get something done. We have to get a better health care system in place. We have to get our infrastructure taken care of. And all we seem to do is pass the buck and spin our wheels."

The WBUR poll found evidence of that growing partisan divide, but also of areas where Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together. Whether they will is another question.

This segment aired on April 12, 2017.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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