High Point University released a poll this week that shows Republicans should probably start to worry a little bit. Donald Trump is unpopular while Roy Cooper is doing well in the minds of voters. It’s way too early to consider the poll a predictor but the trend has been holding for a while. 

According to the poll, only 43% of registered voters approve of the job that Donald Trump is doing while 52% disapprove. Perhaps more significantly, only 32% of the registered voters believe the country is heading in the right direction and 58% believe it’s on the wrong track. That’s a pretty shocking discrepancy considering the relative strength of the economy. People aren’t happy with where the president is taking the country despite the recovery and low unemployment rates. That’s never good news for an incumbent. 

In contrast, voters are relatively happy with the job Governor Roy Cooper is doing. Forty-five percent say they approve of the job he’s doing while only 32% disapprove. Twenty-three percent say they don’t know or don’t have an opinion. Those are solid numbers at this point in an election cycle. 

Republicans should start to worry because in a presidential year, the presidential candidate will drive the cycle. For many voters, the president becomes a proxy for the rest of their ballot. If they don’t like Trump, they probably won’t support many Republicans. At the state level, Cooper is the top of the ticket next year and his support could add coattails to down ballot Democrats. 

Of course, none of this matters until we know who the challengers are. In 2016, Trump won because he ran against a candidate who was unacceptable for too many voters. If Democrats nominate someone similar, they could re-elect Trump. 

In the governor’s race, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest appears to be consolidating Republican support. For Democrats and Cooper, he would be a good opponent. Forest is a scandal-ridden extremist. He’s exactly the type of candidate Republicans nominated in the 1990s and early aughts, who couldn’t win general elections because they were too far to the right. 

It’s far too early to make any predictions about 2020 but Republicans need to see voters’ opinions of the president change and for them to become more optimistic. That’s certainly possible over the next year and a half, but, right now, the GOP is in a tough spot. 

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