What do the voters who elected Donald Trump want him to deliver?
“Jobs,” said Marianne Zarlinga, an electrologist from North Royalton, Ohio, who voted for Trump in November. “Bringing jobs back for America.”
“He’s going to be just awesome for that,” chimed in Melinda Berger, a homemaker from nearby North Ridgeville. “I can’t wait!”
“He has to improve the health care,” she added. “Thousands of dollars out of pocket before you get any benefits – who can afford that?”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Economy and health care,” Zarlinga agreed.
Berger and Zarlinga, two 50-something white women from the Cleveland suburbs, were among the voters who helped Trump win the swing state of Ohio by 8 points.
They were among a dozen Trump voters convened last month for a discussion conducted by pollster Peter Hart for the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Their priorities for the new administration quickly winnowed down to three: jobs, health care and “drain the swamp,” Trump’s promise that he will change the way Washington works.
That’s what his voters heard Trump promise; now, they said, they intend to hold him to it.
“Deliver,” Zarlinga said crisply when asked for her message to the president-elect.
That adds up to a tall order for Trump, but it’s only fair. During the campaign, he promised that he would “bring back” millions of jobs, enact a “beautiful” health care plan, and end gridlock in Washington.
“People are looking for results,” Republican pollster David Winston told me. “Voters showed that they were willing to rock the boat in order to get change. If they don’t get change, they'll be willing to rock the boat again.”
Job growth may be the easiest part. In a slowly recovering economy, that’s happening already; more than 2 million jobs have been created this year.
And Trump will surely take credit; in fact he already has. When Carrier said it would keep some 800 jobs in Indiana, Trump claimed it was all thanks to him. (He neglected to mention that the company is still sending about 1,300 jobs to Mexico).
Last week, he announced that Sprint plans to create 5,000 jobs in the United States this year, including some call center jobs relocated from overseas. (That’s the result of a pre-existing investment deal, not the president-elect.)
Despite the sketchy details, these developments have already given Trump a modest bounce in several polls. “He showed that he has his eye on the ball,” Winston said.
Health care will be harder.
“It affects every person in the U.S.,” said Eric Viersulz, a maintenance worker from Lorain County. “If he doesn’t do anything about the system, if it isn’t more affordable,” that will make people “angry,” he said.
Polls show that most Trump voters don’t want Obamacare repealed without a workable replacement. (It wasn’t clear whether any of the voters in the group obtained health insurance through Obamacare. Most adults under 65 get health insurance through their jobs.) In a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll after the election, only 15 percent of Trump voters said they wanted the law repealed without anything in its place. Most said they either wanted the law to be “replaced with a Republican alternative” or merely “scaled back.”
But Republicans in Congress don’t have an Obamacare replacement ready. And if Trump can’t find a way to bring everyone’s health costs down – a goal for which he has offered no clear strategy – many will be disappointed and angry.
As for draining the swamp, Trump has left that ambition mostly undefined. He’s promised not to employ lobbyists in his administration, but lobbyists have been able to join his transition merely by canceling their registrations.
Asked what “drain the swamp” meant to them, the Ohio voters talked about corruption.
“Eliminate corrupt politicians and wasteful programs,” offered Kevin Koehler, a deputy sheriff from Lorain County.
Asked if they were worried about billionaires in the Cabinet or business conflicts of interest on Trump’s part, they shrugged.
“He already has his wealth,” Berger said. “He doesn’t need to profit off anybody or anything.” Others nodded.
More important, they said, was that Trump be allowed to use his business acumen to end gridlock.
“It’s his job to make it work,” said Michael Rotella, an engineer from North Olmsted.
Polls of all voters – including the majority that didn’t choose Trump – have found that his approval ratings are lower than any other president-elect in modern times.
A Pew Research Center poll last month found that only 41 percent of voters approve of the job Trump has been doing. Eight years ago, at the same point in Obama’s transition, 72 percent of voters approved.
It’s true that Trump’s standing in the polls has slowly risen since the election, but that’s mostly because skeptical Republicans have turned more positive. Democrats haven’t warmed to him yet, although Pew found that some had revised their forecasts of his presidency from “terrible” to merely “poor.”
“He’s still in a challenging position,” Winston said. “But he still has the same advantage every president elect has: People want him to succeed.”
Indeed, in the Pew poll, most voters who supported Hillary Clinton said they were willing to give Trump a chance.
But he’s on thin ice. Even among his voters, Trump’s honeymoon could turn out to be short.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Readers may email him at email@example.com.