Missouri voters back Trump, show little middle ground on Hawley, new poll shows

Latest St. Louis University You/Gov survey also tests sentiment on LGBTQ issues, education and biggest concerns of voters

By: - August 23, 2023 5:59 am

Former President Donald Trump speaks in May 2022 in Wyoming. A new poll shows him leading the presidential race by a wide margin among Missouri Republicans. (Chet Strange/Getty Images).

Former President Donald Trump is lapping his challengers among Missouri Republicans, Sen. Josh Hawley is the most polarizing politician in the state, and children shouldn’t discuss gender identity or sexual orientation in elementary school, a new poll released Wednesday suggests.

The latest St. Louis University/YouGov poll, which surveyed 900 likely Missouri voters from July 27 to Aug. 8, tests how Missourians rate major politicians and what issues concern them, and takes a deep dive into attitudes about policies governing education and LGBTQ youth.

The poll includes insights on how Missourians view new state laws barring transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care, when it is appropriate to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

The Independent will have more in-depth coverage of the polling questions regarding state policies targeting transgender Missourians coming soon.

More than two-thirds of respondents opposed such discussions in elementary schools, and a majority said it was inappropriate in middle schools. Among Democrats, younger voters, those with higher incomes and minority voters, more than 50% supported in-school discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in middle schools.

A majority of respondents said those discussions were appropriate at the high school level and opposed school bans on books with stories about LGBTQ youth.

“Missouri voters have some pause, necessarily, bringing some discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity into the classroom,” said Steven Rogers, poll director and associate professor of political science at St. Louis University. “But one thing I think our poll nicely highlights is that there is refinement or nuance to that.”

The SLU/YouGov poll began in 2020, and surveys are conducted about every six months. The pollsters have asked the same or similar questions each time about the issues most concerning to Missourians. In the latest survey, as in each of the previous polls, the economy is the top issue, with almost no change in the level of concern. In 2020, 43% selected the economy as the top issue, and in the latest poll, the figure is 44%.

The poll also asks many traditional questions about how satisfied Missourians are with major politicians and institutions. Among the findings:

  • Former President Donald Trump is favored for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination by 52% of respondents, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a distant second at 17%.
  • Any Republican starts with a 15% edge over President Joe Biden for Missouri’s eight electoral votes, with the generic Republican favored by 50% of those polled. The respondents gave Biden a 38% approval rating, with 60% disapproving.
  • Congress received the worst rating of any major institution, with only 16% of those surveyed saying they approve or strongly approve of its work, and 74% saying they disapprove. In contrast, the Missouri General Assembly had a 46% approval rating, with 45% disapproval.
  • Gov. Mike Parson, Sens. Eric Schmitt and Hawley — Republicans — all had net positive approval ratings, although Schmitt and Hawley are within the polls’ 4% margin of error. Parson had the largest net approval, 49% to 43%. Schmitt, who was elected to his Senate seat in November, had a net 4% positive rating, 42%-38%. Hawley had a 2% net positive rating, with 47% approving and 45% disapproving.

Hawley had the smallest number of respondents who expressed no opinion — 8% of those surveyed — and the highest percentage of respondents who said they “strongly” approve or disapprove of him. Among those that back Hawley, 26% said they strongly approve of his performance. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said they strongly disapprove.

Hawley’s effort to challenge the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump, his raised-fist salute to the demonstrators that later rioted on Jan. 6, 2021 and video showing him fleeing the riot later in the day have all contributed to the public’s polarized views on him, Rogers said.

“Similar to how Republicans are so disapproving of Joe Biden, when they have this very clear picture in their head of who Josh Hawley is, as people have a very clear picture in their head of who Joe Biden is, you may get these more extreme views,” Rogers said.

Trump, who is facing four criminal indictments in as many jurisdictions, has not been hurt so far by those legal troubles, Rogers said. That is also reflected in national polls, he said.

“Obviously, a lot can happen,” Rogers said. “But what we’re finding again, it’s consistent with what’s going on in the rest of the country.”

Among the findings on education, two data points are intriguing, Rogers said. A huge majority, 81%, support increasing teacher pay, but only 35%, would recommend teaching as a profession.

“That is something that’s kind of stood out to me,” he said. “Voters recognize that we have shortages in Missouri, or teachers aren’t being paid well enough. And that maybe being a teacher is not the most desirable job, even though it’s a very important job.”


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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.