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Polls say Trump is in danger. These shifting voters are the reason why

The U.S. has a tiny number of shifting voters. Yet they wield outsized power. And in this election, if the polls are correct, this little group spells big trouble for the president.

The U.S. has a tiny number of shifting voters. Yet they wield outsized power

Who are the voters threatening to rain on the re-election prospects of U.S. President Donald Trump, seen here addressing a Michigan rally in inclement weather Tuesday? They include self-described independents, moderates, new voters and third-party dabblers (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

These are some of the most powerful voters in the world. If the polls are to be believed, and we'll soon discover if they are, they're the people who would end Donald Trump's presidency.

Meet America's shifting voters.

They are a small slice of the electorate with colossal influence, not only on U.S. politics but on their country's relationship with the world.

They tend to lack enthusiasm for either major party and fall into several categories — swing voters, centrists and moderates; first-time voters; people who vote for third parties; and people who sometimes don't vote at all.

And they spell trouble for Trump.

Surveys in advance of the Nov. 3 U.S. election find the president bleeding support from the kinds of voters who change their mind from one election to the next.

Peg Bohnert lives in Arizona's key Maricopa County. She voted for Trump in 2016. He lost her quickly. (CBC News)

Peg Bohnert is one of them. 

The Arizona retiree describes herself as an independent who leans Republican. She voted for Trump in 2016, figuring she'd give him a chance, in the hope the federal government might run more efficiently under a businessman.

By Day 2 of Trump's presidency, she concluded she'd made a mistake. 

It happened when the first White House press briefing of the Trump era was dedicated to arguing about the size of his inauguration crowd. The subsequent four years have only cemented her antipathy toward him.

'I trusted Trump' — until Day 2

"I trusted [Trump]. I no longer trust him, and I won't trust him again. Because he lies," Bohnert said.  

"No moral compass. No empathy. No kindness."

She said she's shy nowadays when she travels to even identify as an American: "He's made us look like fools — as a country."

A major reason Trump won in 2016 was support from the so-called double-haters — people who disliked both him and Hillary Clinton.

Che Eng is one of them. He reluctantly cast his ballot for Trump in 2016.

"I despised Hillary [Clinton]," said the Arizona medical doctor. "Trump was an outsider. I gave him a chance."

He's disdainful of both major parties, seeing them as irresponsible, with Democrats too far left and Republicans too far right.

The 'double-haters' turn on Trump

His breaking point with Trump came in late 2017. He worried about federal analysis showing a growing national debt because of a tax-cut bill Trump signed.

While he's no big fan of Joe Biden, either, Eng voted for him a few days ago.

"It pains me," Eng said of voting Democrat. 

This Arizona doctor dislikes both parties, and deeply disliked Hillary Clinton. So he voted for Trump in 2016. He won't be doing that again this year. ('Che' Eng)

He's so worried about his Republican friends finding out, he asked that his first name not be used in this story and that "Che," a variation on his middle name, be used instead. 

Couldn't back Clinton, will back Biden

Arlene Macellaro was another voter uninspired by her options in 2016. 

She's a longtime Republican and former health-care administrator living in Florida's massive Villages retirement community.

She nearly cast a ballot for Clinton in 2016 — but got cold feet. 

WATCH | Why this Republican is voting for Joe Biden: 

Why this Republican is voting for Joe Biden

1 month agoVideo
0:31
Arlene Macellaro lives in a staunchly Republican retirement city in Florida called The Villages, but says she won’t be voting for Donald Trump this election. 0:31

Macellaro opted not to vote at all. She was scared off by the scandal over Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. When the FBI announced two weeks before election day 2016 that it was reopening an investigation into Clinton, Macellaro decided to stay home rather than help elect a president who might immediately face criminal indictment.

She's all in for Biden now. 

"Someone asked me yesterday, 'How does it make you feel when you think that your vote, if it's for Joe Biden, could change the complexion and feel of your Republican Party?'" Macellaro said in an interview.

"My answer is, 'I feel good about it because I feel that it gives us hope to believe in the America that I grew up in.'"

The people quoted so far in this story share a few attributes common to the groups of voters turning most aggressively against Trump.

All live in suburbs, they don't have the strongest partisan affiliation, two are women, and they are seniors or, in the case of 62-year-old Eng, close to retirement.

Problems with seniors, suburbs, women and others

Polls say the president is bleeding votes across those groups and others — including college-educated and non-college-educated white voters.

Yasser Sanchez is a Latino, a Mormon and a lawyer in Arizona.

Until recently, he was also a committed Republican — one who actively campaigned for past presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.

"I never saw a day where I would [support the Democrats]," Sanchez said.

"[Then] Donald Trump happened. … Donald Trump happened to the Republican Party. … Not only will I be voting Joe Biden — I will be campaigning actively to get out the vote for Joe Biden."

Sanchez describes Trump as an autocrat-in-the-making, an existential threat to American democracy, and he calls this the most important election since the Civil War.

WATCH | Why this Republican is campaigning for Joe Biden in Arizona:

Why this Republican is campaigning for Joe Biden in Arizona

1 month agoVideo
0:27
Yasser Sanchez previously campaigned for Mitt Romney and John McCain but this election he's working to get Joe Biden into the White House. 0:27

New voters enter the mix

Meanwhile, young people keep entering the pool of eligible voters. And they favour Democrats by a huge margin. A big question mark is whether they'll turn out this year, given their lacklustre support for Biden in his party primaries.

Some early indications suggest they are, indeed, voting in greater numbers than in 2016, when lower turnout among young and minority voters hurt Clinton in key swing states.

Nineteen-year-old TeJean Neal just cast his first-ever presidential election ballot in swing-state Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee university student dislikes both candidates: he derides Biden as a neoliberal, old-school, pro-business politician.

But he's voted for him anyway, in order to oust a president he calls far more dangerous: he calls Trump a budding fascist, whose policies disproportionately hurt minority and marginalized people.

"It's not an enthusiastic vote. It's an I-have-privilege vote," said Neal, a student of film and African-diaspora studies at the University of Wisconsin.  

Tejean Neal voted in his first presidential election this year. He cast a ballot for Biden, but with little enthusiasm. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

"There are more people who would be hurt by the fascist than the neoliberal."

He said he intends to protest a Biden administration from Day 1, on issues from police reform to transitioning from fossil fuels.

But the immediate objective, he said, is beating Trump.

Mateo Gomez has also just entered the eligible-voting pool. He arrived in the U.S. as a toddler from Colombia; he's now a 22-year-old MBA student in Florida. 

Gomez said he agonized over his vote, his first chance to cast a ballot since obtaining U.S. citizenship. 

Unlike Neal, he sees himself as a centrist.

He has participated in town halls with politicians of both parties (including one with Biden) and sees himself as a bit of a peacemaker when his family and friends argue about politics.

Mateo Gomez just voted in his first election. He considered Trump, but went for Biden. (CBC News)

Gomez said he considered voting for Trump right up to the last minute – but wound up casting an early ballot for Biden. 

The reason? He blamed Republican efforts to end the Obamacare health-insurance system, which his family relies on; he said he also wants better pay for teachers, and more action on climate change. 

Gomez lives just north of Miami, one of the places in the U.S. most threatened by flooding and extreme weather.

"I try to see both sides. I try to avoid the drama," he said.

Gomez notes, however, that many fellow Latinos will vote for Trump in this state — which is critical to the president's re-election.

Trump has especially actively courted Cubans, and Venezuelans, who come from nations marked by left-wing authoritarianism.

They're being bombarded with warnings that Democrats will usher in socialism, as well as some downright bizarre conspiracy theories.

Possible bright spot for Trump? Minority voters

That speaks to a contrast in this election.

While polls suggest Trump is losing support from most demographic segments, he's gained some ground with minority voters — performing as well as, or even better, than he did in 2016.

He's still trailing significantly among those groups. But some surveys suggest he may be slightly reducing the Democrats' margin with Black men and Hispanic voters.

Cuban-born Miriam Weiss said the enthusiasm for Trump is evident in caravans you see in Miami on weekends, consisting of thousands of cars, waving Trump flags.

Miriam Weiss, a Trump supporter, said Cuban-American turnout in Florida will be huge and in the incumbent's favour. (CBC News)

She's been supporting Republicans since John F. Kennedy's failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, months after she immigrated to the U.S.

But she predicted more Cubans would support Republicans than usual — in the fear that socialism is taking over the Democratic Party, and that Biden won't stop it.

"If people vote for Biden we will be getting communism here within two years," Weiss said.

Those attitudes aren't limited to Florida, or to Cuban-Americans. 

A recent Pew survey estimated Trump's deficit with Hispanic voters is narrower in nine swing states than nationwide.

Trump fan says polls are wrong

Sylvia Menchaca is one such Trump supporter. She's a religious conservative, and entrepreneur who runs a Mexican restaurant in Arizona.

She said she feels sorry for migrant children separated from their parents under Trump's border policy. 

But she said the president has a responsibility to protect the border.

In fact, she compared Trump to a biblical king — a flawed man, with a divine mission to protect his country.

WATCH | Cuba-born Republican on why she's sticking with Donald Trump:

Cuban-born Republican on why she’s sticking with Donald Trump

1 month agoVideo
0:31
Miriam Weiss says she and other Latinos are voting for Donald Trump because, she says, he has delivered on his promises. 0:31

And she thinks all those polls we're looking at will soon reveal themselves to be absolute junk.

"You think Biden's leading. You all think Biden's leading," Menchaca told a reporter in an interview. 

"It's so funny. ... But it's okay. [Trump's] going to win."

With files from Paul Hunter and Marie Claudet in Arizona, and Susan Ormiston and Marie Morrissey in Florida.

What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage. Email us at Ask@cbc.ca

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