It’s early, but we already have a rough sense of some of the big-picture contrasts that will drive the next presidential election.
This is an incomplete list, but Hillary Clinton will support international engagement and government action to combat climate change; an immigration reform compromise that exchanges more border security for some kind of path to legalization for the 11 million; a deal with Iran curbing its nuclear program (if one is reached); and a continuation of the movement towards universal health care set in motion by the Affordable Care Act (whatever its fate at the Supreme Court).
By contrast, by the time the eventual GOP nominee is chosen, he will probably have come out against any global climate treaty and at best hedged on domestic climate action; he will have cast serious doubt on whether he can support a real plan for legalization; he will have promised to undo any Iran nuke deal; and he will have vowed to continue the crusade for Obamacare repeal until he draws his very last breath.
Some new polling from the Washington Post and ABC News helps illustrate why this contrast will likely take shape — and what it could mean for the next election.
The poll finds that on all of those issues, Republican and conservative voters are on one side, while majorities or pluralities of Americans — including independents and moderates — are on the other:
* Climate change: 59 percent of Americans say they want the next president to favor government action to address climate change, versus 31 percent who oppose such action. Independents favor action by 61-32, and moderates favor action by 68-23.
By contrast, Republicans tilt against government action by 55-32, and conservatives tilt against it by 55-35.
* Iran: Americans want the next president to favor a negotiated agreement with Iran, rather than oppose it, by 49-42. Independents agree by 51-40, and moderates agree by 55-37.
By contrast, Republicans favor someone who opposes agreement with Iran by 60-31, as do conservatives, by 62-32.
* Immigration: Americans want the next president to support a path to citizenship, as opposed to being against it, by 51-45. Independents agree by 52-44, and moderates agree by 53-42.
By contrast, Republicans favor someone who opposes a path to citizenship by 70-24, as do conservatives, by 65-31.
* Obamacare: This one isn’t as clear cut, but it’s still instructive. Most polls show the law is still unpopular. But introduce repeal, and the picture changes. In our poll, Americans want the next president to keep the law, by a statistically insignificant 49-45. Independents agree by 49-45, and moderates agree by a more comfortable 52-42.
By contrast, Republicans want a candidate who will repeal the law by 82-12, and conservatives want the same by 69-28.
Here’s another interesting thing about the polling: The groups in the new Democratic coalition that is powering wins in national elections — minorities, millennials, college educated whites — are firmly on one side of this divide. Majorities of all those groups — in some cases large ones — want the next president to back government action on climate; a path to citizenship; a negotiated settlement with Iran; and keeping Obamacare. Thus, the Democratic Party will keep shaping its agenda around the priorities of these core voter groups.
By contrast, majorities of some core Republican voter groups — non-college whites, older voters, whites overall — want a president who would repeal Obamacare and oppose a path to citizenship. Interestingly, even these voter groups are more mixed on an Iran deal and on climate action. But given that both are associated with Obama, the GOP candidates will have to oppose them.
None of this is to say that Clinton has a built-in advantage going into 2016. It’s hard to say how much these issues — particularly climate and immigration — will motivate voters, if at all. Winning a third presidential term for the same party has historically proven difficult. The economy will play a major role. Etc.
But still, you have to wonder whether it could have some kind of impact if the GOP nominee gets locked into positions on the wrong side of public opinion on many major issues. Perhaps it could help shape general impressions as to which party is more mainstream and forward-looking when it comes to some of the bigger challenges facing the country.