Lesson 1: Democrats need to make the election about President Trump, especially his health-care and foreign-policy failures.
The best news is that Trump is by far the biggest motivator for Democrats, bigger than for Republicans. “Nearly three times as many voters offer responses related to defeating President Trump (21%) as offer responses related to reelecting him or not wanting a Democrat to be elected (8%),” the poll finds. “Defeating President Trump was offered as the top motivation to vote in 2020 by four in ten Democratic voters (39%) while responses related to reelecting President Trump/not wanting a Democrat were offered by 21% of Republican voters.” Defeating Trump is the top motivator for about one-fifth of independents.
Trump is really unpopular in these states, with 41 percent who approve of his performance and 59 percent who disapprove. “If we look at the strongest opinions, twice as many voters ‘strongly disapprove’ of the job President Trump is doing than ‘strongly approve’ (50% v. 25%).” Sixty-five percent of women and 64 percent of white college graduates disapprove of his performance.
It stands to reason that the more Trump tweets and talks and sucks up political oxygen, the better off Democrats may be. In terms of enthusiasm, Democrats run about 10 percentage points higher than Republicans in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and are about on par with Republicans in Minnesota.
Trump’s economic performance (a mild plus) gets dwarfed by negative assessments of his performance on health care. “Health care is one of the only issues in which President Trump’s approval is lower than his overall job approval (-18 percentage points). President Trump also has low approval ratings (-20 percentage points) on the way he is handling foreign policy — an issue of increasing importance among voters in these states.” Regardless of party, “Lowering prescription drug costs and making sure the [the Affordable Care Act’s] protections for people with pre-existing health conditions continue are the top health care priorities that voters want to see Congress take on next year.”
Lesson 2: Democrats should not chase Trump voters, but rather, go after the moderate swing voters.
While Republicans still remain in Trump’s corner, the poll echoes the relatively low 74 percent support shown in the recent Post-ABC News poll. “Most Republican and Republican-leaning voters (73%) also say they want President Trump to be the Republican Party’s nominee for the 2020 election.” That’s far from Trump’s phony “94 percent” support that he touts, and it suggests some erosion in Republican support. His conduct does matter, even to Republicans.
That doesn’t mean Trump voters are persuadable. “Most voters who say they are going to vote for President Trump in 2020 do not see a scenario in which he would no longer have their vote. Seven in ten Trump voters say there is not a policy he could enact or fail to enact that would make them no longer vote for him while three in ten (28%) say they can think of a scenario that would make them no longer vote for President Trump.”
Meanwhile, the “mythical” swing or undecided voter is not so mythical. Forty-one percent “either report being undecided about their vote in 2020 or are leaning towards a candidate but haven’t made up their minds yet.” The good news for Democrats is that one-third of voters in these states are “definitely going to vote for the Democratic nominee,” but only 22 percent are sure they will vote for Trump. When you throw in voters who will “probably” vote for the party’s nominee, Democrats lead 41 percent to 33 percent. The percentage of Democrats sure to vote for their party’s nominee is about 10 percent higher than for Republicans.
Who are these swing voters? “Swing voters generally are more likely to say they are moderate in terms of their ideology (58%) and a larger share identify as political independents (29%) than their decided counterparts (5%). In addition, swing voters are slightly younger as a whole with about half (51%) under the age of 50 compared to 42% of decided voters.” In thinking of moderate vs. progressive stances, large shares of swing voters think Medicare-for-all is a bad idea. (Democrats don’t even think Medicare-for-all is the top issue.)
Lesson 3: Democrats won’t lose Democratic primary voters and will avoid antagonizing swing voters by eschewing Medicare-for all. Plenty of progressive policies also please swing voters.
The report finds “Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden as the front-runners among Democratic primary voters in the Blue Wall region. One-fourth of Democratic primary voters in Michigan and Minnesota say they plan to support Sen. Warren during the Democratic primary as do 22% of Wisconsin Democratic primary voters. Former Vice President Joe Biden garners 27% of support from Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters.”
More than 90 percent of Democratic primary voters think a Green New Deal and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants are good ideas; much fewer (62 percent) say a single-payer health-care plan is a good idea. The biggest dealbreaker for Democrats is a candidate who would vote against a ban on assault rifles. A candidate who wants to keep Democratic primary voters happy and not turn off swing voters should know:
Majorities of swing voters, a crucial voting bloc in 2020, view a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in this country illegally (70%), the Green New Deal (67%), a ban on the future sale of assault weapons (66%), and a ban on the ownership of assault weapons including a mandatory buyback program (54%) as good ideas. Yet, many of these voters see three progressive platforms as “bad ideas.” Majorities of these voters view a ban on fracking (54%), a national Medicare-for-all plan (62%), and stopping border detainments of people coming into the country illegally (71%) as bad ideas.
The candidate who best learns these lessons gives Democrats the best chance at defeating the president.