Here’s the good news: Unity exists, even in the United States of 2019. “We see widespread support on reducing college costs, taxing the wealthy, checking corporate power and ensuring people have access to the basics,” John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the report’s co-authors, told me.
While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:
- College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”
- “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”
- People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.
- Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”
- Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.
That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.
There are even points of seeming disagreement where people — eventually — come together. Yes, a majority of Republicans say that most people who live in poverty do so because of bad decisions or lack of ambition. But, on the other hand, voters of every political persuasion, including 57 percent of Republicans, also agreed with the statement that we should reduce poverty by guaranteeing families access to health care, food and housing if their wages are too low. As Halpin noted, “When it comes to the specifics of cutting off people’s access to food, housing assistance or health care, even pretty hardcore Trump supporters kind of back off.”
There is a similar dynamic at play when it comes to the subject of inequality. Almost 6 in 10 Republicans — and 43 percent of independents — agree that “inequality is a natural result of a free-market economy” and that tackling it via government regulation “will make everyone less well off.” Yet, again, it’s also important to note that a majority also support a wealth tax. People are “upset by the huge gap between the wealthy and everyone else,” Halpin told me.
True, there are questions this poll didn’t ask. It didn’t ask respondents about the specific phrase “Medicare-for-all,” nor did it make inquiries about tuition-free public college or trade schools, student debt forgiveness or racial economic justice.
But it did test narrative messages to see what would resonate and found that 90 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans agreed with the following:
We need to take back our government from wealthy special interests and make sure it works for all Americans. Government at its best should ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead in life and has access to affordable health care, good schools, and a secure retirement. Government should work for everyone, not just the rich and powerful.
Similar numbers also responded to “America will be much stronger and more cohesive when we ensure our government works for all of us and not just the richest few.” Slightly smaller but still large majorities also agreed that politicians deliberately pit Americans of different races and ethnicities against one another so that they can “pursue policies that transfer wealth and power to the rich and Wall Street.”
So where does that leave us? Democratic candidates should try to keep their arguments easy to understand and solutions-oriented. It’s okay to name shared villains (e.g. big corporations). Remind voters that Trump said he would invest in infrastructure but hasn’t, and that he still wants to gut the Affordable Care Act. Talk about the middle class, and threats to it from wealthy interests. Voters who are concerned about electability should pay attention to what the candidates are actually saying, making note of who is making these kinds of arguments. But most important, whether it’s taking on corporate power or the desire of all of us to get ahead, talk about what unites us and don’t stop. We’re all in this together — and most of us know that.