Donald Trump begins the 2020 cycle under water and in trouble. In our survey of registered voters in seven key presidential battleground states, Trump has a negative job rating of 44% approve/56% disapprove. Only 36% of voters say they are inclined to vote for Trump next year, while 47% say they will vote for the Democratic candidate. The true Trump base in these states is small: only 21% say they definitely will vote to reelect Trump – far short of the 33% who say they definitely will vote for the Democrat.
The survey results provide a valuable roadmap for a Democratic victory next year, which requires both expanding the electorate well beyond the 2016 turnout and winning swing voters who have reservations about Trump but are not committed to voting for the Democrat. Democrats do not have the luxury of choosing between mobilization and persuasion, and our research shows that these twin imperatives can go hand in hand.
While some see the economy as a political lifeline for Trump, our research shows that economic issues can become a key asset in helping Democrats achieve their objectives with both mobilization targets and persuasion targets. Focus groups conducted as part of this project show that voters already are well aware of Trump’s temperamental deficiencies; while it is important that voters continue to witness his poor temperament, the focus groups demonstrated there is an opportunity to engage, educate, and ultimately move voters by showing them how Trump has been part of the problem and not part of the solution on the economic issues that concern them the most.
While some aspects of the economy such as the national employment rate are doing reasonably well, the broader economic picture that emerges from our research is much more downbeat:
- Very few voters say their incomes are rising faster than the cost of living, while a majority say their incomes are failing behind the cost of living
- Large majorities of voters say things are changing for the worse on the cost of healthcare, student debt, and college
- Voters say by a large margin that the economic situation for the middle class and working families is changing for the worse, while at the same time they overwhelmingly see the economic situation changing for the better for those who were already wealthy.
Even on the jobs front, only a quarter of voters see things improving in terms of the availability of jobs in their own communities and voters say by a lopsided margin that they place more importance on the failure of wages to keep with the cost of living (including the cost of healthcare) than on the creation of millions of new jobs and the lowering of the unemployment rate.
Our survey shows that voters already believe that Donald Trump cares mostly about helping the wealthy and corporate special interests than helping the average person, but voters are not aware how Trump’s policies have compounded the economic challenges of the middle class. We find there is real power in drawing the link for voters between two of the things they already believe – that Trump looks out primarily for the wealthy and corporate special interests and that working families are falling behind the rising cost of living – by using Trump’s policies and actions as the connective tissue. This reinforces our belief that the bulk of our ongoing communications with voters this year should focus on economic messaging.
Democrats and their progressive allies must address voters’ concerns about jobs, health care, and wages, and draw a direct link to Trump’s economic policies. By focusing on the issues that are close to them and the impact that Trump’s policies are having on their local communities, we can successfully win the argument that Trump’s economy has failed them.
Voters’ opinions on the rising cost of living and Trump’s prioritization of the wealthy over regular people provide a foundation for localized messaging that is persuasive and believable, but will rarely be communicated by the media that is focused on developing scandals and Trump’s daily reminder that he lacks the temperament to be president. Democrats and their allies must do the heavy lifting to communicate messages and inform voters of the negative impact Trump is having on them personally.
This holds true across many types of voters. For example, Priorities held two focus groups with Latino persuasion and turnout voters. Both groups of voters offered criticism of the way Trump has stoked division in the country, frequently citing his positions on immigration and what they perceive as his attacks on the immigrant community. In both groups, participants gave Trump some credit for what they viewed as a relatively strong national economy, but failed to link him to their personal financial struggles, like the high cost of living or uncertainty about health care. To convince these voters that Trump’s economic policies have failed them, Democrats should focus on issues specific to these voters’ lives, like health care and the cost of living.