TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Priorities USA, Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group
DATE: September 18, 2020
RE: NEW POLL: Trump’s Search For An Effective Message Continues As “Suburban Strategy” Falls Flat
Donald Trump is apparently changing up his campaign strategy — again.
After months of attempting to scare suburban voters with their so-called “law and order” message, the Trump campaign is reportedly shifting their message once more. This pivot is just the latest in a long line of desperate strategic overhauls in search of an approach that doesn’t actively repel voters.
Trump’s decision to abandon his “Suburban Strategy” should come as no surprise. Countless public polls have already shown the president’s racist rhetoric driving away American voters. And now Priorities USA’s new battleground survey — conducted by Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group, who completed live phone interviews with nearly 5,000 voters — adds even more proof to the pile.
When asked about the recent protests and disorder occurring in many U.S. cities, 52% of respondents said that Trump’s actions and policies are making the situation worse, while only 29% said the president is making things better. That’s a massive 23-point deficit, which outstrips even voters’ demonstrated distaste for Trump’s disastrous coronavirus response — a situation where battleground voters are more likely to say he is making things worse instead of better by a 17-point margin.
And the numbers are even worse among Trump’s target audience. Fifty-seven percent of suburban voters said that Trump’s response to the ongoing unrest is making the situation worse, while only 27% said he is making things better. If you find yourself 30 points underwater with the very set of voters you’re trying to move, that’s usually a good indicator that your strategy isn’t working.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s unpopular scorched-earth response has also pushed voters to seek out a steadier alternative on the issue: Joe Biden. In our poll, when asked which candidate would have the better approach to handling protests and disorder, battleground voters preferred Biden over Trump by a 5-point margin, 47% to 42%. Among suburban voters, Trump’s deficit swells to double digits, with 51% saying they trust Biden more versus only 39% who prefer the president’s approach.
The Trump campaign weathervane’s latest wild about-face isn’t happening by accident. Neither the candidate nor his staff woke up yesterday morning with an epiphany that stoking hate and inflaming racial tension is wrong. They’ve simply figured out how to read the writing on the wall: Voters are seeing Trump’s response to the protests as yet another reason to remove him from office.
Every previous Trump “pivot” has failed. It’s unlikely this one will be any different.
Of course, none of this is particularly new. Trump seems to swap strategies more often than chameleons change their color. Unable to communicate any type of positive message about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis that voters will actually believe, his campaign has instead spent months desperately cycling through a litany of debunked attacks on Joe Biden, seemingly praying that one will stick. It hasn’t worked.
First, they tried to misrepresent Biden’s proven track record of smart and tough leadership on China. But voters know Joe, and they trust him to handle our country’s most important international relationships. And the polls reflected that reality. In May, a Fox News poll found that voters trusted Biden to do a better job dealing with China than Trump by a 6-point margin, 43% to 37%. But by late June, despite Trump and his listless super PAC America First battering battlegrounds with a barrage of false China-based ads, Biden’s lead on the issue had ballooned to double digits. And thus ended the Trump campaign’s vaunted “China strategy.”
For their next trick, Trump and company decided to try scaring white voters with racist fearmongering and attempt to convince them that Joe Biden is some sort of secret radical who will let crime run rampant in their communities. (Yes, they’ve tried this desperate gambit twice now.) Given this latest failure, it goes without saying that this was a tough sell the first time, too. In June, a national survey found that voters trusted Biden more than Trump to “maintain law and order” by a 10-point margin, 51% to 41%. In July, after a month’s worth of racist tweets from the president and a shower of alarmist ads from his campaign and allies, that number remained virtually unchanged, with voters preferring Biden on matters of “crime and safety” by 9 points, 50% to 41%. As the Washington Post observed: “To the extent that there is a law-and-order candidate at this point, it appears to be Biden.” Whoops.
And when blatant racism didn’t work, they opted to make themselves at home in the gutter and start spouting a drumbeat of lies about Joe Biden’s mental fitness. Of course, Americans know Biden will be ready to lead on Day One — they’ve seen him in the Oval Office before, and they know his brand of steady, stable leadership will provide a marked departure from Trump’s unique blend of chaos and incompetence. And that’s why, just like every “strategic pivot” that came before, this one flopped spectacularly. Despite the attacks, polls found Biden leading Trump on mental fitness for office — by a double-digit margin. Turns out the American people expect more from their presidents than simply being able to repeat five words in sequential order.
And after all that failure, and completely devoid of any new ideas, the Trump campaign just gave up and doubled down on their candidate’s comfort zone: sowing hate and division at the expense of national unity. But as our new polling reveals, voters’ response to the sequel of the “Suburban Strategy” has been just as hostile as it was to the original — and now Trump and his army of trolls find themselves adrift once more, futilely searching for that elusive message that will magically solve all their problems.
Unfortunately for them, no such silver bullet exists. If it did, they would have found it by now. Turns out it’s hard to get re-elected when most Americans think you’ve driven the country into a ditch — no matter how much you lie.
About The Poll
Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group conducted a live phone survey from September 8-15, 2020, with a total sample of 4,800 interviews, with representative subsamples of 800 likely voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona and Wisconsin. The states were given equal weight for the purposes of this analysis. The distribution of voters across demographic, geographic, and political factors reflect the expected composition of the 2020 electorate in each state.