TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Priorities USA
Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group
Global Strategy Group
DATE: September 18, 2017
RE: Economic Research Findings: Persuadable and Democratic Drop-off Voters
New research conducted on behalf of Priorities USA among key groups of persuadable voters and mobilization targets shows that there is a broad and growing identification of Donald Trump as someone who looks out first and foremost for the wealthy at a time when the economic situation for the middle class is seen as getting worse rather than better. Voters’ economic concerns are driven by worries about affording the cost of health care. Anxieties about being able to retire comfortably and keeping up with the cost of living for basic expenses also are top-tier economic concerns. The tax cut debate poses significant pitfalls for Trump and other Republicans, because the groups that are primary targets for Democrats oppose a plan that gives the largest tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and big corporations, even if it also cuts their own personal income taxes. Democratic party leaders, progressive organizers, and local activists should focus on the tax reform debate to make inroads with these voters.
Many persuadable voters are taking a wait-and-see attitude about whether Trump will deliver on the promises he made about the economy during his campaign, and say they won’t know until next year whether he is keeping his word on the economy. Prime targets recognize that the stock market is improving, but do not see improvements in other parts of the economy that are more personal to them – including jobs in their own communities and wages that keep up with the cost of living. Across these various target constituencies, the biggest concern about Trump on the economy is that he is too often distracted by controversy and the constant chaos, scandal, and fighting that prevents anything from getting done.
These survey results are significant because they show that a progressive platform on economic change is more persuasive than the Republican agenda of cutting taxes and regulations among these voters. The most important economic values for target voters are creating an economy that works for everyone–not just the wealthy and big corporations–and closing loopholes used by the wealthy to avoid contributing their fair share to the economy. By a large margin, persuasion and mobilization targets say the best way to create jobs is through job training, skill development, and education to prepare Americans for the jobs of the future, rather than by cutting taxes and regulations on businesses.
Opportunities for Democrats
This survey sampled two key groups of voters who will affect Democratic prospects in 2018 and beyond. The persuasion universe included: (1) Romney voters from 2012 who did not support Donald Trump in 2016, and (2) Trump voters who either previously voted for President Obama or who supported Trump with mixed feelings in 2016. The mobilization universe included Democrats who vote intermittently – both those who did not vote at all in 2016, and those who do not regularly vote in non-presidential elections.
The survey results show there are significant opportunities for Democrats add new voters to their column in 2018 both by mobilizing more Democrats and winning over persuadable swing voters. Forty-five percent of the persuasion universe is open to voting for a Democrat down-ballot, and their underlying attitudes lead them definitively in that direction. As we have seen in recent special and primary elections, Democrats who have dropped out of voting in previous elections are more motivated in upcoming elections, in no small part because they feel they have a lot at stake personally in the way economic issues are litigated at this stage.
One important finding from the survey is that there is an extraordinary degree of alignment between the persuasion targets and mobilization targets in their core economic attitudes, and the economic messages that most appeal to one group typically are highly appealing to the other group.
Lack of enthusiasm for Trump’s economic record
So far, target voters are a lot less impressed with Donald Trump’s economic record than Donald Trump seems to be. Among persuasion targets who are open to voting for Democrats, just 25% say that Trump is delivering on the promises he made about the economy during his campaign, while 33% say he is not and 42% say it is too soon to tell. Less than half (42%) of all Obama-Trump voters feel confident Trump is delivering on his promises. Among mobilization targets, 76% feel sure that Trump is not delivering on his promises.
There is an expiration date on how long voters are willing to wait for Trump to deliver. Among the persuadable voters who are open to Democrats but say it’s too soon to make a judgment on Trump, nearly all say they will know for sure one way or the other about Trump’s economic performance by the midterm elections.
When we ask voters about the performance of the economy under Trump, the stock market is the only net positive (+32%) among persuasion voters who are open to voting Democratic. There are small net negatives for:
- The availability of good jobs locally (-11%)
- The U.S. economy as a whole (-7%)
And we find very large net negatives for:
- The economic situation for young people (-39%)
- The economic situation for the middle class (-45%)
- Wages and incomes keeping up with the cost of living (-39%).
(The verdict on each of these is substantially more negative among mobilization targets.)
Perceptions of Trump’s economic effectiveness are being weighed down by the aura of chaos and controversy that surrounds Trump. Nearly all voters in both the persuasion and mobilization universes believe it is true that “instead of staying focused on the economy, Donald Trump is too often distracted by controversy and the constant chaos, scandal, and fighting that prevents anything from getting done.” This is the most commonly selected concern voters have about Trump’s handling of the economy.
Health care is a top driver of economic concerns
Health care ranks as the top issue concern among both persuasion targets who are most open to Democrats (46%) and Democratic mobilization targets (54%) – ahead of both jobs and taxes. The reason for this is apparent when voters are asked to select their biggest economic worry, with health care topping the list among the full range of subgroups (58% among all persuasion targets, 53% among mobilization targets). Other dominant economic concerns include being able to retire comfortably and with dignity, and affording basic expenses and being able to keep up with the cost of living.
Given the very high salience of health care, it is significant that under Donald Trump, voters overwhelmingly see the cost of health care getting worse rather than better. Fully 82% of all persuasion voters say the cost of health care is getting worse, as do 80% of mobilization targets. Other polling shows that voters are inclined to give Trump a fair share of the blame for problems in the healthcare system.
An increasing view that Trump stands with the wealthy
The results from this survey reinforce other findings that economic security and economic opportunity are important priorities for these voters. It also is clear, however, that among both the top persuasion targets and Democratic mobilization targets, there is substantial antagonism to the special benefits and advantages given to those at the top. Among persuadable voters most open to Democrats and mobilization targets, for example, the economic goals most frequently rated as extremely important are:
- “Create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and big corporations,” and
- “Close loopholes used by the wealthy to avoid contributing their fair share to the economy.”
Across groups, large majorities think the middle class and average working families are paying more than their fair share in taxes, and equally large majorities say that big corporations and millionaires and billionaires are not paying their fair share.
Against this backdrop, it is important that among the persuasion targets who are most open to Democrats, 55% now see Donald Trump as favoring the wealthy, while just 44% say he looks out mainly for the middle class or for all groups equally. One of the most surprising and significant findings from this research is that there has been a 20-point increase since January in the share of persuadable voters who see Trump as looking out primarily for the wealthy – from 21% to 41%. As bad as these results are for Trump, they are even worse for the Republican Party as a whole, which is seen by large majorities as looking out first and foremost for the wealthy (61% among persuasion voters most open to Democrats, 92% among mobilization targets).
Among persuasion voters who are most open to voting for Democrats, 28% say Democrats look out primarily for the wealthy, 36% say they look out primarily for the poor, and 36% say they look out primarily for the middle class or all groups equally.
If these key voters recognize that the tax bill being pushed by Trump and congressional Republicans gives the wealthiest Americans and big corporations the largest tax cuts, they will oppose it–and the views of Trump and Republicans being for the rich most likely will be deepened. Persuadable voters who are most open to Democrats say by 57% to 43% they would oppose the tax bill, even if it cut their own income taxes. Democratic mobilization targets would oppose it by 73% to 27%.
Democrats still must communicate their own economic plans
This poll shows that Democrats have a strong case to make on the economy, but that more voters need to hear it. Now, only a minority of persuadable voters have a clear sense that Democrats’ economic policies would be good for people like them. There is room to grow and build intensity among Democratic mobilization targets as well (65% say Democratic economic policies would be good for them). These findings were echoed throughout our focus group conversations, in which both persuadable and drop off voters were somewhat disconnected from the policy issues of the day—including both what Democrats stand for, and what Trump and the Republicans are proposing to do.
The good news for Democrats from this poll is that these key groups of target voters see the world in terms that are much closer to the Democratic economic agenda than to the Republican economic agenda. Among all persuadable voters (even those who are less open to Democrats), clear majorities prefer economic ideas aligned with Democrats: