Democratic drop-off voters more motivated about 2018 than 2016

April 24, 2017


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Guy Cecil, Chairman, Priorities USA
Global Strategy Group
Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group
DATE: April 24, 2017
RE: Democratic drop-off voters more motivated about 2018 than 2016


Democrats’ success in the 2018 midterm elections depends, in large part, on their ability to motivate the party’s core supporters to turn out – and a new poll conducted for Priorities USA suggests these voters are already more motivated to vote next year than they were in 2016.

According to the survey, 8 in 10 of Democratic and Democratic-leaning “drop-off” voters say they are motivated to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. While only a third of these voters believed the 2016 election had a big impact on their lives, nearly half of them already think the 2018 elections will have a big impact on them personally.

Moving forward, Democrats should continue to focus on economic issues, which are extremely important both to drop- off voters and voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. In particular, Democrats should highlight the economic ramifications and loss of coverage that would occur as a result of Trump and Republicans’ health care proposals, as Trump’s health care policies are particularly concerning to drop-off voters.

There are important signs that drop-off voters, including those who did not vote in 2016, may be more motivated to vote in the 2018 elections than they were to vote in the last presidential election.

Among all drop-off voters, only 32% say the election of Donald Trump as president had a big impact on their own lives, while 37% say the Trump’s election has had no impact on them personally. Among those who did not vote in 2016, 41% say the last election did not have any impact on their own lives.

By comparison, 46% of all drop-off voters say the next elections in 2018 for Congress and other offices will have a big impact on their lives, and only 13% say it will have no impact on them personally. These results are essentially the same for the sample of presidential year drop-off voters and the sample of mid-term drop-off voters.

In a separate measurement, 58% of all drop-off voters say they are extremely motivated and enthusiastic about voting in the 2018 elections (ratings of 9 and 10 on zero-to-ten scale), and another 22% are somewhat motivated and enthusiastic (score of 6, 7 and 8). Mid-term drop-off voters (61%) are somewhat more likely than presidential drop-off voters (56%) to rate themselves as extremely motivated and enthusiastic. Whites (64%) and Hispanics (62%) are more likely than African Americans (49%) to rate themselves as extremely enthusiastic about voting in 2018. Within whites, white men age 50 and older are less likely than average to rate their motivation highly.

Some of the causes of Democrats not voting in 2016 were related to the specific circumstances of that election.

Among the 2016 non-voters, 36% say they decided not to vote in advance of Election Day and 39% say they decided not to vote at the last minute, while 24% volunteer that they are in both of these camps to a degree. Among those who made an advance decision not to vote, volunteered reasons for not voting focus on their lack of support for either candidate. Some voters who made a last minute decision not to vote volunteer some of these same considerations, but many also volunteer special personal circumstances (e.g., illness, family emergency, etc.). Among the 2016 non- voters, 59% report they received a pro-Clinton contact leading up to the election; of those, 69% report a favorable reaction to the contact they received (34% very favorable, 35% somewhat favorable).

Drop-off voters, like Obama-Trump voters, express dissatisfaction with the economy and their own personal economic situations.

Drop-off voters (43%) – especially those who did not vote in 2016 (46%) – feel their income is falling behind the cost of living. Drop-off voters over 50 (51%) and white non-college drop-off voters (53%) in particular feel their income is falling behind the cost of living. In our previous research, Obama-Trump voters reported a similar level of economic strain (50% income falling behind the cost of living).

Among Obama-Trump voters, just 16% say they are “very satisfied” with the state of the economy (47% are dissatisfied overall), as do 8% of drop-off voters (41% are dissatisfied). Drop-off voters who are particularly dissatisfied include women (46%), voters over 50 (42%), African American voters (50%), and non-college voters (44%).

The common bond that unites drop-off voters is a strong dislike of Donald Trump.

Only 8% of drop-off voters express a favorable opinion of Donald Trump, while 84% express an unfavorable opinion of him. There is real intensity to these feelings: 74% are very unfavorable to Trump.

Drop-off voters also dislike the Republican Party, but not with the same intensity that defines their feelings toward Trump; 77% are unfavorable to the GOP, with 51% very unfavorable.

Trump is such a hot button for these voters that when we ask them to volunteer the most important issue facing the country, the most commonly volunteered answer is “Donald Trump” (16%) rather than any specific policy issue.

Just as we saw in our research among Obama-Trump voters, healthcare is a critical motivator for Democratic drop-off voters.

When we ask drop-off voters which one or two issues concern them most personally about Trump and his administration, healthcare leads the list and is a top tier issue across the range of demographic subgroups.

Among Hispanics, immigration (49%) is selected a little more frequently than healthcare (46%); 34% of whites and 30% of African Americans also select immigration as a top concern.

Women’s rights issues are the most frequently selected issue among white women under the age of 50 (59%, compared to 50% for healthcare) and college-educated white women (50%, compared to 43% for healthcare).

When we ask respondents for their reactions to a long list of concerns people might have about Donald Trump, items related to healthcare are frequently rated as very major concerns. Highly rated concerns related to healthcare include:

  • His policies on healthcare would increase costs for seniors and lower-income Americans and cause millions of Americans to lose their health coverage,
  • He will make too many cuts to important programs that seniors and working people depend on, like Medicare and Medicaid,
  • Rather than working to fix Obamacare to make it stronger, Trump will do things to make Obamacare fail and as a result millions of Americans will lose their health coverage.

Furthermore, respondents identify cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other healthcare programs as policies that would have a very bad effect on them personally.

The idea that Trump will go too far in favoring the wealthy over working people already has enormous credibility with drop-off voters, as does the idea that Trump’s economic policies will be bad for them personally.

Fully 92% of drop-off voters say that Trump’s economic policies will favor the wealthy rather than the middle class, the poor, or all groups equally (90% say the same about the policies of the Republicans in Congress). By comparison, 74% say the Democrats in Congress mainly look out for the middle class or for all groups equally; only 11% say the Democrats mainly look out for the wealthy (a big change from what we found in our survey of Obama-Trump voters).

On a personal level, only 8% of drop-off voters say that Trump’s economic policies will be good for people like them, while 67% say his policies will be bad for them (39% very bad). There is room for Democrats to grow their profile for having policies that are good for people; 60% of drop-off voters say the economic policies of the Democrats in Congress will be good for people like them, while 15% say the Democrats’ economic policies will be bad for people like them.

The survey identifies a host of economic policies that drop-off voters say would be very good for people like them.

Among mid-term drop-off voters, four items stand out in a top tier in this regard:

  • Making sure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes (72% very good),
  • Repairing and modernizing our country’s infrastructure, like roads, bridges, airports, and energy and water systems 70%),
  • Strengthening wage laws – including raising the minimum wage and requiring employers to pay overtime wages (69%),
  • Increasing the development of renewable energy resources, including solar energy and wind power (68%).

The next tier of highly testing policies with mid-term drop-off voters includes:

  • Cutting interest rates for federal student loans and allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans at a lower interest rate (62%),
  • Providing high-quality training, apprentice programs, and skill-building for workers (62%),
  • Reducing taxes on the middle class and working families (62%),
  • Raising taxes on millionaires and the wealthiest Americans (60%).

About This Poll

This survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group and Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group among 402 Democrats who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election and 401 Democrats who voted in 2016 but who do not typically vote in off-year elections. The interviews were conducted by telephone between March 31 and April 5, 2017. Compared to the electorate as a whole, respondents in our drop-off sample are substantially more likely to be people of color (41% African American, Hispanic, or Asian), young (22% under the age of 29), female (60%), and unmarried (46% single, separated, widowed, or divorced). All of the 2016 presidential drop-off voters reported that they voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and all of the mid-term drop-off voters reported that they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.