MEMO: How Democrats Can Build Trust With Their Emerging Base and Solidify 2020 Gains

May 12, 2021

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Priorities USA & Garin-Hart-Yang and Global Strategy Group

DATE:  May 12, 2021

RE: How Democrats Can Build Trust With Their Emerging Base and Solidify 2020 Gains

More voters than ever before turned out and delivered a victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in November. They were the first presidential ticket in American history to earn more than 80 million votes — bringing an unprecedented number of voters into the electoral process. This memo details Priorities’ findings about the voters who did not vote in 2016 but turned out in 2020 for Joe Biden, these “new Biden voters” made up about 10% of the total November 2020 electorate.

This memo explores new Biden voters’ policy preferences, their overall attitudes towards voting, and what Democrats need to do to appeal to these voters in the upcoming midterm elections and beyond. Our data indicates that new Biden voters are motivated by 2020 victories to continue participating in the electoral process. It is up to Democrats to both deliver on the policies they campaigned on and continue to engage voters by effectively communicating the positive impact of their political participation.

The new Biden coalition reflects the growing diversity of America.

In order to be successful in the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats must make considerable efforts and commit substantial resources to reach out to new Biden voters and solidify their support for Democrats beyond the 2020 general election. While, according to Priorities’ modeling, registered voters in key midterm battleground states are 75% white, the coalition of new Biden voters is considerably more diverse. Our data show that new Biden voters are 54% white, 21% Black, 17% Latino, and 4% Asian. Conventional wisdom casts a “swing voter” or a “persuasion voter” as white, however these findings show that we need to do more to engage and persuade voters of color. This will require our campaigns to demonstrate that Joe Biden, along with Democrats in Congress, is competently and effectively tackling the simultaneous health and economic crises caused by Covid-19.

New Biden voters are also considerably younger than the voting population as a whole — 45% were aged 34 or younger. New voters aged 18 to 24 made up 21% of the new Biden voters coalition while only making up 10% of new Trump voters. We know that voting habits and partisan preferences tend to solidify with voters early on. Bringing so many young voters into the fold early presents a major opportunity for Democrats to engage millions of people and earn their support for election cycles to come.

Democrats have an enthusiasm edge now, but we can’t risk complacency.

New Biden voters saw the 2020 general election as a uniquely high stakes contest and cited getting Donald Trump out of office as a major reason they turned out. However, Donald Trump was not the only reason these voters went to the polls. While 82% of new Biden voters listed getting Donald Trump out of office as a “very important” factor in their decision to vote, 91% listed electing someone who would stand up for racial justice as important to their decision and 81% listed that they wanted to stand up for their community and make their voices heard. The importance of these issues intensified for voters after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Increased calls for change in communities and in the media could further elevate the importance of racial justice in the eyes of voters.

When asked how they felt about the outcome of the election, new Biden voters were most likely to list “satisfied,” “happy,” and “encouraged.” Nearly 9 in 10 new Biden voters agreed that “by voting in November, we showed our power, and voting in future elections is our chance to prove we won’t back down.” They also expressed a desire to stay informed about and engaged in politics now that the election is over. The optimism new Biden voters feel about their political power is also made clear in the 79% who said that the 2020 election made them more likely to vote in the future, far more than 56% of new Trump voters who answered the same question in the affirmative.

Enthusiasm among new Biden voters provides Democrats with considerable opportunities to continue to engage these voters in the political process. The overwhelming majority of new Biden voters, 81%, felt that the 2020 election was more important than previous elections. The months leading up to the 2022 midterms will require Democrats to communicate the same urgency about future elections that new Biden voters felt about the 2020 election, as well as the role that these voters played in showing up to vote.

It’s up to Democrats to illustrate to new Biden voters how their vote in the 2020 election made a concrete difference in their communities while highlighting the change they can affect by continuing to participate in future elections. If this isn’t communicated early and often, the enthusiasm advantage may evaporate. Complacency in this area now will very likely lead to losing campaigns in 2022.

Through policy and messaging, Democrats can build trust with new Biden voters. 

As soon as Joe Biden was elected, his administration and Democratic majorities in Congress got to work passing the coronavirus relief the American people need. The American Rescue Plan has maintained overwhelming popular support across the political spectrum. Consequently, the bad faith Republican attacks have proven weak against the demonstrable results of shots in arms and checks in pockets.

Democrats won’t be able to build on our progressive policies if we fail to protect and expand our majorities next year. Congressional Democrats are pushing for landmark progressive legislation because voters showed up for their communities and the issues they care about. With our advertising dollars and messaging strategies, we need to ensure voters see the tangible ways Democrats are delivering for them and directly connect their power at the ballot box to the change happening in Washington. Republicans will try to shift the conversation away from these concrete benefits to communities and toward divisive issues in an effort to fire up the extremes of their base. It’s imperative that we keep the focus on those issues where the majority of Americans are with Democrats. This means continuing to connect voters’ lives and support for Democratic candidates to the popular economic benefits of the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan.

Among new Biden voters, Democrats in Congress have a 68% approval rating compared to an 82% approval rating for the president. While a gap is to be expected as the president has far greater exposure, Democrats can shift their paid media strategy to connect voter enthusiasm more with down-ballot candidates. In 2020, 57% of digital mobilization came from presidential-focused advertisers. Increasing investment in down-ballot mobilization campaigns to make voting more accessible and increase support for Democrats in Congress will be key to energizing new Biden voters to turn out for Democratic House and Senate candidates in the 2022 midterms.

New Biden voters have a great deal of trust in elected Democrats to deliver for their priorities. Over 3 in 4 new Biden voters trust that Democrats will make progress on issues most important to them like providing coronavirus relief, addressing racism, growing the economy, and lowering health care costs. Democrats need to honor the faith voters have placed in them to enact real change on these issues and use the messaging tools at our disposal to showcase how every piece of progressive legislation makes a positive impact on American households and in communities.

While the media narrative is often focused on bipartisanship in Congress, our data show that new Biden voters care far more about Democrats enacting their agenda than achieving compromise for the sake of compromise. By a 20-point margin, new Biden voters would be more concerned if Democrats watered down their policy priorities for the sake of bipartisan compromise than if Democrats moved too far to the left. Just because a plurality of new Biden voters identify as ideologically “moderate” does not mean that they prefer half measures over meaningful change.

Combating attacks on voting rights. 

For many voters, going to the polls is not just about a desire to vote for a preferred candidate. Between registration, ID requirements, navigating ballot requesting mechanisms, arranging transportation to the polls, and so many other legal and logistical hurdles — voters face numerous challenges beyond simply choosing their preferred candidate.

In 2020, half of new Biden voters reported voting by mail, a quarter voted early and a quarter voted on Election Day. These voters took advantage of the numerous access points offered to them in order to cast their ballots. Moreover, 63% of new Biden voters said that an important factor in their decision to turn out was that “there were more options for how to vote so voting felt easier and more convenient.” Just 33% of new Trump voters said the same. After years of enacting voter suppression laws, it’s no surprise that Republicans are passing more restrictions in a desperate attempt to hold on to power even as their popular support continues to shrink.

Democrats have numerous tools at our disposal to counteract Republican attempts to suppress the vote and provide more information to voters about how they can easily participate in upcoming elections. In the courts, Priorities USA will continue to play a key role in challenging voter suppression laws enacted in state legislatures. Measures like signature matching and onerous ID requirements often target voters of color, young voters, and low-income voters disproportionately.

In addition to combating voter suppression through litigation, providing voters with the tools to navigate repressive laws can mitigate their negative impact. Priorities intends to expand our paid media campaigns letting voters “know their rights” and run mobilization campaigns that both encourage voters to make their voice heard in our elections and provide logistical support about requesting a ballot or getting to a polling location.

Conclusion: Maintaining enthusiasm for Joe Biden, Democratic policies is key to midterm victories. 

By beginning sustained communication and engagement campaigns to reach voters now, we can create a strong foundation of consistently popular policies for Democrats to run on in 2022. Communicating the benefits of Democratic priorities through digital channels, where voters are increasingly spending their time, will allow Democrats to demonstrate both that they have kept their promises to their communities and hold the GOP accountable for blocking their overwhelmingly popular agenda. Priorities’ strong, effective paid media strategy, coupled with an aggressive push to protect the right to vote will put Democrats in the best position to claim further victories in the midterm elections and continue to enact policies that work for the American people.

These findings are based on a phone survey conducted from February 9 to 15 among 508 Trump voters and 994 Biden voters who, according to the state voter file, did not vote in the 2016 election. The survey was conducted across AZ, FL, GA, PA, and WI. The margin of error is ±4.4 percentage points.