New Florida Polling: Trump’s Economy Presents Opportunity for Democrats

July 23, 2019


Democrats currently hold a narrow and fragile advantage over Donald Trump in Florida, a perennial swing state that will be all but essential to a Trump Electoral College victory in November 2020. True to form, we project the race for president in Florida to be extremely tight, but new polling from Priorities USA shows that Democrats can press their advantage, particularly with voters who aren’t seeing the benefits of Trump’s economy.

Our prior battleground polling has shown how the state of the national economy provides the president a lifeline, giving many voters something positive to say about him, despite disapproving of his handling of a host of other issues. Priorities’ first battleground poll of the 2020 cycle shows that Florida is no exception: Donald Trump’s approval on the economy runs significantly ahead of his overall job approval. Even so, six in ten Florida voters (61%) say they have not personally benefited much, if at all, from Donald Trump’s economic policies. Moreover, few voters believe Donald Trump has done things to reverse the rising cost of health care or help Americans keep up with the cost of living. This is a significant opportunity for Democrats, but requires a major investment in time and resources to communicate. While voters are open to arguments that the president’s agenda has worsened these problems, they are not yet convinced. On the issue of “wages and income falling behind the cost of living” only a third (31%) believe Trump is making the problem worse, while another 35% are unsure what he is doing or think it’s having little impact either way. On the “high cost of health care” an even larger segment of the Florida electorate (42%) give a mixed or neutral assessment.

Florida will be closely contested, and Democrats must continue to make the case that Donald Trump’s agenda is leaving middle-class Americans and working families behind. If Democrats don’t make this case in earned and paid media, many voters may be inclined to give the president the benefit of the doubt on the core issue of the economy and he will once again win the state.

Persuasion and Turnout in Florida

The 2020 election in Florida is going to be close. Donald Trump won Florida by less than 120,000 votes in 2016, and in 2018, Republicans very narrowly won an open seat for Governor and defeated a sitting Democratic senator. And now, against a generic Democratic candidate for president, Donald Trump trails by just four points: 45% for the Democrat, 41% for the president, with 14% undecided. This slight deficit reflects voters’ overall opinion of the president, who receives 48% job approval (while 52% disapprove) – despite 56% approval (while 44% disapprove) on his handling of the economy.

Our poll identified a 16% share of voters who either started out undecided, or switched sides during the survey, which included messaging. Many of these “persuadable” voters did not vote in Florida in 2016, but those who did are a mostly Trump-friendly group, with 48% backing then-candidate Trump and just 26% backing Clinton, underscoring how the four-point lead may be more fragile than it looks. On the other hand, among those “persuadables” who voted in 2012, Obama won by 19 points (54% to 35%). These largely undecided voters are especially likely to disapprove of the job the president is doing (58% disapprove), but are especially likely to approve of his handling of the economy (64%). These voters need more information about how Trump and his actions as president have harmed people like them, while putting big corporations and the wealthy first.

Winning over many swing voters will be an essential task for Democrats in 2020, but there is also a critical share of “turnout voters” in the Florida electorate that lean towards the Democrats but sat out the election in 2016. These voters are nearly universal in their disapproval of Donald Trump (74% “strongly” disapprove of Trump), and two thirds (64%) already say they are paying more attention to politics than four years ago, a reminder that the president alone is likely to be a powerful motivator for many new voters, as he was in the 2018 midterms. However, only 28% of turnout voters say they are extremely motivated and enthusiastic about voting, compared to 62% of voters in the “likely voter” Democratic base. Most concerning for Democrats, just 34% of these turnout targets believe their vote “matters a lot” for who wins in 2020 – for comparison, fully two thirds (68%) of Republican base voters believe their vote matters a lot. In other words,
dislike for Trump alone will not be enough to turn many of these voters out, and progressives must continue to engage them on the issues important to them, while also making the case that Florida is a decisive state where every vote counts.  

The economy will be a defining issue in 2020. In Florida, nearly half (46%) of voters are “very” or “fairly” satisfied with economic conditions in the country, and these voters give Trump a strong 58-point lead against a generic Democrat. On the other hand, a Democratic candidate starts out with a strong 35-point lead among voters who are just “somewhat satisfied” and dominates with dissatisfied voters (+68), and these latter two groups move towards Democrats after hearing a series of messages about the Trump economy. Views about the economy are less than clear-cut with both turnout targets and persuadable voters. Specifically, while voters in general tend to be satisfied with their personal financial situation, both “persuadable voters” and “turnout voters” tend to be more dissatisfied.

When making the connection directly to Trump, the picture is even clearer. Just 24% of swing voters in Florida and just 12% of turnout targets believe Donald Trump’s economic policies have benefitted them “some” or “a lot” personally.

Trump’s economy has not been great for everyone, and Democrats have the opening to make the case to both persuadable voters and GOTV targets in Florida that Trump is making it even harder for working families to get by.

Key Issues in Florida

Health care dominated the 2018 midterms and the issue is set to be at the top of voters’ minds once again in 2020. In Florida, 52% of likely voters cite health care in their top four issues, the only issue cited by a majority (“wages keeping up with the cost of living” came second with 33%, followed by immigration with 31%).

Health care also remains one of Democrats’ biggest advantages against the president. Among likely voters, half (50%) view health care as an issue where Donald Trump’s handling of the issue is more of a reason to replace him rather than reelect him. Health care is joined by several other issues where more voters express doubt than confidence in the president – including climate change, an issue that hits especially close to home for many coastal communities in Florida. However, underscoring the lifeline economic issues may provide Trump if Democrats do not make their case, “the economy” is one issue that affords the president an advantage for his re-elect.

Share of likely voters who say Donald Trump’s handling of each issue is more a reason to vote for someone else with a different approach, vs. more a reason to reelect him:

  • Climate change: Reason to elect someone else, 51%; To reelect Trump, 24% (+27)

  • Health care: Reason to elect someone else, 50%; To reelect Trump, 35% (+15)

  • Social Security & Medicare: Reason to elect someone else, 48%; To reelect Trump, 33% (+15)

  • Wages and cost of living: Reason to elect someone else, 45%; To reelect Trump, 39% (+6)

  • Immigration: Reason to elect someone else, 48%; To reelect Trump, 46% (+2)

  • The economy: Reason to elect someone else, 39%; To reelect Trump, 45% (-6)

A separate battery of questions asking voters to specify whether Trump is actively making particular problems worse, better or not making much difference either way, further demonstrates how important it is for Democrats to continue to make the case that the president is part of the problem when it comes to economic issues. On some issues, the balance of opinion again falls strongly against the president. On many key economic issues, however, including the cost of health care and prescription drugs, many persuadable voters are far more likely to see the president as not having done much than they are to say he is making the problem worse.

Donald Trump is vulnerable on pocketbook issues in Florida. But Democrats must continue to press their case with persuadable voters, many of whom have not decided Trump is part of the problem.

Messaging on Pocketbook Issues

Health care and pocketbook issues are also core to the most effective overall narratives against Trump. Our poll exposed respondents to five arguments about how Donald Trump is failing middle class Americans and working families.  Each one was successful in raising doubts among Florida’s persuadable voters as well as turnout targets, but there was roughly a three-way tie for the top-testing message overall.

The message emphasizing Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security was the clear leader among white non-college voters, a core base constituency for Donald Trump.

And when provided a longer battery of specific facts about Donald Trump’s impact on various issues, some of the top-testing messages touch again on Medicare, health care costs, and general cost of living challenges for everyday Floridians.

About This Poll

Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang conducted an online survey of 1,056 likely 2020 general election voters in Florida between June 18th and 30th, 2019. The party identification of respondents in the likely voter sample is 44% Democratic and 45% Republican (including independents who lean towards either party). The survey also included an oversample of 347 Florida Democratic turnout targets. Turnout targets did not vote in 2016 and are Democratic-leaning or are independents who strongly disapprove of Trump. Thirty-eight percent of turnout targets are unregistered but would consider registering to vote in the future.