New Poll & Messaging Guidance: Democrats Must Keep Focus on Economy and Health Care

February 13, 2018


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Priorities USA
Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group
Global Strategy Group
DATE: February 13, 2018
RE: New Poll & Messaging Guidance: Democrats Must Keep Focus on Economy and Health Care


Democrats continue to hold an advantage over Republicans heading into the midterms but must reassert control over the economic narrative if they are going to maximize electoral success in House, Senate and governors’ races this fall.

For much of the past year Democrats have debated Republicans on tax reform and the Republican efforts to dismantle and sabotage the Affordable Care Act. When that debate was being waged, voters overwhelmingly sided with Democrats. In the last few weeks, Democrats turned their attention to other issues while Trump has continued to promote his economic policies, and Trump’s numbers have incrementally improved as a result. Trump continues to maintain significant liabilities with voters, including a heightened view that his economic policies favor the wealthy and big business, while Democrats enjoy a large advantage in voter enthusiasm and a desire for greater checks and balances. While still on track for a successful November, the extent of Democratic gains will be blunted if Democrats do not reengage more aggressively in speaking to the economic and health care priorities of voters.

Democrats continue to have winning messages on health care and the economy, but right now voters are not hearing them. That must change.

Last November, polling by Priorities USA showed that voters had top-of-mind recall of the failings of Donald Trump’s health care and tax policies and readily volunteered these criticisms when asked what they remembered seeing and hearing lately about Trump. In our current polling, by contrast, the negative comments about Trump focus on his tweeting, with little focus on either health care or taxes. There’s no question that Trump benefits when a critique of his tax and health care policies is not front and center – especially when voters are hearing Trump’s side of the story on the economy. Our polling shows that criticisms of Trump’s handling of the economy are strong and persuasive, but voters must hear them more loudly and clearly than currently is the case.

Even while waging other important fights, Democrats must continue to focus on economic issues like taxes and health care and not allow themselves to be sidetracked and distracted by Trump’s latest tweets. This is important for both persuading and mobilizing voters in November.

Messaging on Taxes And The Economy

When voters have heard messages from both Democrats and Republicans on the tax bill, Democrats have won. Unfortunately, that debate has been relatively one-sided recently and voters have not heard nearly as much from Democrats.

While Republican gains have not been enough to counter the extraordinary political environment for Democrats, it is imperative that Democrats return to focusing on the economic message and counter the narrative being pushed by the White House, Republicans in Congress and their special interest backers.

Voters are already predisposed to believe that Trump’s tax law will mostly benefit large corporations and the rich, while not doing a lot for them or the average worker.

  •  76% think large corporations will benefit a lot.
  •  67% think millionaires and other wealthy individuals will benefit a lot.
  • 66% think corporate CEOs will benefit a lot.
  • 22% think the average worker will benefit a lot.
  • 16% think they and their family will benefit a lot.

The most important and effective messages on Trump’s economic policies for Democrats to focus on reinforce with voters the fact that Trump’s economic policies will further enrich the wealthy and big corporations while hurting the middle class:

  • Donald Trump’s policies are adding to the economic burdens of average families by raising the cost of health care and driving up insurance premiums. And Trump has broken his promise to crack down on excessive drug prices. Instead, he has given the big drug companies huge tax breaks while allowing them to charge as much as they want, without any controls or negotiation.
    • 60% of voters have major concerns, including 71% among independents.
  • Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, but his administration is being run by bankers, corporate lobbyists and executives from Wall Street, big oil and big drug companies. And it shows in Trump’s policies. Under his tax law, for example, the biggest and most profitable corporations get a huge, permanent tax cut, while millions of middle-class Americans will see their taxes go up.
    • 61% of voters have major concerns, including 52% among soft Trump voters and 73% among the voters who, during the survey, moved toward believing that Trump’s policies are not good for people like them.
  • Donald Trump’s policies are exploding the federal budget deficit and national debt. His tax bill alone would add 1.5 TRILLION dollars to the debt, all to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations.
    • 58% of voters have major concerns, including 62% among people undecided on the generic ballot.
  • While giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations, Donald Trump has proposed cutting programs that help young people and workers succeed in the 21st century economy. Trump’s proposed budget would cut work-study programs, college loan programs, career and technical education, and programs to reduce student debt.
    • 57% of voters have major concerns, including 64% among voters age 18-34.

The survey illustrated that these messages are four of the most effective at proving to voters that the Trump/Republican policies are harmful to the middle class. At the start of the survey, 35% of voters said that Trump’s economic policies are good for people like them, while 34% said they are bad for them. After hearing these and other messages about Trump’s economic record as President, 44% of voters said that Trump’s policies are bad for people like them, with only 30% saying they are good for people like them.

Trump and Congressional Republicans Still Face Uphill Battle

President Trump remains underwater and several key indicators have worsened for him, but his and the Republicans’ messaging on taxes and the economy have led to a slight improvement in his overall numbers.

Trump’s job approval among voters stands at 44-53, up slightly from November when he was at 40-54.

While still favoring Democrats, the generic congressional ballot result shows a more narrow advantage than in previous polls. Among all voters who cast ballots in either 2012 or 2016, Democrats lead by 46% to 42%. But beneath the surface, things are actually worse for the GOP. Among those voters who are currently undecided on the generic ballot, Trump’s approval rating is underwater at 35-50, suggesting those voters are far more likely to support Democratic candidates in November. And by 51% to 39% voters say they would prefer to see more Democrats elected to Congress this year to be a check and balance on Trump rather than more Republicans to help Trump pass his policies and programs. The leanings of undecided voters and the preference for more Democrats to be a check on Trump both show that Trump is a lead weight for Republicans.

A large enthusiasm gap also gives Democrats an additional advantage in the 2018 elections. When asked, on a scale of 0-10, how enthusiastic they are about voting in this year’s elections, 69% of presidential year voters rated themselves 7-10. This percentage is exactly aligned with the percentage of 2012 voters who turned out in the 2014 wave election. Among voters who say they are in this 7-10 range, the generic congressional ballot gives Democrats a 51-40 advantage.

Further proof points indicate that Democrats hold a significant enthusiasm advantage:

  • 78% of those who voted for Clinton in 2016 are 7-10, while only 64% of Trump voters are 7-10.
  • 77% of Democrats are 7-10, compared to 67% of Republicans.

Despite Trump and the GOP’s efforts to cast their tax law as helping the middle class, voters believe that President Trump mainly looks out for the interests of wealthy people and big corporations over the interests of regular people by a margin of 60-25, and the same of Republicans in Congress by a margin of 58-19.

Voters continue to have serious issues with Donald Trump on a range of traits and policies, with several trending in an increasingly negative direction for Trump:

  • Temperament and leadership style: 28/64 fav/unfav (the highest unfav we’ve seen on this trait)
  • Truthfulness in the things he says: 29/59 fav/unfav (the highest unfav we’ve seen on this trait)
  • Response to the investigations of his campaign by the FBI and special prosecutor: 28/53 fav/unfav
  • Dealings with Russia and Putin: 25/52 fav/unfav
  • Immigration policies: 39/52 fav/unfav
  • Environmental polities: 25/50 fav/unfav
  • Handling of the situation with North Korea: 37/49 fav/unfav

However, Trump has made slight improvements in several areas as voters have heard less from Democrats on the issues, reinforcing the need to focus our messaging in these areas:

  • Health care policies: 34/46 fav/unfav (up from 23/53)
  • Tax Policies: 46/42 fav/unfav (up from 32/48)
  • Economic policies: 46/39 fav/unfav (up from 38/43)

About This Poll

Garin-Hart-Yang and Global Strategy Group conducted this poll by telephone February 2 – February 7, with a representative national cross section of 1,001 presidential year voters. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points, and care has been taken to ensure that the geographic and demographic divisions of the electorate are properly represented based on past voter turnout statistics.