Democrats Need to Mind the Gap Between Their Base and Swing Voters

Charlie Cook New
November 12, 2019

Sometimes things can seem contradictory but are not necessarily so. A variety of polls released this week on the 2020 presidential race painted very different pictures of President Trump’s odds for reelection, depending on how narrowly they zoomed in on the electorate.

The New York Times and Siena College surveys of six swing states—Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, plus the three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) that effectively determined the outcome of the 2016 election—showed very close contests when Trump was matched up with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden was ahead in four of the six states, even in one and behind in one. Sanders led Trump in three and was behind in three, while Warren was ahead in one, tied in two, and behind in three. For all three candidates in all six states, the margins were 6 points or less, usually between 1 and 3 points.

But three national polls also released this week indicated Trump was in considerably tougher shape. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Trump trailing each of the five leading Democratic contenders while a Fox News poll showed Trump behind against all four Democrats they tested. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Trump behind Biden and Warren, the only two they tested.

On Thursday, a set of four polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in collaboration with The Cook Political Report in the states that used to be called the Blue Wall—Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin showed between 31 and 33 percent of voters would definitely vote against President Trump, with another 6 to 11 percent probably voting against him. Just 21 to 24 percent in these states would definitely vote for him, with another 10 or 11 percent probably voting for him.

The four Kaiser/Cook Political Report polls used a novel new multi-modal methodology that started with a mailing to registered voters inviting and incentivizing them to go online and participate in the survey. Those that did not respond were then called for more traditional telephone interviews (on both landlines and cell phones). This method is designed to reduce the runaway costs of polling by conducting as many of the interviews as possible online before the more expensive telephone-interviewing phase begins.

The matchups between the president and generic Democratic candidates demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge Trump faces and the level of self-inflicted damage that he has sustained, while the tighter matchups between Trump and specific Democrats shows just how close this election is likely to be and how difficult it will be for Democrats to translate a widespread antipathy toward Trump into 270 electoral votes. They don’t call these states “swing states” for nothing; it is unrealistic to expect big margins in any of these. The larger national margins for Democrats are inflated by Democrats winning by huge margins in deep-blue states like California and New York, whereas Republican votes are more efficiently allocated around the country, wasting fewer votes.

Particularly interesting in this survey was when swing voters, defined as those who either say they were undecided in their presidential voting or that they “only probably” would vote for either Trump or the Democrat, were asked whether various progressive proposals were good or bad ideas.

In Michigan, three progressive agenda items—a Green New Deal, providing “a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally,” and banning the future sale of assault rifles—received substantial support, with about two-thirds of voters saying each is a good idea. Support dropped from there for ideas like banning all assault weapons (51 percent support), a ban on fracking (40 percent), Medicare-for-all (34 percent), and no longer detaining people for crossing the U.S. border illegally (24 percent).

Similarly, among Minnesota swing voters, 76 percent said a pathway to citizenship was a good idea, 68 percent agreed on banning future sales of assault rifles, and 64 percent backed the Green New Deal.

A pathway to citizenship for immigrants also garnered the most support in Pennsylvania, with 72 percent saying it was a good idea. Sixty-nine percent agreed that a Green New Deal was a good idea, as did 67 percent on banning new assault-rifle sales.

Wisconsin voters answered similarly, with 75 percent approving of a pathway to citizenship, and 65 percent approving of both the new assault-weapon sales ban and the Green New Deal.

Yet in all three states, like in Michigan, support fell precipitously for favorite ideas of the Democratic left, such as an outright assault-weapon prohibition, fracking bans, and Medicare-for-all.

Like on the subways in London, Democrats would be well advised to “mind the gap” between their base and swing voters.

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on November 8, 2019