2020: It’s the economy (and the climate), stupid

Very good stuff from Brian Schaffner and Sean McElwee in the NYT about Obama-Trump voters and the lessons from winning back some of them in 2018.  Short version: Democrats need to run an economic message, not identity politics (i.e., they need to make twitter liberals unhappy):

To understand the potential ramifications of Obama-Trump voters in 2020, it’s worth understanding how they voted in 2018. Among those who voted, three-quarters stuck with the Republican Party. But Democrats did win back about one-fifth of the Obama-Trump group in 2018, which would amount to a net swing of about 1.5 million votes. While the idiosyncratic governing style of Mr. Trump may have been one key factor in bringing Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic fold, it wasn’t the only reason. It’s true that most Obama-Trump voters who stuck with the Republican Party in 2018 strongly approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing as president, but interestingly even half of those who flipped back to the Democratic side at least somewhat approved of Mr. Trump. Democrats won back a significant share of Obama-Trump voters not because those voters disliked Mr. Trump, but in spite of the fact that many actually approved of him.

Instead, these voters appeared to be drawn back toward the Democrats by some of the party’s bread-and butter-issues, and in spite of others. On issues like gun control, health care and the environment, these voters look remarkably like the Democratic Party’s base — those who voted for Obama in 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a Democratic House candidate in 2018. Eighty-four percent of Obama-Trump voters who voted for Democratic House candidates in 2018 want to ban assault rifles, compared to 92 percent of the Democratic base. By contrast, 57 percent of Obama-Trump voters who stayed with Republicans in 2018 support an assault weapons ban (which has far less support among the Republican base).

Medicare for all is surprisingly popular among all Obama-Trump voters, but especially those who voted for Democrats in 2018. Eighty-three percent of those who switched back to the Democratic Party in 2018 support Medicare for all, nearly as high as the 93 percent support the policy achieves among the most solidly blue Democratic voting bloc.

These patterns show that Democrats can win back Obama-Trump voters by focusing on issues that also appeal to their base. Another such issue is climate change. Seventy-three percent of Obama-Trump voters who came back to the Democratic Party in 2018 oppose the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement; among those who stayed with the Republican Party in 2018, 74 percent support that decision.

Notably, the Obama-Trump voters who returned to the Democratic Party in 2018 look less like the Democratic Party base in other ways. A majority support building a border wall and Mr. Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. At the same time, two-thirds of these voters support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to receive deferred action on deportation. [emphasis  mine]

They also have less progressive attitudes when it comes to race and gender. For example, less than half of these voters agree that whites have advantages because of the color of their skin, and an even smaller share think that feminists are making reasonable demands of men. These are your classic cross-pressured voters, aligned with Democrats on many policies that are part of the progressive wish list but likely to be turned off by the party’s rhetoric on identity politics.

The key takeaways in chart form:

And their conclusion:

Following the 2016 presidential election, the Wesleyan Media Project reported that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aired fewer issue-based ads than any other presidential candidate since they started collecting the data in 2000. Perhaps Democrats learned a lesson from 2016: In 2018 the Wesleyan researchers found that Democratic campaign ads were “laser focused” on issues, especially health care, which was the focus of more than half of the advertisements run by Democratic candidates. Our data suggests that this approach helped bring many Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic column while also remobilizing many Obama voters to turn out and vote Democratic again in the midterm election.

Though there is a temptation to focus on Mr. Trump’s personality, if Democrats continue to learn from these elections, they will focus this year’s campaign on their plans to address issues like health care, wages and the environment, lest the Obama-Trump voters become Obama-Trump-Trump voters in 2020.

Of course, maybe their conclusions about the implications of their data are wrong, but, I want to see a good case otherwise before I disagree with Schaffner on anything.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

6 Responses to 2020: It’s the economy (and the climate), stupid

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    If Carville said it today, it would be “it’s the health care, stupid!” This is the number one issue that leaves Republicans with zero credibility from a history of opposing all government efforts to change our current health care system in any meaningful way.
    Attacking Trump on that issue first every time a Democrat speaks is the winning strategy.

  2. Ann Gibson says:

    As a young child I recall in the sixties hearing my parents discussing the death of a relative in the USA. Pat will be paying those bills for a long time. Today I read in the Observer that people are dying in the USA because they can’t afford medical care. People have ended up homeless because of illness. The richest country in the world and your bank account decides if you live or die. That is not civilization. That is shameful.

  3. itchy says:

    Two things:

    1. The article talks exclusively about Obama-Trump voters, then the chart includes Obama-didn’t vote. And those two groups don’t align all the way down. Specifically, they don’t align where Shaffner/McElwee say Democrats should avoid because there’s no support. But among Obama-didn’t vote, maybe there is support?

    And … what are the raw numbers? They say Obama-Trump-Democrat is 1.5 million. How many are Obama-didn’t vote-Democrat?

    2. Surprised (but maybe shouldn’t be) by just how badly “feminists are making reasonable demands” did. I mean, wow. So, the question is, how many of these Obama-Trump voters are (a) men and/or (b) really, really didn’t like Hillary specifically.

    Is it possible that this is all solved with a strategy of “don’t be Hillary”?

    (Which makes me sad, because I was a strong supporter.)

  4. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    “Identity politics” is killing democracy. I have just about grown completely sick and tired of transgender issues, reparations discussion, free college, open borders, apologizing to native American tribes, and making up new words to describe people who don’t fall in line with the latest liberal/identity politics agenda. Why am I sick and tired to these topics? Because they lose elections. State after state … election after election. The cold hard truth is that 10% of the population who get all pissy if I don’t feel guilty for being heterosexual do not win state wide or national elections. Period. And if your tribe can’t win elections then you don’t get shit. And more to the point, you will lose stuff you already had. It is well past time to stop bitching and moaning about “ableism” and “cultural appropriation” and “micro triggers” and “safe places” because all this is getting you is a Trumpist theocracy.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Spoken like an angry old white dude ;-). I’m not even sure what the research would look like, but I actually think this is a great topic for political science to investigate just how much these factors drive otherwise potential Democratic voters away. “Cultural appropriation” ends up being an almost daily ironic joke in the Greene household (e.g, “David, you said hola, that’s cultural appropriation), but we’re all still good liberals. Point being, really worth investigating at a systematic level. And, that, yes, just focus on the damn economy and health care, etc.

  5. R. Jenrette says:

    Interesting that the health care issue brought the most comments in a while.
    It’s health care, stupid!

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