Democratic group's poll shows Trump vulnerable with his base on health care
Scott Bland | June 24, 2019
The Democratic research group American Bridge is preparing a $50 million campaign to win over a slice of President Donald Trump’s base, and new polling has convinced the organization that Trump is vulnerable on pocketbook issues, especially health care, among white working-class voters.
The battleground-state polling is a new step in American Bridge’s plans to target Trump voters in small towns and rural areas with ads linking local events to unpopular Trump policies. The group’s president, Bradley Beychok, is not aiming to win a majority of those people in 2020. But even making modest inroads with these voters compared to 2016 would be a huge boost to the party’s hopes of beating Trump next year.
“We’re trying to go from losing these segments [of voters] 85-15 to maybe 75-25,” Beychok said, acknowledging that, even if the project succeeds, the party will still likely lose that segment badly. “2018 gave us some good indications, and there’s data that these voters are attainable. But they want you to reach them and speak to them in a localized manner. You have to compete for these folks every day, and you can’t wait until the general.”
American Bridge polled voters in small towns and rural areas, screening out self-identified liberal Democrats, to find out what they thought of the president. The group gave Trump a positive job approval rating overall, and it backed a generic Republican for Congress by 29 points over a generic Democrat. But the Republican-leaning pool of voters also gave Trump unfavorable ratings on several key issues, highlighting potential avenues of attack for American Bridge: 50 percent rated Trump negatively on “cutting taxes for people like me.”
Several health care questions were worse for the president. Just 25 percent of respondents gave Trump a positive rating for “reducing health care costs,” compared to 67 percent who rated him negatively, while they split against Trump 39-51 on “taking on the drug and pharmaceutical companies.
The polling is “trying to unpack where Trump’s branding exists and where there might be openings to have a conversation with these voters about Trump in a way that makes them reconsider their loyalty or attachment to him,” said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster with the firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research who is working on the project.
There is evidence from the 2018 midterms that, while Democrats have struggled mightily with rural voters in recent elections, there is an opening for improvement.
Voter-file analysis recently conducted by Catalist, the Democratic data firm, indicated that the party’s gains in 2018 House races were actually strongest in rural areas, not the suburban ones that got more media coverage, relative to the results of the 2016 presidential election. The gains “weren’t enough to get over 50 percent and win seats in many rural districts,” Catalist’s Yair Ghitza wrote — but winning a bigger share of the rural vote in key swing states in 2020 could put Democrats on a path back to the White House.
Beychok said it’s imperative for Democrats to begin that work now, long before they have a 2020 presidential nominee, in order to have a fighting chance of flipping some of these voters. In a departure from past research efforts, American Bridge is focusing its research on the county-level impact of Trump policies and deploying door-to-door canvassers to find stories that could resonate with voters largely predisposed to vote against Democrats.
“We have to recognize Trump’s strengths, and one of them is that he’s a very good healer,” Beychok said, referencing Trump's ability to rebound from negative news during the 2016 election and anticipating that the president’s general election strategy will focus on keeping his base animated.
Indeed, Trump and campaign manager Brad Parscale projected confidence in holding the president’s base in a recent Time magazine interview.
American Bridge’s advertising campaign is designed to fill in the gap before the Democratic primary wraps up next year, Beychok said, but the results of that primary will obviously play a huge role in the general election results. In the meantime, the Democratic group is trying to give a chunk of Trump’s base as much reason to waver as possible while the presidential candidates are firing up the base.
“There’s this construct in the Democratic Party: focus on the base, or focus on white working-class voters,” Beychok said. “The idea you can’t do both is false.”
The survey was conducted online by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research from June 3-9, surveying 1,700 voters in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.