How Democrats Can Beat Trump
And win the state. Polls show which issues are winners — or too leftist.
Bruce Murphy concludes that “Wisconsin looms as the most important state in America in the 2020 election.” Recently, several analyses have found that President Donald Trump could lose the popular vote by as much as five million votes and still win the electoral college.
The next graph shows the 17 states where both Trump and Hillary Clinton received between 45 percent and 55 percent of the 2016 two-party presidential vote. Even while losing the overall popular vote by 2.9 million, Trump won in the electoral college with his narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2020, Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania, so long as he won Wisconsin and every other state he won in 2016.
Democrats lost Wisconsin in 2016 because a number of white voters who had supported Obama switched to Trump. Trump was surprisingly effective in convincing them that Democrats had little interest in their struggles.
In addition, turnout among other Democratic voters was depressed compared to 2012, reflecting the Republican efforts to diminish Clinton’s reputation for integrity.
It would seem, therefore, that reconnecting with voters in rural and small-town Wisconsin would be a Democratic priority. It was striking, however, in the first presidential debate, how little attention was paid to these voters. It would be easy, I think, for rural Wisconsinites to watch the debate and conclude that Democrats have written them off. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the plight of Wisconsin dairy farmers would have balanced some of the demonstrations of the ability to speak Spanish. A recently-issued NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll looked at a number of positions proposed by Democrats, including those advocated by the candidates for president. Many of them were supported by a majority of voters, but others were not.
Several of these proposals are financially related, including increased taxes on high incomes, free college tuition, and raising the minimum wage. These proposals, and the level of support, are shown in the graph below. I have included the response to a minimum wage question on the April Marquette Law School poll (which didn’t specify an amount.
As the next graph shows, there is also majority support for several climate related proposals. Although a carbon tax enjoys majority support—and is particularly favored by economists—it has had rough sledding politically, including being voted down in Washington state and contributing to the “yellow vest” protests in France. The green new deal has been widely mocked for throwing in everything on its supporters’ wish list; however, it may help shift the focus of climate change measures from austerity to an opportunity to revive job growth.
There is also majority support for two gun-control proposals. One is requiring background checks for private gun sales and those at gun shows. A second is banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons.
Both the Marquette poll (in October of 2018) and the NPR poll asked about undocumented immigrants. The questions and their wording were somewhat different. NPR asked whether a “pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the US illegally” is a good or bad idea. Marquette asked respondents to choose one of three alternatives for undocumented immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.:
- Allow them to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
- Allow them stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but not apply for U.S. citizenship.
- Require them to leave their jobs and the U.S.
Despite the difference in wording (and two different samples), the results were strikingly similar. In both, nearly two-thirds of respondents opted for a pathway to citizenship. Only 15 percent chose the Trumpist solution—to make the immigrants leave.
A word of caution is in order. Neither poll described the form the pathway to citizenship would take. If the path appeared to reward people who were already in the United States, I suspect that support might shrink.
“Medicare for all” gets majority support if it is voluntary, meaning that it allows people under 65 to sign up for a Medicare-like program voluntarily. However, if it requires people to give up private health insurance, this support goes away.
There are other examples of unpopular proposals from Democrats, as reflected in the graph below. Two of these relate to the immigration controversy. Despite majority support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, there is majority opposition to two proposals that were endorsed by several of the presidential candidates: offering health insurance for undocumented immigrants and decriminalizing illegal border crossings.
The NPR poll covers a national sample. This raises the question of how well the opinions found in that survey also apply to Wisconsin. If the respondents were limited to Wisconsin voters, should we expect the answers to change?
The results on two of the issues described above suggest a possible answer. When the Marquette poll asked Wisconsinites about undocumented immigrants, two thirds supported a path to citizenship; the same level of support as NPR’s national sample. Both groups also supported raising the minimum wage. Any differences fall well within each poll’s confidence intervals.
In addition, both polls ask two questions related to support for Trump, as does a third—a March Emerson College Poll of Wisconsin voters. The first of these questions asks whether the voter intends to vote for Trump–or for someone else. The chart below shows the responses of those willing to offer an opinion.
The next question asked by all three polls is whether they approve or disapprove of Trump. Again, the Wisconsin samples align closely with NPR’s national sample. I think it is safe to assume that the issues supported by the people in NPR’s national poll would also be supported by a poll of Wisconsinites. Likewise, those proposals rejected by the national poll would be likely rejected in a Wisconsin poll.
There are numerous proposals supported both by a majority of Democrats and a majority of American voters. There are others that, although supported by the factions of the base, are rejected by a majority of the voters. Ideally, the first group will constitute the platform of the eventual candidate.
The danger is that in trying to win the primary, the eventual candidate will either end up saddled with a slate of proposals that is unpopular with the majority of voters or that the nominee will try to walk back some of the positions endorsed during the primary. The debates are likely to further identify those candidates who are looking ahead to the November election versus those concentrating on the primary.