Face-to-Face Conversations with 1,150 Battleground State Working-Class Voters Reveal Softened Trump Support, Galvanized Democratic Base and Support for Bold Progressive Policy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Working America, the labor movement’s field organizing arm, released today its newest Front Porch Focus Group report in advance of the 2020 presidential election. Face-to-face conversations with more than 1,150 working-class voters found softened Trump support, a galvanized Democratic base, and support for progressive policy proposals. Field findings were bolstered by an online long-term panel of 1,900 working-class voters whom Working America has tracked since the 2016 election cycle.
“In-person engagement allows us to hear people express their views in their own words and uncover the rich texture of how people are processing the political moment we’re in,” said Matt Morrison, executive director of Working America. “We can see the difference between what polling measures tell us versus what working class voters are really feeling.”
Working America’s Front Porch Focus Group reports combine the scale of a public opinion survey with the texture of a focus group, allowing the organization to pinpoint trends early on through qualitative and quantitative analysis. This type of approach and immersion in working-class communities made Working America among the first to report on Trump’s appeal among white working-class voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania in January of 2016.
“After talking to hundreds of persuadable voters, I realized many don’t think in clear-cut ideological terms,” said Laura Jensvold, a canvasser that surveyed voters in Pennsylvania for this report. “There’s a real opportunity for progressives to win these up-for-grabs voters through authentic engagement that connects the dots between their personal experience and their political choices.”
For this report, Working America went door-to-door from December 17 through January 17, 2020, engaging in doorstep conversations with 1,153 persuadable and Democratic-leaning infrequent voters in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Working America also re-interviewed 1,920 voters whom it’s tracked since the 2016 cycle, from January 3 to 8, 2020.
Notable findings from the report include:
Fissures in Trump’s support emerge among the working-class. One in four 2016 Trump voters (23%) do not back him in our online survey. When canvassers dug into the impact of Trump’s first term, most people said that it either made no difference or hurt their family. Even 1 in 5 of those who told us Trump’s first term in office helped their family say they plan to vote for the Democratic nominee. While Trump’s support seems to have hardened among his remaining supporters, his base of support appears to have contracted, rather than expanded.
The Democratic base is galvanized against Trump. In our online survey, 2016 Clinton voters and those base voters who skipped 2016 say overwhelmingly (86%) they are unified behind whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be. Despite pundits’ concerns with the potentially divisive impact of a Democratic nominating contest, these voters are not turned off from participating in the 2020 election.
In 2020, persuadable voters in key battleground states — Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are as receptive to a wide range of progressive policies as the Democratic base. The policy details of the Green New Deal or expanding the Affordable Care Act matter less to voters than the need to take action.
The Trump tax plan is remarkably unpopular, showing surprising potential for voter persuasion against him. Our face-to-face conversations revealed that Trump’s tax plan has very little support. In fact, working-class people described, in concrete terms, how they were personally affected or did not feel tangible benefits of the tax code overhaul. Regardless of party affiliation, the bill piqued voters’ sense of fairness because the bill disproportionately benefited the rich. Engaging with voters on the Trump tax bill could prove to be a promising approach for progressives looking to win persuadable voters.
Place and race matter. Geography—particularly the rural-urban divide—and race animated the partisan polarization of 2016. Small towns moved decidedly toward Trump while big metros shifted toward Democrats. A stark racial polarization was evident. For example, on matters such as building a border wall and Medicare for All, our data show that race is strongly predictive of support or opposition for these policies. Voters of color are only about one-third as supportive as white voters of building a wall. But on other issues like expanding the Affordable Care Act, addressing climate change and expanding the right to form a union, our data show there was strong cross-racial appeal.
The majority of voters we spoke with believe that Trump has committed acts that are grounds for his impeachment, but many excuse his behavior as typical of politicians. Our conversations on impeachment track public opinion polling of support vs. opposition. But what stands out from our vantage point on the ground in working-class communities is the number of people who are planning to vote for Trump in 2020 and believe he’s committed impeachable offenses (11%). The sentiment, regardless of the voter’s partisan preference, casts a cynical view of politicians broadly. As one voter said, “They’ve all done something wrong.”
You can learn more about the report’s methodology by reading the report, “How 1,200 Persuadable and Democratic Base Voters in Battleground States See the 2020 Election,” here. Additionally, you can learn more about how Working America identifies persuadable voters in its new vote gain calculator tool. Finally, you can find previous Front Porch Focus Group reports at www.workingamerica.org/FPFGreports.
Since 2003, Working America has mobilized working people who don’t have the benefit of a union at work to fight for good jobs and a fair economy. As the 3-million member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, we unite working people in urban and suburban communities around a shared economic agenda. For more information, visit www.WorkingAmerica.org.