Wisconsin plays a crucial role in the Democrats’ strategy to take back the White House in 2020. That’s why the latest poll in our PollerCoaster 2020 series with Change Research is designed to survey Wisconsin voters in a way that a campaign would in order to develop their strategy to win the state. We tested descriptions of Trump, messages on Trump’s positions and Democratic issues, and more to see exactly what might influence the votes of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in this important state. Here are the top takeaways from our survey of Wisconsin general election voters from August 9 to August 11, 2019. Thanks to Ben Greenfield of Change Research for his support in developing this analysis.
You can dig into the full poll results here: toplines | crosstabs
Trump is more popular here. The President’s job approval rating among Wisconsin voters is 48-51%. His personal favorability rating is 45-51%. His approval rating on the economy is 50-48%.
Trump trails the Democratic candidate by only 1%. 39% of voters say they’ll “definitely vote” for the Democratic candidate, and 38% say they’ll “definitely vote” for Trump. When we include “probably vote”, the Democrat leads 46-45%. Another 3% say they’ll vote for a third party candidate, and 6% are undecided.
Warren has the highest favorability among Democrats, and is leading the horserace. Warren’s favorability is at 83% among Democratic voters, with Bernie Sanders next at 76% favorability. Warren and Sanders’ lead in favorability also translates to support among voters. 29% of voters said that they would vote for Warren in the Democratic primary, while 24% said they would vote for Sanders. Joe Biden is the only other candidate with double digit support at 20%.
Who are the up-for-grabs voters?
- Independents (35% of the electorate) lean Trump 43-41%
- 2016 third-party voters (19% of undecided voters)lean Democrat 41-18%
- 2016 nonvoters (21% of undecided voters)lean Democrat by 45-30%
Immigration and health care are the issues most important to Wisconsin voters. We asked an open-ended question about which issues are most important, and a combined 20% of voters gave an answer about immigration, while 16% identified health care access and insurance as their top priority, 8% said gun rights and reform, and 6% said climate and the environment. Immigration was the top issue among Republicans (36%) and independents (19%), while health care was most important to Democrats (27%).
Republican views on race and immigration are…not great: By 56% to 15%, Republicans think immigration does more harm than good; 24% of Republicans don’t have a problem with separating children from their parents; 34% of Republicans think that when nonwhites are a minority, it will be a mostly negative thing; 84% of Republicans think that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against people of color.
Swamp not drained. We tested a series of positive and negative descriptions of Donald Trump. As you can see in the below chart, between 47-53% agree with every description, except one: “Trump drained the swamp,” which only 33% agreed with, while 66% of independents and even 27% of Republicans disagreed.
Most voters believe that Trump is a corrupt, ineffective leader who only fights for himself and his rich friends. The statements about Trump where the largest majorities of all voters and independent voters agreed were “Trump is corrupt,” “Trump is focused on himself, not you,” “Trump fights for the wealthy and corporations, not working people,” and “Trump is an ineffective leader.”
Voters are split on whether Trump is a racist. 49% agree (94% of Democrats, 46% of independents, 4% of Republicans), and 50% disagree.
Messages about Trump as a phony populist who’s governed as a plutocrat are the most effective. We tested a series of positive and negative messages about Donald Trump, and overall the anti-Trump messages were more persuasive. The most persuasive message tied Trump’s proposed Medicare cuts to his tax cut for the rich, but several messages were close behind: Trump using his office to enrich himself and his family business, Trump’s failed trade war with China, and Trump’s record on outsourcing. There was also one non-economic message that was very effective: a reminder that Trump has been credibly accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women.
Trump’s most effective message is on jobs. The most effective pro-Trump message, which found some support from Democrats as well as independents, was on job creation and unemployment. That said, independents were also somewhat swayed by his message about the wall and immigration.
Wisconsin voters prefer a public option, support gun safety, and oppose reparations. Across a range of issues, we tested various Democratic messages and policies against a single Republican message:
- Health care: The Medicare for All message did a bit better with Democrats (and even Republicans) than the public option message, but while independents were evenly split on the public option, they were negative towards Medicare for All by a 13-point margin.
- Racial inequality: The message that mentioned reparations was by far the most negatively viewed of any message we tested, with low marks among independents and even relatively low marks among Democrats. The other message, which discussed alleviating racial inequality by ending discrimination and investing in communities of color, was one of the most successful messages we tested.
- No clear winners on immigration, climate, and guns. On these three issues, the difference in support between the more progressive positions (decriminalizing border crossings/health care for the undocumented, Green New Deal, gun licensing) and the more moderate positions (pathway to citizenship, investing in clean energy, background checks) were within the margin of error.