To: Interested Parties
From: Dan Pfeiffer, Co-Host Pod Save America
RE: Michigan Poll – It’s all about the economy
Vote Save America
The story of the 2020 election is often told through the perspective of three groups: Obama-Trump voters, suburban voters that have soured on Trump, and die-hard Trump supporters who frequent diners visited by New York Times political reporters. Don’t get me wrong, at least two of these groups are critical. (I will let you guess which two.)
However, this narrow focus obscures a group that could decide the election: new and infrequent voters. The latest Crooked Media/Change Research PollerCoaster poll took a look at this group to see where they are and, more importantly, how to convince them to vote for Joe Biden.
Change Research surveyed 3,098 new and/or infrequent voters in the six closest battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (If you haven’t adopted one of these states, go do it right now.) The poll was conducted September 9-13. For the purposes of this poll, new or infrequent voters are a combination of a) voters who registered for the first time in 2016, b) voters who skipped 2016, c) voters who skipped 2018.
The Good News
We could all use some good news these days, right? Well, this poll has three pieces of excellent news:
- These voters are highly engaged: Despite their spotty voting records, 84 percent say they’ll definitely vote, and 76 percent rate their motivation a 10 out of 10.
- They are favorable to Biden: The former vice president leads Trump 49-37—five points greater than his lead among all voters in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. As a point of reference, Hillary Clinton only won these voters 35-30 in 2016.
- There is Room to Grow: Nine percent of these voters start the poll undecided. But these undecideds have decided one thing—they do not like Donald Trump. A staggering-yet-satisfying 62 percent of these voters have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Throughout the poll, respondents were exposed to positive and negative messages for each candidate. After that exercise, the race moves three points in Biden’s direction, which is more movement than we have seen in previous PollerCoaster polls.
The poll offers a very clear path to growing Biden’s margin with these voters with some very specific steps.
It’s Still the Damn Economy
Over the last year, Crooked Media and Change Research have polled Wisconsin, Arizona, and Michigan and there was one consistent theme is those polls—Trump’s strength on the economy was propping up his candidacy. Despite a historic recession due in large part to his incompetent response to the pandemic, Trump’s economic approval rating is at 49 percent and Trump and Biden are tied 44-44 on who would better manage the economic recovery. This matters because the economy is by far the top issue with undecided voters and they trust Trump over Biden on the issue by a margin of 37-19. These voters simply do not have enough information about Biden’s economic plans to draw a conclusion. On the issues, where Trump is weakest, they default to assuming Biden is better. On the economy, Trump has an aura of credibility due to his business background and the strength of the pre-COVID economy (Thanks, Obama!).
The best way to grow Biden’s vote share is to win the economic messaging battle. The two best-testing messages were related to the economy. As we have seen in other polling, eroding Trump’s economic strength is a two part process:
- Demonstrate that Trump is a plutocrat not a populist;
- Inform people about Biden’s policies.
In the poll, 55 percent of undecided voters found a message contrasting the health-care plans of the candidates to be very or somewhat convincing.
- “Donald Trump wants to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions and take away health insurance for 20 million Americans in the middle of a pandemic. Joe Biden wants to give everyone the choice to enroll in a Medicare-like insurance plan, make sure no American pays more than 8.5% of their income on premiums, and bring down the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies.”
Another message about Trump and Biden’s economic plans did almost as well with undecided voters.
- “Donald Trump says the economy is great because the stock market is up, and wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to fund more tax cuts for the rich. Joe Biden says a strong economy depends on a strong middle class, and wants only the wealthiest 1% to pay higher taxes so we can expand health coverage, invest in clean energy and infrastructure, and create 5 million manufacturing and technology jobs.”
This second message is important because it erodes some of Trump’s faux-populist credentials, which persist despite the fact that he is “billionaire” with a gold toilet whose only legislative accomplishment is a massive corporate tax cut. The details of Trump’s economic policies are devastating because they undermine his core strength and are completely unknown to voters.
Throughout the PollerCoaster series, the messages that included new, specific information about Trump’s policies and record are much more effective than ones that reinforce existing perceptions. Although, they weren’t included in this poll, I am confident that messaging about Trump opposing the extension of unemployment benefits and supporting legal liability for employers during a pandemic would be very effective.
These new and less-frequent voters like Joe Biden a lot more than Trump, but they need to hear much more about who he is and what he will do if elected president. Forty-one percent of the undecided universe have no opinion on Biden, which is truly stunning finding in a highly polarized nation for a politician that has been on the national stage for decades.
Opinions about Trump are locked in. Trump began the poll at 37 and he ends it at 37 after all of the message back and forth. The best way to move these voters is to focus less on Trump and talk more about Biden, who he is and what he would do as president. The poll asked voters an open-ended question about what they had heard about Trump. In a tough blow for the “Nothing Matters” crowd, roughly 25 percent mentioned reports about Trump’s comments in a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward. Slightly more than 10 percent mentioned The Atlantic story about Trump disparaging the troops. For Biden, the most common answer was “nothing.” These voters are not particularly politically engaged and are very hard to reach, but it is clear from this poll that negative information about Trump is getting to them organically, but positive information about Biden is not.
Respondents were asked whether Trump or Biden would do better job on 16 different issue areas. Biden led on 15 of the 16 questions, but often by a margin smaller than his lead in the horserace. Among the undecided universe, more than 50 percent were “not sure” on the majority of the questions. Educating these voters about Biden is a huge strategic priority.
Every pro-Biden message tested better than any of the Trump messages. Biden’s policy positions are more popular and his messages are more persuasive, but they are not yet breaking through with this group of hard to reach voters.
This is where we all have a role to play. In our conversations with voters over the phones and text and in our postings on social media, the balance needs to shift towards more pro-Biden content. Specifically, we need to help the Biden campaign spread the word about Biden’s plans and policies.
Because of the dearth of knowledge about Biden, simply attacking Trump is not enough. We also have to fill in the gaps about Biden and his plans. The following messages were very effective with undecided voters:
- “As Americans face unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, Donald Trump calls climate change a hoax and is making it easier for big business to pollute our air and water. Joe Biden has a bold plan to fight climate change that will produce cleaner air, cleaner water, and five million new manufacturing and technology jobs.”
- “Donald Trump has failed to bring down the cost of tuition, and wants to cut funding for public schools. Joe Biden would triple funding for public schools, make community college free, make four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free for families making under $125,000, and offer student loan forgiveness in exchange for community service.”
- “For four years, Donald Trump has left this country more divided by fanning the flames of racism and violence. Joe Biden wants to heal the country, bring people together, and support peaceful protesters who believe that every American should be treated equally, no matter what you look like or where you come from.”
- “After six months of failing to get the pandemic under control, Donald Trump still has no plan to fight it. Joe Biden has a plan to offer rapid testing, require masks, help schools and businesses open safely, and develop a scientifically proven vaccine so that Americans can join other countries in going back to their normal lives.”
These new and infrequent voters aren’t the only voters that matter. Democrats need to turn out our base in a pandemic, persuade Independents, and hold onto to recent Republicans who don’t like Trump. There is no silver bullet. We need an all-of-the-above strategy, but these new and infrequent voters present a huge opportunity. The roadmap is clear. We just need to do the work.