AGAINST THE GRAIN

Why It’s So Hard for Democrats to Pick Off Trump Supporters

A cultural disconnect with the Democratic Party helped create a bond with him, and they trust him to protect their economic interests.

President Trump at a rally on Feb. 18 in Melbourne, Fla.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
March 19, 2017, 6 a.m.

Fo­cus groups can be self-ful­filling Rorschach tests, with prac­ti­tion­ers cherry-pick­ing the parts that fit their pre­con­ceived nar­rat­ive. But it’s non­ethe­less use­ful to pay close at­ten­tion to Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Stan­ley Green­berg’s find­ings from a group of Ma­comb County, Michigan sup­port­ers of Pres­id­ent Trump, all in­de­pend­ents and Demo­crats. The fine print of these swing voters’ re­ac­tions is as sig­ni­fic­ant as Green­berg’s con­clu­sion that Demo­crats can win back some Trump voters by pivot­ing left­ward on eco­nom­ic is­sues.

The full re­port should be read by any Demo­crat in­ter­ested in for­ging a path back to power with Trump in of­fice. For all the anti-Trump sen­ti­ment cours­ing through the coun­try, many will find Green­berg’s find­ings sober­ing. Yes, Demo­crats could win a small slice of Trump voters by ad­opt­ing a more eco­nom­ic­ally pop­u­list mes­sage geared to­wards the Mid­west­ern states. But the cul­tur­al dis­con­nect between Trump’s voters and the op­pos­i­tion is so wide that it’s hard to see Demo­crats mak­ing com­prom­ises with this siz­able, dis­af­fected con­stitu­ency.

Green­berg has ex­tens­ive ex­per­i­ence in Ma­comb County, where he con­duc­ted a series of sem­in­al stud­ies of Re­agan Demo­crats in the 1980s. Barack Obama com­fort­ably won the county twice—by a 4-point mar­gin in 2012—lead­ing Green­berg to con­clude that the county’s leg­acy as a work­ing-class bell­weth­er was out­dated. But its leg­acy re­turned with a ven­geance last year, giv­ing Trump a whop­ping 12-point vic­tory, and provid­ing him his mar­gin of vic­tory in a tra­di­tion­ally Demo­crat­ic state.

Here are some of Green­berg’s most con­sequen­tial find­ings:

Trump’s base is ex­traordin­ar­ily loy­al. Not a single one of the 35 Trump voters sur­veyed said they had any re­grets about their vote for Trump, des­pite the swirl of con­tro­ver­sies con­sum­ing the White House. They agreed that Trump “gives them hope” when he speaks. “They ac­cept Trump’s ver­sion of the news and facts, and their re­ac­tions to videos of his press con­fer­ences and in­ter­views re­in­forced that point,” Green­berg writes. Trump’s au­then­ti­city—the idea that he is “blunt,” “out­spoken,” and “not afraid to speak out”—is a huge selling point to his base. They view Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al lead­ers as shifty and ca­ter­ing to the wealthy, but view Trump’s motives as heart­felt.

This loy­alty has con­sequences for the GOP’s le­gis­lat­ive agenda: The Wash­ing­ton Post fea­tured a front-page story this week about a Ten­ness­ee wo­man who be­lieved Trump, with some di­vine in­ter­fer­ence, helped her af­ford health in­sur­ance thanks to a gen­er­ous sub­sidy. The real­ity was that the sub­sidy was a part of Pres­id­ent Obama’s ori­gin­al law, and would likely be rolled back as a res­ult of Re­pub­lic­an re­forms.

To take a page from James Carville, “It’s the cul­ture, stu­pid.” Read between the lines of Green­berg’s re­port, and it’s clear he re­cog­nizes his pre­scrip­tion that Demo­crats emu­late Bernie Sanders on eco­nom­ic is­sues has lim­ited pull with most Trump sup­port­ers. He quotes ex­tens­ively from voters whose eco­nom­ic in­terests may align with Demo­crats, but who also ex­press a panoply of anxi­et­ies over a chan­ging Amer­ic­an cul­ture. Wor­ries about ter­ror­ism, con­cerns that im­mig­rants aren’t in­teg­rat­ing in­to Amer­ic­an so­ci­ety, and com­plaints about worsen­ing race re­la­tions all dom­in­ate the fo­cus-group con­ver­sa­tions—in­clud­ing among people who backed Obama in the past.

Obama­care is still widely dis­liked, even among work­ing-class voters who stood to be­ne­fit. There’s been a rising chor­us of Demo­crats who be­lieve that Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law is grow­ing in pop­ular­ity, in­clud­ing among work­ing-class Trump sup­port­ers. A Demo­crat­ic sur­vey (which I cited in my last column) showed a siz­able ma­jor­ity of Obama-Trump voters sup­port­ing Obama­care. But the re­ac­tions from these Trump-back­ing swing voters should pour some cold wa­ter on that be­lief.

Many par­ti­cipants in the fo­cus group shared some hor­ror story about their health in­sur­ance as a con­sequence of Obama’s health care law, cit­ing con­crete ex­amples of how the law was a net neg­at­ive for them. “Nearly every per­son in our groups was strug­gling with how to af­ford their plans, co-pays, and med­ic­a­tions,” Green­berg wrote. He ad­ded that these voters don’t have an al­tern­at­ive in mind, but they’re con­vinced the law needs to be changed—and have enough faith in Trump that he’s up to the task.

No one ex­pressed much re­ceptiv­ity to sup­port­ing Demo­crats. The fo­cus group was com­mis­sioned by the Roosevelt In­sti­tute, a pro­gress­ive think tank, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that Green­berg’s pre­scrip­tion jibed with their policy pref­er­ences. But what was sur­pris­ing was how little any­one men­tioned sup­port for spe­cif­ic Demo­crats even though their pre­ferred eco­nom­ic policies aren’t all that dif­fer­ent from what lib­er­als gen­er­ally ad­voc­ate.

Green­berg elided this con­tra­dic­tion by ar­guing that two-thirds of the fo­cus group found a gen­er­ic, pop­u­list Demo­crat­ic pro­file “more ap­peal­ing than a mod­er­ate one fo­cused on help­ing busi­nesses be more com­pet­it­ive glob­ally.” He then sug­ges­ted that pro­gress­ive icons like Bernie Sanders and Eliza­beth War­ren fit the pro­file. But there was little or­gan­ic en­thu­si­asm for Sanders, War­ren, or any oth­er na­tion­ally known pro­gress­ive fig­ures on the Left. And he fre­quently sprinkled ana­lys­is with op­tim­ist­ic pro­nounce­ments that Trump’s luster would even­tu­ally wear off with these voters, even though their re­ac­tions sug­ges­ted oth­er­wise.

TRAIL MIX:

1. New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie is end­ing his ten­ure with rock-bot­tom ap­prov­al rat­ings, among the low­est of any elec­ted of­fi­cial in re­cent memory. A new Quin­nipi­ac poll shows the out­go­ing gov­ernor at 19 per­cent ap­prov­al, with 76 per­cent of New Jer­sey voters dis­ap­prov­ing of his job per­form­ance. A 48 per­cent plur­al­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans view him un­fa­vor­ably. For con­text, a Morn­ing Con­sult on­line sur­vey con­duc­ted last year found that even the least pop­u­lar gov­ernor in Amer­ica (Kan­sas’s Sam Brown­back) hit an ap­prov­al rat­ing above the 20 per­cent mark.

If his­tory is any guide, Demo­crats should be a near-lock to win back the gov­ernor­ship this year. The same poll shows Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno—the ex­pec­ted GOP stand­ard-bear­er—trail­ing Demo­crat­ic front run­ner Phil Murphy by 22 points, 47 to 25 per­cent. That’s a re­mark­able early spread, par­tic­u­larly giv­en that Guadagno has a high­er pro­file as the second-in-com­mand in the state.

2. Re­pub­lic­ans are in­creas­ingly con­vinced that Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott will jump in­to the state’s Sen­ate race against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bill Nel­son, which would make it one of the most com­pel­ling and ex­pens­ive con­tests next year. One tell­tale sign? Scott, even though he can’t run for reelec­tion, is fea­tured prom­in­ently in a new ad from his polit­ic­al com­mit­tee to pro­mote eco­nom­ic-de­vel­op­ment le­gis­la­tion. It’s an aw­fully ex­pens­ive—and timely—per­son­al pitch as he nears a de­cision about run­ning for the up­per cham­ber.

What We're Following See More »
PARTICIPATES IN TOWN HALL TONIGHT
Ryan: “There Are No Sides” on Charlottesville
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

After taking fire for not forcefully condemning President Trump's statements on Charlottesville, Speaker Paul Ryan today issued a statement that takes issue with any "moral relativism" when it comes to Neo-Nazis. "There are no sides," he wrote. "There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society." Ryan participates in a CNN town hall tonight from Racine, Wis.

Source:
MAY BOOST TROOP LEVELS
Trump to Make Prime Time Address on Afghanistan
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops." Trump will address the issue at 9:00 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington on Monday night.

Source:
LARGE FAMILY AND TRIPS TAKING TOLL
Secret Service Funds Depleted
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective—in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast. Secret Service Director Randolph 'Tex' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."

Source:
FOR HELP WITH OPIOID PROBLEM
U.S. Health Chief: China “Incredible Partner”
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
GONE BY MONDAY
University of Texas Removes Four Confederate Monuments
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

University of Texas President Greg Fenves announced late Sunday night that school's statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg will be removed from the Main Mall and added to the Briscoe Center for scholarly study. In the announcement he wrote, the "monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login