A reminder that the stark partisan lines that define politics online don’t translate as easily to the real world.
The authors of this analysis are right when they remind us that voters who flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were hugely important to the outcome four years ago. It’s hard to believe people like that even exist given the animosity between 44 and 45; there’s an “Obamagate” scandal being pushed by Trump at this very moment, for cripes sake. But Obama-Trump voters are a real thing and they really did matter a lot in the last election, per this Nate Cohn study from 2017. In particular, a meaningful number of white working-class voters who preferred Obama to Romney in 2012 ended up preferring Trump to Hillary Clinton four years later. Why?
According to Cohn, “racial resentment is the strongest predictor of the Obama-Trump vote in this survey data.” But that can’t explain everything, of course; obviously racial resentment didn’t prevent these people from casting their ballot to reelect the first black president. It may be that they preferred culturally conservative policies to culturally liberal ones but not as much as they preferred redistributionist economic policies to traditional libertarian ones. If Mitt Romney had tried harder to appeal to the working class, if he hadn’t come off like a CEO out of central casting (recall Mike Huckabee’s famous line to voters that Romney looks like the guy who fired you), maybe these voters would have broken for Republicans in 2012. As it is, it took a nationalist like Trump to marry protectionism to social conservatism to pry them away from the Democrats. Having a quintessentially establishment Wall Street Dem like Hillary Clinton running against him only helped heighten the contrast.
So much for the Obama-Trump voters. Who are the Trump-Biden voters? An interesting lot, per this new study. They’re spread out across races and education groups — a third nonwhite, a third white and without a college degree, a third white who graduated from college. They skew male (60 percent) and older (45 or older), which jibes with the worrisome numbers Biden has been posting among older voters in state polls over the past month or so. Forty percent or so of the Trump-Biden cohort are Democrats — but 30 percent or so are Republicans or independents.
What do they believe, though? What draws someone who voted for Trump in 2016 to flip to Biden now? Per the authors, it turns out they like … redistributionist economic policies and conservative cultural policies (with one notable exception), with economics apparently taking priority. Which sounds familiar.
For example, 70 percent of Trump-Biden voters support increasing taxes on those earning over $600,000 per year, and 60 percent of these voters back tax cuts for those earning $100,000 or less annually.
Nearly 6 in 10 Trump-Biden voters support steps to ensure students can graduate from college debt-free or to enact a jobs guarantee, respectively. More than 7 in 10 voters back expansive steps to combat global warming through new clean energy investments. More than 70 percent support paid family leave, and about two-thirds support a $15 per hour minimum wage. On health care, they support a public option for government health insurance, at 70 percent; less than half support a Medicare-for-all proposal…
Fully 78 percent believe that government should promote traditional family values in society; nearly half support allowing vouchers for private or religious schools; and more than 60 percent think the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be displayed at public schools and courthouses.
By wide margins, Trump-Biden voters oppose reparations for slavery and believe that there are only two genders, male and female. On guns, they express moderate views: 62 percent oppose banning all guns, while 85 percent support background checks for all gun purchases.
The notable exception on cultural conservatism is the group’s position on immigration. A plurality oppose the border wall and a huge majority support legalizing DREAMers.
Why would Trump 2016 voters with this set of priorities find more to like in Biden than in a second term for Trump? One obvious possibility is that they’ve come to regard Trump’s populism as a bit of a paper tiger. Sure, he started a trade war with China, but his economic agenda has been largely traditional GOP priorities otherwise. It’s impossible to imagine him convincing McConnell and congressional Republicans to support hiking taxes on the rich or free college or a public option for ObamaCare or even a higher minimum wage. He’s even chattered half-heartedly about reforming entitlements, although no one believes he or the party will have the nerve to actually do it.
Relatedly, given the horrific economic picture Americans are looking at over the next several years, voters who prefer Democratic redistributionism and Republican cultural conservatism may feel it’s prudent to prioritize the former over the latter for the time being. There’s a report out today in WaPo, in fact, that Trump told Senate Republicans that he opposes extending souped-up unemployment benefits past July for workers who’ve been laid off due to the pandemic. There are defensible policy reasons for that: The national debt is exploding and lavish benefits are potentially a disincentive to return to work, which is not what businesses need as they try to resume operations.
But Democrats are going to savage him for trying to turn off the tap when tens of millions of people are out of work and depending on benefits as a lifeline. Where do you suppose the redistributionist-minded Trump-Biden voters will come down in that dispute?
We may be overthinking this by comparing policy checklists, though. Most voters don’t vote that way; they vote, I think, based on perceptions of which candidate is more sympathetic to their problems. In 2012 they may have understandably concluded that Barack Obama was likely to factor the working class into his decisions as president more so than Mitt “Makers and Takers” Romney was. Four years later it was easy to conclude that the Republican whose trade and immigration policies focused on lost lower-wage jobs would pay more heed to them than one of the most corporate, Hollywood-friendly Democrats in America would.
This year it’s not so clear cut, though. Biden doesn’t have a ton of political gifts but empathy is one. And he’s the ultimate generic Democrat so undecided voters may assume he’ll do a little more policy-wise for blue-collar workers than a Republican agenda over which Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment still have a ton of influence. Plus, don’t forget that not all Trump voters in 2016 were enthusiastic Trump voters. There are lots of those out there and they make lots of noise online, but Trump destroyed Hillary among the “double hater” segment of the electorate, i.e. the group that viewed both nominees unfavorably. This year Biden’s destroying Trump in that demographic. That is to say, a lot of Trump 2016 voters don’t need much convincing to switch sides this time.
Add it all up, say the authors of today’s report, and nine percent of Trump 2016 voters are poised to flip, around twice as many Clinton 2016 who are prepared to flip the other way to Trump. That could be decisive.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Gretchen Whitmer admitting that she’s chatted with Biden’s team about the VP slot. When this clip circulated on political Twitter last night some righties scoffed loudly that Biden would consider her as his running mate, but I don’t understand why. Granted, Republicans hate her as the de facto face of the lockdown era, but so what? Seventy-two percent of Michiganders overall approve of her handling of the coronavirus crisis; she governs a must-win state for Biden too, so adding her to the ticket might lock it down. And of course she’s a woman, which would fulfill his campaign pledge about the gender of the VP nominee. I don’t think he’ll pick her since she hasn’t had much experience as governor yet and isn’t African-American, but she’s far from a crazy choice.