If Democrats running for president and other national offices want votes from mainstream Americans next November, they’ll have to drop at least three off-putting rallying cries.
New polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report analyzes voter attitudes in four states likely to be crucial in next year’s election: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In 2016, Donald Trump won all those states except Minnesota, giving him 46 electoral votes, more than his margin of victory.
Trump’s approval rating is now negative in all those states, an obvious opportunity for Democrats. But Dems could alienate swing voters in these battleground states, as former President Barack Obama warned recently. Voters “don’t want to see crazy stuff,” Obama said. “We have to be rooted in reality.”
The Kaiser polling identifies the three most troublesome issues for Democrats:
Medicare for all. The Kaiser poll asked voters in those four states whether they thought a variety of proposals were a good or a bad idea. On Medicare for all, the huge government health program that would replace private insurance, 62% said it was a bad idea and just 36% said it was a good idea. Democratic voters are more enthused about Medicare for all, but a Democratic presidential candidate can’t win with just Democratic votes. They’d need some Independents and moderate Republicans too, and those voters are very suspicious of a disruptive single-payer health care plan.
A fracking ban. As part of a “Green New Deal,” some Democrats want to ban the oil and gas extraction process known as fracking. But 54% of swing-state voters think this is a bad idea, while 40% say it’s a good idea. Disapproval is higher in Pennsylvania, where fracking is an important part of the economy in some regions.
Border amnesty. Trump’s hardline immigration policies aren’t popular, but that doesn’t mean voters think migrants should be free to cross the border illegally. Seventy-one percent of swing state voters think it’s a bad idea to stop detaining illegal crossers, while only 27% think it’s a good idea.
The Democratic candidates most closely associated with these policies are front-runners Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, along with Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and a few lesser-knowns. Warren tacitly acknowledged the problem she may have with moderate voters by revising her health plan recently. Warren supports Medicare for all, but she recently unveiled a second “transition” plan that she’d pursue first. The transition plan would keep private coverage in place while establishing a new public health care option, and lead to Medicare for all only if Americans chose public coverage over private insurance, in droves.
Warren, Sanders and several others would ban fracking as part of their move away from carbon energy toward renewables. If it ever happened, thousands and perhaps millions of workers would lose their jobs, causing deep hardship in the energy sector. Prices for gasoline and natural gas would probably rise. Many economists think a better approach than banning certain industries or activities would be a carbon tax that raises the cost of energy consumption and creates strong incentives to find alternatives. The cost of the tax on consumers could be rebated through other tax credits, so that it’s revenue-neutral, on average.
Immigration has gotten less attention in the Democratic presidential race so far, but the Sanders-Warren wing generally favors decriminalizing the act of entering the United States without permission. That’s not the same as completely opening U.S. borders, but it is a softer approach on immigration that’s vulnerable to demagoguery by the likes of Trump.
More moderate Democrats, including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, oppose these three policies, making them more palatable to swing voters. In a recent Des Moines Register poll, 53% of Democratic voters said Sanders is too liberal, and 38% felt Warren is too liberal. Just 7% said Biden and Buttigieg are too liberal, with solid majorities saying their policies are “about right.” Maybe the candidates will listen.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: email@example.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.