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Trump could lose these 'progressive' Republican voters

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Lower-income Republicans could tilt the 2020 presidential election toward the Democratic candidate—whoever that turns out to be.

A significant minority of Republican voters favors “progressive” economic policies typically associated with Democrats, according to new polling done by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. Many of these Republicans voted for President Trump in 2016, but they’re less inclined than traditional Republicans to support Trump in 2020.

Researchers asked nearly 7,000 voters their views on a variety of economic issues, such as raising the minimum wage, hiking taxes on the wealthy, cutting regulations and breaking up big banks. Democrats are largely united in support of policies that would exert more government influence over the economy and redistribute wealth. Republicans are more split. Higher-income Republicans generally favor less government and lower taxation. But lower-income Republicans are closer to Democratic positions on some key issues.

Forty-five percent of Republicans earning $40,000 or less support raising taxes on people with incomes above $200,000, for instance. Just 23% of Republicans earning more than $80,000 support that. Forty-one percent of lower-income Republicans want to raise the minimum wage, compared with just 20% of higher-income Republicans.

Overall, the research found that 19% of Republicans support economic policies closer to the Democratic norm than the Republican norm. Just 9% of Democrats are closer to Republican economic views than Democratic ones.

Graphic by David Foster

Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is around 90%, suggesting he has a lock on Republican votes. And Trump’s “make America great again” message in 2016 resonated with working-class voters who felt traditional politicians had done nothing for years to address the strains making it harder to get ahead in large swaths of the country.

Only about 30% of adult Americans consider themselves, Republicans however. Independents are the biggest bloc, at 38%, with Democrats at 31%. Some Independents “lean” Republican, and those may represent Trump’s biggest vulnerability in 2020. Trump got 46% of the Independent vote in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton’s 42%. But in the Voter Study Group survey, Independents are even more likely to support some Democratic policies than lower-income Republicans are.

Taxation is likely to be a big issue for Democrats in 2020, with most of the presidential candidates claiming the 2017 Trump tax cuts favored businesses and the wealthy over the middle class. Many Democratic spending plans—whether on infrastructure, health reform, teacher pay or green energy—would be paid for by higher taxes, especially on businesses. So Democrats may pick off some Republican and Independent votes there.

Health care affordability is another big issue for Democrats, with virtually all the candidates favoring some form of new government program to help people who can’t afford traditional health insurance. The Voter Study Group researchers didn’t ask about health care in the latest survey.

The new research, combined with a strong Democrat showing in the 2018 midterms, suggest a realignment of economic priorities among Republicans could boost the Democratic vote in 2020 by about 1 percentage point. That might not sound like a lot, but in 2016 Trump won Michigan by three-tenths of one percentage point, Wisconsin by 1 point and Pennsylvania by 1.2 points. Marginal votes are likely to be crucially important in swing states again in 2020.

Trump’s reelection bid is sputtering, with several polls showing he would lose to a number of Democrats if the election were held today. But much will change by the time the 2020 election arrives, and Trump is running against a specific Democrat rather than a theoretical one. Voters doubting Trump might like him better once they know who his opponent is.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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