2018 Midterms: Possible Opportunity for Democrats

Action Fund Research — April 13, 2017

The upcoming 2018 election may be a moment of opportunity for Democrats — but only if they reclaim the mantle of working-class economic issues.

That’s according to six focus groups in Ohio and Virginia, consisting of working-class and unmarried women — some of whom had voted for Clinton and some of whom had voted for Trump — put together by WVWVAF and our partners at Democracy Corps.

What we found in these focus groups could prove instrumental in the lead-up to the 2018 election:

  • Trump’s budget proposals are extremely unpopular, and could open up the GOP to potent attacks. Trump and Clinton voters alike reacted very negatively to Trump’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels, after-school programs, and research, in order to fund his border wall. The researchers remarked that “we have rarely seen any attack break through like this,” as half of the focus group participants indicated that Trump’s budget was the issue that most concerned them about his presidency.
     
  • The Trump voters in our focus groups don’t regret their votes, but they’re beginning to see him as “pampered” and out of touch with their everyday lives. Trump’s failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act with something more right-wing, his proposed cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels to pay for his border wall, and ongoing concerns about his temperament are beginning to sow doubts in the minds of many of the working-class Trump-voting women who participated in our focus groups. They’re growing disillusioned with his wealth and his inability to see how his policies could hurt ordinary Americans.
  • “There are people organizing and finally getting their heads out of the sand and paying attention to what’s going on in politics.”

    White non-college woman, Akron

    Anti-Trump voters are engaged and energized in their opposition to Trump — and they’re already leaning into the 2018 midterm elections. This is particularly important because many of the anti-Trump voters in our focus groups — working-class unmarried women, African-American women, and millennial women — are statistically among the least likely to turn out for a non-presidential election. The fact that they’re already planning on expressing their intense opposition to Trump at the ballot box represents a significant possible opportunity for Democrats and the progressive movement.

  • The #resistance isn’t changing committed Trump voters’ minds, but it is encouraging and emboldening anti-Trump voters. The Trump voters in our focus groups cited the ongoing #resistance movement as a reason not to second-guess their own votes. But the anti-Trump voters in the focus groups cited the #resistance in pushing back against Trump voters in the conversation — even when they knew they were outnumbered in the focus groups — because the #resistance has assured them that they’re not alone.
  • “The cost of living. It’s crazy.”

    White 45+-year-old white unmarried woman, Akron

    Perceptions of the Republican Party are fixed — but Democrats seem less well-defined. The focus groups — Democratic- and Republican-leading participants alike — agreed that the Republican Party stands for the wealthy and powerful against ordinary Americans. But while they did see the Democratic Party as standing up for the common person, they didn’t see that translating into any concrete plans on the economy or on jobs.

  • The Trump and Clinton voters had more values in common than you’d think. Despite the media’s portrayal of the election as a battle between two completely-incompatible sets of values, the women in our focus groups had many values in common — ideas like treating everyone equally, respecting the rights and feelings of others, obeying rules and abiding by the law, and being open-minded. When we read profiles of hypothetical Democratic candidates who prioritize the economic issues they care about most — like affordable healthcare and childcare, middle-class tax cuts, paid family leave, and better-paying jobs — both Trump and Clinton voters responded with excitement.