LUNCHTIME POLITICS: Battleground Analysis – Prisoner Voting – National 2020 Survey

Your Daily Polling Update for Monday, April 15, 2019

Same as Friday

RON’S COMMENT: Today’s average is based on six polls, ranging from 39% (Reuters) to 50% (Rasmussen). Without these two extremes, it would still be 43%…. President Trump’s disapproval rating averages 53% today (-1 from Friday), which is 10 points higher than his approval rating.

Among voters nationwide

Among Democrats for their nomination
Bernie Sanders: 29%
Joe Biden: 24% 
Pete Buttigieg: 9% 
Kamala Harris: 8%
Beto O’Rourke: 8%
Elizabeth Warren: 7%
Julian Castro: 3%
Andrew Yang: 3%
Cory Booker: 2%
Amy Klobuchar: 1%
John Delaney: 1%
Tulsi Gabbard: 1%
Tim Ryan: 1%
Mike Gravel: 1%
Eric Swalwell: 1%
Candidates with less than 1% not listed
RON’S COMMENT: This Emerson College poll is sure to kick up discussion and controversy. It shows Biden falling to second place nationally (contrary to previous polling) and has Buttigieg in third place. In their March poll, Biden tied Sanders 26-26––which means Biden has dropped 2 points and Sanders has gained 3 points…. We need to wait and see if other polls show the same trend before we jump to any conclusions about an impending Biden collapse…. The survey also finds that if Biden does not run, 31% of his vote goes to Sanders and 17% goes to Buttigieg.
Among Republicans for their nomination
Donald Trump: 85%
Bill Weld: 15%
RON’S COMMENT: Trump continues to trounce potential GOP challenger Weld among Republican voters.
Among all general election voters
Joe Biden (D) over Donald Trump (R): +6 (53-47)
Bernie Sanders (D) over Donald Trump (R): +3 (51-48)
Beto O’Rourke (D) over Donald Trump (R): +2 (51-49)
Donald Trump (R) and Kamala Harris (D): even (50-50) 
Donald Trump (R) over Pete Buttigieg (D): +2 (51-49)
Donald Trump (R) over Elizabeth Warren (D): +4 (52-48)
RON’S COMMENT: In this poll, Biden continues to be the strongest Democrat against Trump, Warren is weakest.

Among voters nationwide

Do you think that individuals currently incarcerated should have the right to vote?
Yes: 30%
No: 55%
Unsure: 15%
RON’S COMMENT: Voters oppose giving prisoners the right to vote by a 25-point margin

Among voters nationwide; excerpts from report

Poll findings from the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll:

Voter interest: 2020 voters are already engaged at levels usually not seen until days before a contested election. 

  • The poll found that 82% of voters indicate that they are “extremely likely” to vote. 
  • The poll also found a slight partisan enthusiasm gap between Republicans (85% extremely likely to vote) and Democrats (83% extremely likely to vote). 
  • The survey confirmed “a highly polarized electorate and revealed clear opportunities and challenges for both major political parties as the 2020 campaign begins.”

Democratic Strategic Analysis 
By Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff and Corey Teter  

As the 2020 campaign cycle begins in earnest, the findings from the most recent Battleground survey reveal an electorate with an ever-deepening sense of frustration toward the status quo in Washington— evident not just in voters’ dissatisfaction with the President (though Trump’s ratings remain spectacularly bad), but also in their persistent exasperation with the state of the American polity—the major institutions and the individuals charged with leading them. 

Even more important for Democrats is voters’ pronounced economic anxiety. The last of these, in particular, has been manifest for the better part of two decades, despite the political and media elites’ fawning to the contrary—a dynamic that only exacerbates the sense of alienation among voters and non-voters alike—and appears unlikely to improve without serious and bold economic initiatives from the Democrats. Indeed, “change” promises, once again, to be the by-word of this election, as voters continue to cast about for an alternative to a political class they believe either fails to hear them—or does hear them, and yet fails to act. 

Democrats’ strong showing in the 2018 midterms was a solid step toward rehabilitation from the disastrous 2016 elections, though it would be a mistake to treat those results as a necessary predictor of success moving forward. In fact, despite the President’s historic levels of unpopularity, voters continue to profess favorable opinions of his stewardship over the economy and job creation (a qualified assessment, to be sure, given their expectations of yet another significant downturn); moreover, they tend to side with Republicans over Democrats on these issues, as well. 

Overall, this data continues to illustrate Democrats’ inherent weakness to respond on the economy, and if the Party does not rectify this soon, it will find itself in serious jeopardy for the 2020 election. 

Indeed, Democrats still face the challenge of articulating a bold, compelling economic vision that rises above the safety of platitudes, or that seeks to convince voters that a reprise of the economy of the 1990s or the early 2010s is sufficient to address the scale of the economy’s persistent failings—a perilous gambit that cedes the dimension of change to the opposition and ignores voters’ fears and their aspirations for the future. Democrats have major advantages on healthcare and education which contributed largely to their success in 2018. 

The challenge facing the Party ahead is to translate those advantages into a bigger economic frame. As important, Democrats stand to profit immensely by capitalizing on the President’s and his Party’s glaring vulnerabilities regarding their ties to the same powerful special interests that dominate American politics and government and are at the root of voters’ desire to chart a decidedly new course.  

Pursuing these strategies will require more than just highlighting the President’s flaws; they will require some measure of risk from Democrats as they offer a bold new trajectory and true security – economically, domestically, and internationally – for the American people. 

On Trump: The President remains an unpopular and deeply controversial figure among a large portion of the electorate. Only four-in-ten (40%) voters currently have a favorable opinion of the President compared to 55% who view him unfavorably. The intensity of the animosity towards Trump is also quite stunning, as 48% of voters have a “strongly” unfavorable opinion of the President compared to only 27% who have a “strongly” favorableopinion of Trump. The President’s personal profile is also heavily underwater among independents, with 57% viewing him unfavorably, including 43% who feel that way “strongly.”

The President’s job approval ratings largely mirror those of his personal image, with 43% of voters currently approving the job he is doing as President, compared to 52% who disapprove. And while the President continues to enjoy near-universal levels of approval among his Republican base (92% approve), his support among independents is solidly net-negative (32% approve, 51% disapprove), with independent women (30% approve, 57% disapprove) in particular holding very negative views about his tenure to date. Trump’s low ratings among these voters represents a significant obstacle for his administration moving forward as he tries to broaden his base of support. To no one’s surprise, Democrats display almost universal displeasure with the President (93% disapprove), including a staggering 85% who say they disapprove “strongly.” 

As has been the trend since he was elected, African Americans (83% disapprove, incl. 69% “strongly” disapprove) and Latinx voters (69% disapprove, incl. 59% “strongly” disapprove) continue to be among the President’s strongest detractors. There is also a very large gender gap with men—of whom 50% approve and 46% disapprove—and women—of whom 37% approve and 60% disapprove. And while the President’s rating among seniors is somewhat mixed (45% approve, 50% disapprove) his ratings among millennials (34% approve, 58% disapprove) is an ominous sign for the Republican Party’s future, and highlights the complexity of the GOP’s challenge, which continues to be not just racial , ethnic, and along gender lines, but generational too. 

Driving the President’s poor approval numbers are a mix of questions about his handling of certain issues and his leadership style. Nearly half (49%) of all voters currently say they find the President’s style and comments to be frequently insulting and believe that he has the wrong approach on too many issues, including a 47% plurality of independents; only 23% of independents believe the President “tells it like it is and has the right approach.” Even one-third (33%) of voters who approve of the President’s job performance overall still say they are at least somewhat bothered by his style and tone. 

Voters’ assessments of the President’s performance on individual issues also differ dramatically depending on the subject. Currently, a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of healthcare (33% approve, 58% disapprove), immigration (41% approve, 56% disapprove), and foreign affairs (41% approve, 54% disapprove). A plurality of voters also gives the P resident negative marks on his handling of taxes (45% approve, 47% disapprove), with voters only giving him a slight edge over Democrats in Congress in regard to whom they trust more on the issue going forward (47% trust Trump vs. 44% trust Democrats). These later data-points are strong indictments of the President’s—as well as the Republican Congress’—failure to sell the merits of his signature legislative accomplishment to date to the American people. 

The President’s low profile on healthcare is also particularly notable. Since the last Battleground Poll, the President’s disapproval ratings on healthcare have remained solidly net-negative (55% disapprove in previous poll), and a majority of voters trusts Democrats in Congress more than him on the issue (55% trust Democrats vs. 35% trust Trump). Congressional Democrats are also trusted more than the President on education (59% to 32%), as well his signature issue of immigration (51% to 42%) —the latter of which is quite remarkable considering the President’s repeated campaign to keep the subject at the forefront of American political discourse. Still, considering the significant role the issue of healthcare played in the ultimate outcome of 2018 midterms, the President’s trust-deficit on this issue specifically represents one of the Democrats’ strongest advantages going forward—though Democrats will need to offer a strong alternative in order to leverage this advantage in the context of a presidential election, which is much more a choice between two competing visions than a referendum on a president’s first term. 

In spite of all these extent vulnerabilities, Trump continues to hold a significant buffer in the form of voters’ willingness to give him credit on the economy. Since the last Battleground Poll, the President has increased his economic job performance numbers by 6-points (51% approve in previous battleground poll), with a 57% majority of voters now saying they approve of his economic stewardship compared to 38% who disapprove. Equally as important, a similar majority (57%) also says it approves of his work on job creation, a 5-point increase from the previous poll (52% approve in the previous Battleground Poll). Overall, over nine-in-ten (94%) Republicans say they approve of the President’s job on the economy, as do a majority of most demographic and regional subgroups, but especially men (66% approve), white voters (63% approve), rural voters (62% approve), and white blue-collar voters (72% approve). Independent voters also give the President strong ratings on the economy and jobs (62% and 60% approve, respectively). 

As a result of his strong numbers, voters also currently trust the President more than Democrats on moving the economy forward (52% trust Trump vs. 40% trust Democrats) and future job creation (50% trust Trump vs. 39% trust Democrats). In a troubling sign for Democrats, Trump is trusted more on these two vital issues by a number of important swing constituencies, including independents (+35 on economy, +37 on jobs), white women (+8 on economy, +8 on jobs), and self-described moderate voters (+19 on economy, +20 on jobs). Voters place more modest levels of trust in Trump over Democrats on the issue of National Security (47% to 43%), but it is his advantage on the economy and jobs that poses the greatest challenge for Democrats, particularly as Democrats have never won the White House when trailing on this central front. 

Republican Strategic Analysis 
By Ed Goeas and Brian Nienaber

Nearly every election cycle begins with a great number of “unknowns” and “what if’s,” and the 2020 election cycle is no different. In this first Battleground Poll of the 2020 Presidential cycle, we want to start with the one constant seen in all the national polling data since August of 2015 – Donald Trump’s image rating. 

In this latest data, Donald Trump’s favorable rating is at forty-one percent (41%) and his unfavorable rating is fifty-five percent (55%). This comes as no surprise, particularly when looking at the President’s disapproval rating. The day Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to kick off his presidential campaign his unfavorable rating was 55%. Both the day Donald Trump was elected Present of the United States and the day Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States his unfavorable rating was fifty-five percent (55%). Moreover, for the last twenty-six months of the Trump Presidency, the average of Donald Trump’s unfavorable rating in all the public polls has hovered in that 54% to 56% range. President Trump’s image rating has been a flat line for almost four years. It is “baked” in. 

That was certainly what was so unpredictable about the 2016 Presidential Election. Never before in modern day politics, have we seen a presidential nominee of either political party with an unfavorable rating over 50%. (Closest was Barry Goldwater in 1964 with a 47% unfavorable rating, but we all know how that election turned out!) What was unique about the 2016 election was that both presidential candidates – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had over a fifty percent unfavorable rating on Election Day. 

This initial look at the 2020 election shows that the election may be shaping up to be very much like the 2016 election, largely driven by the assumption that Donald Trump’s image rating will continue to be a flat line and the voters will again go into the voter booth with a majority holding unfavorable views of President Trump. 

The two key questions are: (1) will those voters also hold a negative view of the Democratic nominee when they walk into the voting booth to vote, as was the case with Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election Day, and (2) will a majority of those voters holding negative views of both Presidential nominees again decide that President Trump is their best option. 

What we see in this latest Battleground data is that voters on both sides of the political spectrum are highly engaged, making a high turnout rate likely for both presidential nominees. In addition, there are sharp divides between partisans on not only issues, but on basic views about the country. Both parties will have key figures within the political institutions with upside down images leading them. In most places with down ballot elections, the elections of 2020 will not be won by marshalling the goodwill of voters about the political affiliations of candidates, but rather by making an issue-based case to voters that their policies will have a positive impact on their lives. 

On Trump: Throughout his short and meteoric political career, President Trump has flaunted political norms and defied expectations, by not only driving up the negatives of his opponents, but by driving up the intensity of his base supporters. The numbers in this survey indicate that a successful re-election for him will require more of the same. At initial glance, the numbers for President Trump indicate he is significant political peril. He has a majority unfavorable rating on his image and a majority disapproval rating on his overall job approval. On the soft re-election ballot, support for new person is at fifty-seven percent (57%). Were this any other political office holder, these are normally warning signs of a likely defeat. 

However, President Trump won in 2016 with a majority unfavorable rating by running against a candidate who also had a majority unfavorable rating. This was the first time in a presidential campaign our polling, or any polling for that matter, had ever seen a trend like this. In most Presidential elections, a critical swing group, usually around twenty-five percent, are those voters who have a favorable image of both candidates and make a vote decision based on perceived relatability of the two likable candidates. In 2016, that swing group never broke three-percent (3%) of the electorate, and the swing group that developed was voters who had an unfavorable view of both candidates (20%) and made a vote decision based on a combination of who they disliked least and the perceived ability of the candidate to succeed on issues of importance. 

President Trump is poised to replicate this scenario in 2020, almost by necessity. If he and his allies can similarly damage the image of his opponent, President Trump can make an affirmative case to voters that he has succeeded on issues that matter. 

On driving the negative image of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, both time and the crowded Democratic presidential field are on Donald Trump’s side. Yes, when either political party has a sitting President, that President clearly begins to define the image of that political party, for better or worse. At the same time, the political party outside the White House does not begin to clearly define their party until they have a presidential nominee, also for better or worse. So yes, the Trump White House can expect a drumbeat of negatives about his image, but with seventeen presidential candidates in the race and growing, we can also expect over the next twelve months, those Democratic candidates will be highlighting the weaknesses of the other candidates. That will give the Trump Campaign an opportunity over the next year to develop a composite picture of the “Democratic Nominee” made up of the negatives of all the candidates running for the Democratic nomination. 

At the same time, and with discipline of message over the next year, there is also an opportunity for President Trump to drive home an issue-based campaign of economic accomplishment seen in the Battleground data. Voters give the President majority job approval ratings on the economy (58%) and jobs (57%). For many voters, personal economic security is an issue of primary importance. If the President can continue to make the case that his policies have encouraged economic growth and created employment opportunities, especially for the Middle Class, he will be able to win over voters who might be put off by his sometimes abrasive personal style. 

Indeed, a majority of voters (59%) indicate they are very (24%) or somewhat (35%) worried about an economic downturn that would negatively affect their family. This economic anxiety is certain to be a key factor in the 2020 elections, but can also be helpful in bringing focus to the economic message of the President. Most voters are willing to accept a significant level of frustration with their political leaders if they believe that the policies of these leaders will provide them with economic security and the opportunity to move up the economic ladder. 

The above are excerpts from the Battleground Poll report. To see the entire report, go to

Presidential job rating average based on recent nationwide polls.
PRESIDENT, PRISONER RIGHT TO VOTE: Emerson College, April 11-14
BATTLEGROUND POLL: Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service/The Tarrance Group (R)/Lake Research Partners (D), March 31-April 4

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