Can Democrats Win Back Obama-Trump Voters?

Yesterday Greg Sargent reported on some interesting polling of a particular niche of voters. They fell into two categories: (1) Obama-Trump voters, who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, and (2) drop-off voters, who voted for Obama in 2012 and didn’t vote in 2016. Here’s what the two groups had in common:

50 percent of Obama-Trump voters said their incomes are falling behind the cost of living, and another 31 percent said their incomes are merely keeping pace with the cost of living.

43 percent of [drop-off voters] said their income is falling behind the cost of living, and another 49 percent said incomes were merely keeping pace.

In commenting on the findings about the Obama-Trump voters, Steve Benen suggests that Trump and Republicans are giving Democrats an assist by going out of their way to lose their support.

In other words, for a sizable chunk of voters, Trump’s faux populism con worked. Enough voters fell for the scam to put him in the White House…

It’s also true, meanwhile, that Republicans appear to be going out of their way to tell the public that the GOP’s sole focus is on serving the needs of the elite.

He’s right, of course. On everything but racism and nativism, Trump has dropped his populism and is doing all he can to demonstrate that Republican policies will actually hurt, rather than help Obama-Trump voters.

But that raises the question: are those folks paying attention? Or perhaps more importantly, was their vote more of a response to a sense of what Trump (as opposed to Clinton) would do, or to the actual policies they proposed?

Kevin Drum responded to the Sargent article as well. In looking for answers from Democrats, he said this:

So what should the Democrats’ message be?…

If it takes more than a sentence or so to explain, it’s no good. If it’s couched in liberalese, it’s no good. If it’s not viscerally plausible, it’s no good. If it’s about “retraining,” it’s no good. If it’s gobbledegook about the changing world, it’s no good. If it’s not directly focused on getting a good job, it’s no good.

I think he nailed it. Hillary Clinton had pages full of proposals that would help these voters. Trump had a con job. With an assist from FBI Director Comey (as Kevin always points out), the con job worked.

Looking forward to the possibilities in 2018 and 2020, that raises a whole different set of questions than most Democrats are grappling with. First and foremost is whether or not Trump and Republicans can maintain the con. Is two or four years enough time for the American public to realize what Benen noted above…”that the GOP’s sole focus is on serving the needs of the elite.” If so, Democrats should be in pretty good shape.

But if that doesn’t happen, the choices narrow quite a bit. Everyone seems to have their favorite policy proposal that they think would reach these voters. But as Kevin said, “if it takes more than a sentence or so to explain, it’s no good.” It’s fairly easy to pull off a con job in a sentence or two. Laying out answers that would actually address these issues is a bit more complex than that.

The final possibility is that, just as the pendulum in American politics tends to swing back and forth between liberal and conservative over time, voters will actually recognize that the politics of resentment is not a good way to chose our leaders. If so, perhaps they will begin to pay attention to actual policy proposals and all this focus on how to win back Obama-Trump voters will pay off. I know…that’s a long shot. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.