In this era of political polarization, it is tempting to assume the political center no longer exists. If this were true, it would certainly simplify things for political candidates and their strategists. They could stop worrying about how to persuade unaligned voters and concentrate exclusively on mobilizing their core partisans. However, this is not the case. As this new Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) poll by veteran Democratic pollster Peter Brodnitz shows, Swing voters exist, and they hold the balance of power in key 2016 battleground states. For Democrats especially, this survey yields a clear lesson: To hold the White House, recapture the Senate, and reduce the Republican House majority, candidates must craft messages that appeal beyond the party’s base to a substantial body of voters who are not in a fixed ideological camp.
This survey examined the outlook and attitudes of Swing voters in four critical Swing states: Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Nevada. Constituting about a fifth of the electorate in those states, Swing voters come at today’s major challenges with a perspective different from that of either party. In general, they are less ideological, less partisan, and less angry than base voters. They are pragmatists who are focused mainly on economic growth and competitiveness.
Swing voters give low approval ratings to both parties in Congress, but slightly higher approval ratings to Democrats (32% approve, 59% disapprove), than to Republicans (28% approve, 65% disapprove). While Republicans give their own Members of Congress better marks than Democrats, Republicans in Congress are underwater among their own voters by eleven points (43% approve, 54% disapprove). Democrats, on the other hand, largely approve of the jobs their Members of Congress are doing (73% approve, 24% disapprove).
There is widespread agreement among battleground voters on a number of matters:
- Most battleground voters rate the economy as fair or poor as opposed to excellent or good. They believe that improving the economy should be the priority, that moving jobs overseas is a key economic problem, and that increasing access to education and job training is essential.
- Most of them also believe that America’s economy is still strong, and that if people work hard, they can get ahead.
- Almost all believe it is essential that American companies can compete globally and that workers benefit from that competition and success.
- While Democrats are the most likely to believe the United States is the strongest economic power in the world (81% agree), most Swing voters (58% agree) and Republicans (61%) hold this view.
- Despite all the populist rhetoric deployed in both parties’ nominating contests, the voters we interviewed don’t seem particularly angry. Swing voters tend to be worried about the economy and Democrats tend to be optimistic, but few described themselves as angry.
Most believe global competition – more than trade agreements – is the force driving away jobs. There is little support among Swing voters for ending trade agreements, and most believe the benefits of trade agreements outweigh the costs.
- Almost all believe “most” Americans are not prepared for retirement.
- Almost all believe increased investments in infrastructure, like roads and bridges, would improve the U.S. economy.
In general, Swing voters are attracted to new ideas for stimulating growth — regulatory improvement, low corporate taxes intended to increase competitiveness and keep jobs from moving overseas, and a robust career pathways system that’s always there to help workers acquire marketable skills.