An early look at the 2020 class of swing voters
The vast majority of American voters are locked in on their feelings about President Trump and whether they will support him or a Democrat in the 2020 general election. Believe it or not, a sizable share of voters’ 2020 support is not set in stone.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll asked voters whom they would support in a general election matchup between Trump and five of the leading candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination — former vice president Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). About 8 in 10 voters chose either Trump in every head-to-head matchup or the Democratic candidate each time. The other roughly 2 in 10 were inconsistent, either by saying they support Trump in some matchups and the Democratic candidate in others (9 percent) or otherwise saying they had no opinion or expressing support for another candidate in at least one scenario.
These up-for-grabs voters are at least partially undecided about their 2020 vote, and there are certainly enough of them to decide the election if they swing heavily toward one party. We took a closer look at this portion of the electorate to better understand the potential difference-makers in 2020. Here’s what we learned:
1. Most up-for-grabs registered voters lean toward a party, but they are more likely to identify as moderate and independent. Roughly half of voters who do not consistently support Trump or Democratic hopefuls in the head-to-heads identify as political independents, but when asked which party they lean toward, over two-thirds of them at least lean toward one party or the other. Roughly 4 in 10 identify or lean Democrat (39 percent), while 29 percent lean Republican, and the rest lean toward neither party. Ideologically, a 54 percent majority identify as moderates, significantly higher than the 37 percent of registered voters overall.
2. They are significantly less likely to approve of Trump, but have complicated views on his handling of the economy. A third of on-the-fence voters (33 percent) approve of Trump’s job performance, compared with 47 percent of registered voters overall. They are less likely to express intensely positive or negative views of Trump in general, but on-the-fencers who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber strong approvers, 40 percent to 10 percent. On-the-fencers are also 20 points more likely to say Trump has acted in a way that is unpresidential (84 percent) than voters overall (64 percent).
On-the-fencers are less likely to say the Trump administration deserves credit for the country’s economic situation — 34 percent say it deserves credit, compared with 50 percent of registered voters. At the same time, 53 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, which is almost identical to voters as a whole.
3. A majority of on-the-fence voters say they would at least consider voting for Trump in at least one of the matchups — but they are more likely to choose a Democrat in at least one head-to-head. Nearly two-thirds of up-for-grabs voters (64 percent) say they currently support Trump in at least one of the five matchups against Democratic candidates or say they would consider voting for Trump against “any possible Democrat,” while 34 percent say there is no chance they would vote for him. That is significantly higher than Trump’s ceiling of 54 percent of all registered voters who say they would consider backing Trump.
4. Perhaps surprisingly, on-the-fence voters are spread about evenly across different demographic groups. There is not a significant difference between on-the-fence voters and total registered voters when it comes to education levels, household income, race and ethnicity, gender, age and religion. For example, a third of on-the-fence voters have college degrees (33 percent), similar to the 36 percent of registered voters who do; 64 percent of on-the-fence voters are white and along with 69 percent of voters overall.
These up-for-grabs voters will be key to whoever hopes to move into the White House in 2021. But there are many different ways to classify swing voters, and this is just one of them. As the Democratic field narrows (which it has yet to do), who is still up-for-grabs will become clearer.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.