Unique Working America report finds issues, information and a trusted messenger help counter right-wing rhetoric among white working class voters – many of whom are still up for grabs in 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Working America report finds that key white-working class voters have not made up their minds yet in the 2016 presidential race, but of those who have, Donald Trump is the strongest choice. The unique “Front Porch Focus Group” report used qualitative and quantitative data from 1,689 face-to-face conversations held over five weeks in Ohio and Pennsylvania to paint a picture of voters’ mood and appetite for engagement.
The report found that Trump drew more supporters than all other GOP candidates combined, and was also the choice of 25% of Democrats with a candidate preference. When asked why they like him, nearly half of voters said it was his personality – not his policies – that factored into their decision.
“The growing appeal of a hard-right agenda in communities where we’ve worked for a decade meant we needed to drive straight into the storm to connect with our membership and hear their perspectives,” said Executive Director Karen Nussbaum (@knussbaum). “We reached out through our strongest tool: face-to-face conversations on people’s doorsteps.”
On the issues, the report found that good jobs (29%) was still the top concern for the Working America “focus group” – a trend consistently seen over 13 years of engagement at the doors. Only 5% cited immigration as their top priority, but 48% of those people supported Trump.
Reporting back each night, canvassers described voters who are eager to engage in a discussion and who are open to new information. The report asserts the ability to gain a different perspective on the systemic reasons for economic, political and social inequality is a major antidote to the dog whistle politics of bigotry.
“We found a churning political landscape with anxious voters no longer loyal to traditional political parties,” said Deputy Director Matt Morrison. “The reality is that the white working class voters with whom we spoke are open to and hungry for the type of serious economic and political solutions we bring to their doors.”
The report’s key findings include:
• A large portion of voters remain undecided, with 53% yet to choose a candidate. We met voters like an independent in Wadsworth, Ohio who likes what Trump has to say, but didn’t seem sure, and admitted he is “a little overwhelmed by all the choices.”
• Trump was favored by more than a third of those who chose a candidate (38%), overwhelming all other GOP candidates combined (27%). Nearly the same number chose Hillary Clinton (22%) or Bernie Sanders (12%). A diehard female Trump supporter in Brunswick, Ohio said “Trump says it like it is.” But another woman in Brunswick felt the opposite, saying: “Trump scares the willies out of me!”
• Party loyalty did not determine candidate choice as much as expected. While most of Trump’s support came from a staunch GOP base, 1 in 4 Democrats who chose a candidate showed a preference for him and 58 percent of his backers said they would support him as an Independent.
• Thoughtful conversations with trusted messengers can move voters away from right-wing populism to a different take on the issues. Providing them with an independent source to help them sort through the deluge of information through a unique communications channel – face–to-face engagement – is critical to that evolution.
The talks were conducted with likely voters from December 18, 2015 to January 22, 2016 across heartland communities in four counties – Beaver and Butler counties in Pennsylvania and Lake and Medina counties in Ohio. Nine out of 10 voters we spoke with participated in the 2012 elections, and 98% of these voters were white. Each participant came from a household income of $75,000 or less.
Above all, the report finds that the appeal of right-wing rhetoric will continue without a countervailing pull of authentic engagement about issues and a progressive vision for the future of the country.