The winning Democratic coalition in both 2020 and 2022 relied on wooing at least some swing voters and even ticket splitters in critical battleground states and races.
Certainly, part of that equation was that many voters believed democracy was on the ballot and cast their ballots accordingly regardless of party lean or affiliation, thereby defeating every GOP election denier running for high-profile statewide races.
But new polling from the progressive consortium Navigator Research shows that Democratic policies also aligned with swing voters on economic and social issues.
"Nearly half of 2022 midterm voters fell on the progressive ends of both economic and non-economic sets of issue debates,” writes Navigator in a report issued on Tuesday.
In contrast, only a third of voters leaned more conservative on both issue sets.
But among "winning swing voters"—those who boosted Democrats to victory in highly contested battleground races—majorities sided with a suite of Democratic positions in areas related to economic, civic, and social issues. The most persuasive among them were centered on concerns around the MAGA movement and extremism, along with debates regarding protecting Social Security, Medicare, abortion, the Affordable Care Act, and truthful teachings about American history, such as slavery and the Civil Rights movement.
Winning swing voters overwhelmingly supported abortion rights, with 83% rejecting conservative arguments against abortion, and instead agreeing that "we need to protect abortion rights and prevent women and girls from being subject to forced pregnancies, even in the case of rape and incest.”
But winning swing voters also leaned Democratic on other economic and social issues. When paired with abortion, 74% of winning swing voters supported protecting Social Security and Medicare; and 59% favored protecting both abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Pairing abortion with Democratic arguments on inflation (e.g., cracking down on corporate greed and price gouging) also drew 51% majority support from winning swing voters.
But winning swing voters were less convinced by the immigration stance that "immigrants are too often blamed and scapegoated for public safety problems," which garnered 44% support when paired with abortion. Just 40% agreed with Democrats on abortion and the criminal justice reform stance that "more needs to be done to fix the crisis of mass incarceration and stop people from being jailed unfairly."
Moving forward, Democrats do not have to trim their sails on all progressive issues in order to win over swing voters and ticket splitters, particularly if the mesmerizing GOP dumpster fire pyrotechnics continue through 2024. The Democratic triangulation of the ‘90s is no longer a winning formula precisely because Democrats are on the majority side of several very important social issues (abortion and LGBTQ issues).
But knowing which issues/arguments are more persuasive, likely to move people toward Democrats, and therefore should be emphasized is crucial to continued Democratic success in tight races.
Indeed, one Georgia ticket splitter in an earlier Navigator focus group explained that they had voted for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock specifically due to his economic policy positions.
“I voted for [Brian] Kemp for governor because we've had great job growth and great economy under his leadership the last four years,” they said. “And I voted for Raphael Warnock because he championed some causes that are near and dear to me for my family, like the cap on the insulin costs and Medicare out of pocket costs.”
Democrats can also work to sharpen their arguments on tougher issues. The soft-sell argument Navigator chose on "scapegoating" immigrants likely isn't nearly as persuasive as messaging about hard-working immigrants who contribute to the U.S. economy deserving a pathway to citizenship. That's just off the top.
But abortion and Social Security and Medicare should top the list of every Democratic effort to assemble a broad and winning coalition of voters in the next election cycle.