Pollsters and social media listening vendors have a message to prospective clients: don’t take the 2024 issue matrix for granted.
On the left, the message from national Democrats to voters disapproving of President Biden’s performance is that he’s right on your issues. The problem for candidates down-ballot is: what issues?
“You hear that the economy is number one, inflation is number one, rising cost of living is number one,” said Democratic pollster Lindsay Vermeyen, was recently elevated to partner at the Benenson Strategy Group (BSG). “But I’ve also seen in a lot of places that for some of these groups, often running towards the left for people who voted for Biden in 2020, abortion actually supersedes the economy in a lot of these places.
“It is a huge issue and it’s something that I think Democrats in a lot of places should be running on. And at the same time, it’s easy to see those numbers and think, ‘let’s talk about abortion all the time, everywhere.’”
She added: “These things are very nuanced and you have to talk to the electorate that you have.”
Another complicating factor for campaigns and groups is that the polling around ballot questions, specially related to the abortion issue, can be misleading.
“I like to caution clients when they are looking at abortion polling that ballot polling is very different than issue polling,” she said. “You might see that abortion is a very motivating issue for an electorate that doesn’t necessarily translate directly to support for a ballot.
“When we do ballot viability testing, it’s a very specific way that we test a ballot that folks are going to vote on. That could be very different from a concept from just being supportive of abortion rights, believing that abortion should be legal. … We always want to make sure that we’re testing ballots as ballots and not as concepts.”
One way campaigns and groups can work around the nuances of voters’ issue opinions is to frame messaging around values.
“I don’t think it’s just about communicating on the issues themselves — [that’s not] enough to move the needles, certainly for electing candidates,” said Patrick Toomey, who was elevated to partner at the Democratic polling shop together with Vermeyen. “People want to elect candidates whose values and priorities align with their own.”
Toomey suggested “using those accomplishments and issue priorities as proof points for an ongoing commitment to working people” — particularly as a way to talk about economic issues at a time when many Americans are feeling uneasy despite the positive macro indicators.
Republicans, meanwhile, will have their own challenges around major issues that could play well to sections of their electorate. Case in point, border security. “Invasion” is now a ubiquitous term in GOP fundraising — at least on Meta’s platforms — helping to raise donations off of concerns about the rise in illegal crossings at the USA-Mexico border.
But a recent social media listening analysis of 40,000 swing voters by Impact Social found that former President Trump’s public stance against proposed border security legislation in Congress was causing “negative sentiment” to increase towards the presumptive GOP White House nominee.
“The [social media] conversations suggest that independents are exasperated at Trump’s attempt to play politics on such an important issue,” the company said in an analysis.
“While the MAGA demographic may be supportive of Trump’s attempt to stop the deal, swing voters — the people most likely to determine the outcome of the election — are highly critical of any candidate/party who place political ambition before American interests on the southern border.”
The company added: “This situation serves as a further example of how either candidate – whilst courting their base — can quickly lose support of swing voters.”