DES MOINES — A survey of Eastern Iowa Democratic base and swing voters found a nervous electorate either supporting President Donald Trump for re-election or unsure of how to defeat him in 2020.
The Front Porch Focus Group report found that 21 percent of swing voters plan to back Trump. At the same time, the electorate is up for grabs with 42 percent of Democratic base voters and 53 percent of swing voters undecided on who they will support.
The results are based on 304 face-to-face interviews from late October to mid-December in Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Dubuque and smaller communities in Eastern Iowa. It was done for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, to gauge the mood in working-class neighborhoods of Democratic base and swing voters.
Although dozens of Democrats have indicated they’re considering 2020 presidential bids, survey participants were not confident that any one of them would beat Trump. Less than half, 49 percent, are confident a Democrat will win the presidency.
Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political-science professor, was struck by that.
“The 2018 results in Iowa were mixed, but Democrats should still be pretty fired up,” he said.
The interviews found widespread disaffection with politicians. Nearly half of swing voters said it doesn’t make any difference to their economic prospects whether Democrats or Republicans are in control. A similar percentage could not name an elected official who is fighting for them.
It was even higher — 81 percent — in May when Working America sampled Eastern Iowa voters, Executive Director Matt Morrison said. When controlled for who they voted for in 2016, about two-thirds of Trump voters and about three-quarters of Hillary Clinton voters said they don’t see anyone fighting for them. “They don’t see a system that speaks to them,” Morrison said.
The survey also found that Iowans “hold some of the grimmest views of personal economic well-being in the country,” according to the report. Democrats, Working America said, need to re-establish credibility on jobs and the economy.
The survey found that the farther a population is removed from a large, dynamic economy the less confident its members are about their economic prospects, Morison said. There were differences between the level of optimism for people in Cedar Rapids, for example, and in rural areas. Personal economic confidence, he added, is closely tied to employment opportunities and the perception of opportunities for the next generation, he said.
In looking at the results, Hagle and Chris Larimer, a political-science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, had concerns about the survey methods.
“Vote history is typically the strongest predictor of whether someone will vote,” Larimer said. However, Working America did not survey a random sample of voters, the report lacked definitions of swing and base voters and included no information about the demographics of those who were interviewed.
“Are the 300 voters in this survey likely voters? We don’t know,” Larimer said. “It’s hard to know how representative the findings are of rural or Eastern Iowa voters.”
Hagle speculated many who expressed frustration “are likely the same folks who were so fed up with the establishment of both parties they took a chance on Trump as an outsider who might actually get things done.”
“Of course, if Trump doesn’t ‘get things done’ in one way or another, then those swing voters could very well swing the other way,” Hagle added.
Voters in the survey also said they are frustrated by politicians who “parachute” into Iowa to campaign, and they are looking for candidates who understand the complexities of Iowa.
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“They told us most candidates don’t understand we have a very diverse economy — we’re not all farmers,” Morrison said.
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