State Policy Network
Super Tuesday: Takeaways and voter trends for state think tanks

By Carrie Conko, Vice President of Communications at State Policy Network

If you’re like me, you spent the night of Super Tuesday glued to the laptop (or television if you’re old school), bourbon in hand, as the results from Super Tuesday trickled in. What gets me excited about the biggest day of the presidential primaries is not just watching the horse race late into the night. It’s the intel the race provides on voter attitudes toward policy issues. 

Here are some key takeaways, as well as seven voter trends, that Network think tanks should be aware of as they work to advance meaningful policy reforms in this election year.

Key Takeaways

After 14 states and American Samoa casted their votes for the Democratic nominee for president, it’s clear that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the front-runners. Biden won 10 of the 14 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday, while Sanders picked up the remaining four. Elizabeth Warren had a disappointing night, failing to finish higher than third place in any state. The senator ended her candidacy Thursday morning.

Credit: Kantar Media/CMAG
Graphic: Kaeti Hinck and Sean O’Key, CNN

Then there’s Michael Bloomberg, now a case study on the age-old money-in-politics debate. After spending at least $560 million, Bloomberg proved that will get you… American Samoa. The former New York City mayor suspended his campaign the following day. Apparently, the presidency can’t be bought.

Democrats are slowly and begrudgingly rallying around the moderate establishment candidate. My prediction is that, by doing so, we’ll continue to see a fracturing of the party, with the far left causing a ruckus at the Democratic National Convention in July. Furthermore, new findings show swing voters are not nostalgic for the Obama-era (more on that below). So, Joe has to run as Joe—and he’s under pressure to deliver. The only Democratic Super Tuesday winner who failed to later clinch the nomination was Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) in 1984.

Seven swing voter trends and opportunities for state think tanks

Super Tuesday gave us a glimpse into policy issues that matter most to Americans. Washington Post exit polls find climate change a top voting issue, second only to healthcare. This aligns with new findings from Engagious—a research firm that has conducted 21 focus groups in key swing districts since March 2019. Here are seven findings from that project that state think tanks should know:

  1. Swing voters tend to be low-information voters. As Engagious put it, “It’s important to pay attention to the people who don’t pay attention.” As many of you have found, more and more people are getting their news from Facebook. However, the good news for state think tanks is that they rely on getting more of their news from local TV news and radio. Make sure that you are getting your views into these outlets.

  2. Trump swing voters are still with Trump. Two-thirds of Trump voters who supported the president in 2016 would still do so in a Trump vs. Obama matchup. There’s also very little nostalgia for the Obama-era with swing voters. Democrats want to find the candidate who they think will have the best chance at beating Trump. However, see the next point….

  3. 2020 depends on the economy. Trump is still vulnerable on healthcare and retirement security; swing voters don’t feel the president has effectively addressed those issues. If the market sinks or the country enters another recession, the president’s reelection chances are diminished. As they can with state-based healthcare reforms, state think tanks can seize on messaging opportunities on state reforms that build the economy.

  4. “America first” mindset. Swing voters still want “America first.” However, trade and immigration are not the voting issues they were in 2016. Some voters understand that bad trade policies lead to higher consumer prices, but they are willing to accept this to a certain degree. This brings into question common free-market talking points around consumer costs. We do see support for issues dropping when dollar signs are applied—it’s just not as big of a drop as we’d expect. People don’t like paying for something that’s not going to work.

  5. Populist ideas are taking hold. These ideas include taxing the rich and Sen. Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act. However, when you put a huge price tag with a plan, such as Sen. Warren’s $20.5 trillion healthcare proposal, people start to question whether such plans are realistic—and start to understand that you can’t tax the rich and businesses without negative consequences.

  6. The environment is a voting issue. People think weather is getting “weirder.” They are not happy with the rollbacks of regulations affecting the environment and feel even more negative when shown the full extent of the rollbacks. This is an opportunity for state think tanks to emphasize the benefits and desired outcomes of free-market reforms—we can all agree that we want cleaner air and water and to protect the environment.

  7. There is no consensus on Make America___Again. But people are looking for unity and a return to normalcy. My take on this is that people are looking for someone with a vision for the future—and there aren’t many good candidates out there presenting that vision. Most are concerned with presenting themselves purely as the best candidate to go head-to-head with Trump. Movements need vision. When talking about reforms, make sure to talk about the benefits of reform and tier up to a vision that you have for your state.

Over the coming weeks, SPN will be sharing our quantitative study into many of the issues that are at play in the Network. We talked to districts across the country that have shifted from reliably red to “swing districts” over the last couple of elections. Swing voters indicate a great deal on voter preferences, and it’s important as a Network that we pay attention to them. When we understand political opinion around the issues, we can make a more persuasive factual and moral case for free-market, state-based policy solutions. It’s evident that political alignment is changing across the country, and we have an opportunity to show Americans that positive change will happen more quickly through state and local policy solutions, not DC politicians.   

I look forward to sharing with you more information on voter trends in the coming months. Read more about how market research benefits state think tanks here. For SPN members, market research resources are available on SPN’s Member Portal.