If the election was a debate on public policy, the Democratic candidate would win. Democratic policy positions on the economy and social issues are much more popular across the country than the Republican policy positions. There is more of a split on foreign policy issues, but these have historically been less valuable to voters. But, if we are lucky, the election is about monikers of public policy position (e.g., Obamacare v. actual healthcare policies) and the Republican monikers are consistently more popular than the underlying policy positions. (Note: I say, if we are lucky, because it is more likely to be about perceived personality traits, than public positions or even policy monikers).
Healthcare: Republican politicians will say that the majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare. That is true, but it needs to be qualified by about 20 percent of people disapproving of Obamacare, because they want to expand it, not eliminate it! But, either way, the question is about the moniker, not the public policy position. Overwhelming numbers of American support expanding Medicare, keeping children on their parent’s coverage to higher ages, and even offering a public option (which is what Obama had to drop in order to get Obamacare passed). In short, except for the individual mandate to get healthcare (which is necessary for the policy to work for the insurance companies and avoid catastrophic personally bankruptcies), there is massive support for the policies in the law, people just disapprove of the moniker.
We have been tracking 12 public policy issues, all year, with Pollfish’s mobile polling application. We run the data through MRP and are very confident that the results reflect the likely voting population.
It is startling how popular the Democratic policy positions are compared with the Republican policy positions, when we talk about the actual positions, rather than the sales line: abortion rights, gun control, anti-discrimination protection, tax rates, global warming, a host of domestic social and economic policy positions.
This chart is designed to show Republican positions are on the right and Democratic positions are on the left (the respondents see a randomized mix of orders and are not told where the party positions lie; we change the orders for the data visualization). We thought we had a good mix of positions, but we were wrong.
For example, week after week after week the vast majority of respondents agree that we should raise taxes on income over $250,000 (my co-author pushed for $400,000, because he thought $250,000 was way too low for people to support). Massive tax cuts for that group is the cornerstone of Republican public policy. But, I guarantee you if you ask about reducing the tax burden on job creators or eliminating the death tax, the Republicans will drastically over-perform on the support for their cleverly chosen monikers over the actual public policy.
Where the Republicans do well are on foreign policy: immigrants and war. Slowing down the flow of immigration is a popular position, but this position has only been a Republican position since Trump became the nominee. Previously, both parties favored robust immigration. A military solution with Iran is popular, standing in for neoconservative policy of foreign intervention, is popular. But, foreign policy generally does not drive votes nearly as much as domestic policy.
Republicans do not want policy debates, they lose them, they want policy moniker debates, because they win those.