June 20, 2017
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University’s Watson Institute determined to take a deep dive into the nuances distinguishing various corners of “red” and “blue” America. In what ways are certain communities caught in “bubbles” that distinguish them from the rest of the country? Which threads tie disparate demographic groups together? To answer those questions, the Taubman Poll identified five separate communities—each representative of one of the fifteen categories established in the American Communities Project—and partnered with Red America Blue America (RABA) Polling to take public opinion snapshots of how voters in each locale viewed important issues.
The counties studied in the Taubman Poll are generally representative of certain types of counties—meaning that they have demographic and ideological similarities to other counties around the country. For example, Kent County, Rhode Island is what might be termed a “Working Class Suburb” similar to Macomb County, Michigan, Stark County, Ohio, or Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Like Kent County, each of these counties switched from the Democratic column in 2012 (Obama) to the Republican column in 2016 (Trump). Studying one county in each category can enhance our understanding of similar counties across the country.
Two of the counties Taubman and RABA selected to study switched from the Democratic column in 2012 (Obama) to the Republican column in 2016 (Trump). One switched from the Republican column in 2012 (Romney) to the Democratic column in 2016 (Clinton). One polled for the Democratic nominee in both elections and one for the Republican nominee in both elections.
Brown’s Taubman Poll chose to focus their research on the following five communities:
Working Class Suburb (Obama/Trump): Kent County, RI
Diverse Rural South (Obama/Trump): An amalgam of Bladen County, NC, Richmond County, NC, Darlington County, SC and Calhoun County, SC
Upper Middle Class Exurb (Romney/Clinton): Chester County, PA
Wealthy First-Ring Suburb (Obama/Clinton): Arapahoe County, CO
Rural Midwest (Romney/Trump): An amalgam of Cass, Clay, Hardin, and Page counties in Iowa
1. TRUMP: President Trump is losing support in places that switched into his Republican column in the November 2016 election. But he’s gaining support in places that traditionally vote Republican.
The Working Class Suburb (RI) and the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (NC/SC) each voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and for President Trump in 2016. In those counties, support for the President declined between April and June:
In the Working Class Suburb (RI), those responding that President Trump is doing an “excellent” job fell from 30% to 23%. The percentage reporting that he is doing a “poor” job jumped from 40% to 47%.
In the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (NC/SC), those responding that President Trump is doing an “excellent” job fell from 40% to 31%. The percentage reporting that he is doing a “poor” job jumped from 32% to 36%.
But in the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA), those responding that President Trump is doing an “excellent” job actually rose from 25% to 29%. The percentage reporting that he is doing a “poor” job also grew from 35% to 38%.
2. CONGRESS: Confidence in Congress to act in the country’s best interests is low everywhere, and support for Democrats is gaining relative steam in four of our five locales.
Congress is very unpopular. When asked, “Do you have confidence in Congress to act in the best interest of the country?” fewer than 1 in 5 respondents said yes across the five samples.
Everywhere but in the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA), relative support for the GOP Congressional candidate on the generic ballot has fallen or remained constant.
In the places that switched from Obama to Trump, relative support for a generic Republican slipped 6 percentage points in the Working Class Suburb (RI), and 11 percentage points in the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (NC/SC).
The generic Democrat also gained 5 percentage points relative to the generic Republican in the Middle Class Exurb (PA) which polled for Romney and then Clinton.
In the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA) which voted for both Romney and Trump, the generic Republican has actually gained ground relative to the generic Democrat: the 4 percentage point advantage in April (43% R/39% D) has grown to an 11 percentage point advantage in June (47% R / 36% D).
3. RUSSIA: Voters’ view of whether the President “has ties to Russia that threaten America’s interests” shows some movement in the places that switched parties from 2012 to 2016.
The question of whether Trump “has ties to Russia that threaten America’s interests” has had little effect in places that are reliably Democratic or reliably Republican. But in places that switched from Obama to Trump or from Romney to Clinton, the Russia narrative appears to have gained credibility over the last two months.
In the solidly Democratic Wealthy First-Ring Suburb (CO), belief in the Russia narrative remains stable, the percentage “agreeing” vs. “disagreeing” evolving from a 45%/37% split to a 47%/39% split.
In the solidly Republican Rural Midwestern Sample (IA), a plurality do not believe the narrative—and the split remains virtually unchanged: a 34% agree/49% disagree split in April turned to 35%/49% in June.
But, in the places that switched from red to blue or blue to red between 2012 and 2016, the narrative has gained support.
The Upper Middle Class Exurb (PA) was largely skeptical of the Russia narrative in April: only 39% agreed, while 48% disagreed. Two months later, the Exurb was split 43%/43%.
In the Working Class Suburb (RI), the agree/disagree split evolved from 37%/48% to 40%/44%.
In the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (NC/SC), the agree/disagree split evolved from 30%/51% to 36%/46%.
4. HEALTHCARE/ACA/OBAMACARE: Most Americans share the view that the United States had a moral responsibility to provide healthcare to everyone—but labeling the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” has a profound effect on whether they support repeal.
A strong majority of Americans everywhere believe that “the nation has a moral responsibility to provide healthcare to all Americans.” But there is less consensus about how that health case should be provided. Voters are increasingly opposed to proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, they are powerfully influenced by whether the existing health care law is called “Obamacare.”
Support for “getting rid of” the Affordable Care Act has diminished or stayed the same in all five communities since April.
In the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA), support for repeal has fallen from 45% to 36%
In the Working Class Suburb (RI) support has fallen from 36% to 31%.
While a plurality of voters in April supported getting rid of the ACA in the Rural Midwestern Sample (45%/31%), a plurality now opposes the same proposal (36%/38%).
Voters in the Upper Middle Class Exurb (PA) traveled the same journey: While a plurality supported “getting rid of the ACA” in April (46%/43%), a plurality now opposes the proposal (42%/45%).
The surveys in the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (currently 42%/31% in favor of getting rid) and in the Wealthy First-Ring Suburb (currently 33%/51% opposed) remain basically the same.
Notably, when the phrase “Affordable Care Act” is switched out for the word “Obamacare,” support for repeal grows—often dramatically. While only 36% of voters from the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA) support “getting rid of the Affordable Care Act,” 54% support “getting rid of Obamacare.”
While support for “getting rid of the Affordable Care Act fell in the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA) from 45% in April to 36% in June, support for “getting rid of Obamacare” actually grew from 46% to 54%.
Similarly, in the Wealthy Inner-Ring Suburb (CO), support for “getting rid of Obamacare” has grown from 29% in April to 38% in June, even as support for “getting rid of the Affordable Care Act” has remained steady at 33%.
5. EDUCATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Voters across different categories of community reveal some common ground on a series of issues that are often considered divisive within the electorate.
Vouchers: Proposals to give “parents taxpayer money to help pay for their children’s private and perhaps religious school” are unpopular everywhere—even places that voted for President Trump.
57% of voters opposed vouchers in the Rural Midwestern Sample (IA), compared to 20% in favor.
59% of voters in the Working Class Suburb (RI) survey expressed opposition, compared to 20% in favor.
Even in the Diverse Rural Southern Sample (NC/SC), voters opposed vouchers 47% to 28%.
Climate Change: A plurality of voters in every type of community responded that they believe that humans are causing climate change.
An outright majority expressed that belief in the Upper Middle Class Exurb (PA: 55% to 31%), Wealthy First-Ring Suburb (CO: 58% to 26%) and Working Class Suburb (RI: 53% to 27%).
The same view pervades in the Rural Midwestern Sample (43% to 33%) and in Diverse Rural Southern Sample (38% to 32%-- a notable 30% is “not sure”).