Third Way: Biden Will Win If He Can ‘Seal the Deal’ With Undecided Suburban Voters

July 31, 2020 by Dan McCue
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at the William "Hicks" Anderson Community Center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 28, 2020.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Four months out from Election Day, Democrats appear on the upswing in America’s increasingly diverse suburbs.

But to seal the deal, and secure the White House, presumptive nominee Joe Biden needs to win over the one-in-five suburban voters who still describe themselves as undecided or leaning his way, according to a new analysis by Third Way, the Washington-based think tank.

Its latest report is based on multiple rounds of research in which the organization sought to better understand suburban voters ahead of the November elections.

As part of the analysis, Third Way partnered with Avalanche Insights to survey nearly 3,500 voters in battleground states.

In the survey each of the respondents was asked to describe their perceptions of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s visions for the county.

Among other things, the survey found that 40% of undecideds and 60% of Biden-leaners believe Trump’s vision is self-serving and divisive.

Thirty-percent of undecideds said Trump’s vision made them feel negative emotions ranging from anger to sadness.

Perhaps most importantly, 70% of those leaning towards Biden say the Democrat’s vision is clear, while 71% of undecided voters say it isn’t.

Third Way interprets these responses as presenting a “great opportunity” for Biden to “close the sale” with the remaining persuadable suburban voters.

Delivering A Decisive Win in the Suburbs

The think tank suggests that in order to prevail in the suburbs, Biden and other Democratic candidates should hammer Trump on his divisiveness and self-serving vision — and explicitly connect it to the harm it’s causing voters.

“It’s also important for them to continue communicating Biden’s vision, especially to the undecided voters who could help him secure the suburban vote,” the report said.

What is clear from the analysis is whether Democrats’ mission to make Donald Trump a one-term president succeeds or fails is going to be based on their performance in the suburbs of battleground states.

Third Way notes that in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by a combined 455,204 votes; and she lost the suburban counties in those states by 560,412 votes.

“In short, winning the suburbs would’ve meant winning the White House,” Third Way said.

The survey of suburban voters in the battleground states found:

  • Biden starts with a base of support from 39% of suburban voters, compared to 28% for Trump.
  • An additional 22% are leaning toward Biden (9%) or undecided (13%), with nearly half of Biden-leaning voters identifying as people of color.

This is significant because it suggests Biden can win a decisive majority in the suburbs without pursuing a single Trump-leaning voter.

  • There is consensus across the suburbs on Trump’s vision: in an open-ended question, 40% of undecideds and 60% of Biden-leaners volunteered that Trump’s vision is self-serving and divisive.

What separates undecideds and Biden-leaners is their clarity on Biden’s vision. Seventy percent of them say they are clear on his vision, while 71% of undecided voters say they are not.

Based on these findings, Third Way said Democrats need to take two steps to help lock up a decisive suburban majority.

First, they need to spend more time and resources communicating Biden’s vision – what he and they are for – especially to undecided suburban voters.

Second, they need to continue to highlight Trump’s divisive and self-serving nature – and explicitly connect it to the  harm it is causing voters in their own lives and communities.

“This is a crucial part of a proactive Democratic defense against a Trump revival,” the think tank says, adding, “These two steps can help close the sale with suburban swing voters, flipping the script and denying Trump the suburban majority that delivered the White House to him in 2016.”

The Current Standings

The survey found Biden is currently in a promising position across the battleground suburbs:

  • 39% of voters are solidly supporting him right now, compared to 28% for Trump.
  • Among solid supporters, Biden has a 15-point edge with women, he’s up nine with voters over 55, he’s dominating by 39 points with voters of color, and he’s tied with those who have only a high school degree but up by 18 points with college graduates.
  • An additional 22% of voters in the suburbs currently fall into the lean towards Biden (9%) or undecided (13%) categories.

“This means that Biden can put together a decisive suburban majority if he can build upon his existing 39% of supporters to include the 9% of Biden-leaners and a healthy share of the undecideds,” Third Way said.  “As it stands now, he can unite this decisive suburban majority without wooing a single Trump-leaning voter, an important benchmark.”

Persuadable Voters Do Not Fit Swing Voter Stereotype

The survey found that lean-Biden voters and undecided voters share an important characteristic: The majority of them are female. This is especially true of the undecideds, 61% of whom were women.

Additionally:

  • Pluralities of both groups are under 35, most notably 41% of lean-Biden voters.
  • While voters of color make up 19% of voters across the battleground suburbs, this share jumps to 45% in the lean-Biden segment.

Defining Trump

Third Way says an important component of forging a decisive suburban majority is defining what four more years under Trump would mean for voters.

In its research, it found the description of Trump as self-serving and divisive is so ingrained that it has become a defining feature of how voters view the current occupant of the White House.

Additionally:

  • A third of undecided voters volunteer that Trump’s vision hurts everyone (30%) or the working and middle class (16%).
  • Among Biden-leaners, 57% say Trump’s vision hurts everyone (42%) or the working and middle class (15%).
  • Yet, respondents had trouble explicitly connecting the harm Trump’s vision inflicts on Americans collectively to how it might hurt them as individuals.

Some Still Lack Clarity on Biden’s Vision

The research suggests the second half of Democrats’ ability to build a decisive suburban majority depends upon articulating Biden’s vision for the country to voters.

Earlier qualitative research by Third Way showed that some persuadable suburban voters were not clear on where Biden planned to take the country if elected president. This lack of clarity was holding them back from declaring their support for him.

In this round of research, the think tank found that 70% of Biden-leaning voters say the candidate has conveyed his vision for the country to them, but the share of undecided voters who say the same is 29%.

“This is a departure from the consensus between these two groups on Trump’s vision, and it presents both a challenge and an opportunity,” Third Way said. “Even in a referendum election, voters need to know what the challenger is offering and what it means for them.

“Reinforcing Biden’s alternative vision is a crucial pathway to moving Biden-leaners to the solid Biden category and true undecideds closer to supporting the former vice president,” the think tank added.

Even among those who are leaning toward support for Biden, his vision is still fairly loosely defined. These leaners most frequently define Biden’s vision in terms that are similar to the qualities he conveys:

  • Nearly a third say that it represents a return of leadership (14%) or national unity (13%).
  • Another 18% say it is about a better America (9%) or the economy (9%).
  • But 30% are unable to articulate any specific tenets of Biden’s vision.
  • Undecided voters are less clear still; 57% are unable to name an element of Biden’s vision.
  • Those who can most frequently cite the economy (12%).
  • At this point, undecided voters are only about half as likely as Biden-leaners to reference leadership and national unity as part of Biden’s vision.

Because of undecided voters’ lack of clarity on Biden’s vision, they struggle to articulate who would benefit from it.

  • At 30%, a plurality of undecideds say that they do not know who would benefit from Biden’s vision.
  • Smaller shares say that all of us (13%) and no one (10%) would benefit.

By contrast, Biden-leaners had positive associations  when asked who benefits from Biden’s vision.

  • Twenty-eight percent say that his vision benefits all of us, and an additional 16% name the middle/working class or lower class.
  • Just 18% report that they do not know who benefits from Biden’s vision.

Conclusion

The Third Way Report closes by saying based on the survey, presidential vision will be the key to a Biden victory.

It says while Democrats “must be unrelenting in portraying Trump’s vision as ‘self-serving and divisive,’ they must also illuminate Biden’s vision for the country to those undecided suburban voters who remain unclear on it.”

“Many of them are ready to turn away from Trump, but they need an alternative path to embrace. If Biden brings the undecided and lean-Biden voters examined in this analysis into his coalition, he’ll be on his way to a decisive suburban majority,” the think tank concluded.

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