“In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, analysts fiercely debated the role of the approximately six million voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but shifted their support to Mr. Trump in 2016. Democratic strategists also had to worry about their future behavior: Was 2016 a temporary blip or were these voters gone forever? With newly available data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey, the largest publicly-available election survey, we can now analyze what happened with these Obama-Trump voters in 2018 and what that might portend for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
To understand the potential ramifications of Obama-Trump voters in 2020, it’s worth understanding how they voted in 2018. Among those who voted, three-quarters stuck with the Republican Party. But Democrats did win back about one-fifth of the Obama-Trump group in 2018, which would amount to a net swing of about 1.5 million votes. While the idiosyncratic governing style of Mr. Trump may have been one key factor in bringing Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic fold, it wasn’t the only reason. It’s true that most Obama-Trump voters who stuck with the Republican Party in 2018 strongly approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing as president, but interestingly even half of those who flipped back to the Democratic side at least somewhat approved of Mr. Trump. Democrats won back a significant share of Obama-Trump voters not because those voters disliked Mr. Trump, but in spite of the fact that many actually approved of him.”
” . . . Following the 2016 presidential election, the Wesleyan Media Project reported that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aired fewer issue-based ads than any other presidential candidate since they started collecting the data in 2000. Perhaps Democrats learned a lesson from 2016: In 2018 the Wesleyan researchers found that Democratic campaign ads were “laser focused” on issues, especially health care, which was the focus of more than half of the advertisements run by Democratic candidates. Our data suggests that this approach helped bring many Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic column while also remobilizing many Obama voters to turn out and vote Democratic again in the midterm election.
Though there is a temptation to focus on Mr. Trump’s personality, if Democrats continue to learn from these elections, they will focus this year’s campaign on their plans to address issues like health care, wages and the environment, lest the Obama-Trump voters become Obama-Trump-Trump voters in 2020.”