As the 2020 Democrats fan out across the country trying to convince voters they would be better shepherds of the US economy than President Donald Trump, some Democrats like former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm are questioning whether they are connecting with the voters of the industrial Midwest who believe Trump is fighting for them.
During the “Citizen by CNN” event Sunday night in downtown Detroit — where CNN will host Democratic debates on Tuesday and Wednesday, Granholm, a CNN contributor, noted that Trump won states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in part by vowing to undo unpopular trade deals and bring industry back to the US.
“People who are in blue collar jobs feel like at least he’s trying something, right? That is the challenge for Democrats. Because what he’s trying is actually not working,” she said. “Those stories, they need to be brought out because what he’s doing is ineffective and worse, it’s hurting workers. But Democrats have got to be able to make that case.”
CNN interviews with voters in swing states across the country suggest that some of the leading Democrats could face two central problems as they look ahead to the general election contest in 15 months: one, most American voters are far more moderate than the far-left activists the candidates are courting to win the primary, and two, many Americans feel positive about the economy.
It is the one bright spot in Trump’s abysmal poll numbers, and clearly a factor that is bolstering his approval rating. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from this month had Trump’s approval rating among voters nationwide at 45% with a disapproval rating of 52%. In a CNN poll from June, 52% of voters approved of how Trump is handling the economy.
The ideological gap between leading Democratic candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — with their full-throated support of Medicare for All, for example — and the more centrist views of many moderate Democrats and independents, is especially pronounced here in the industrial Midwest.
In this union stronghold, many workers fought for their health care benefits over many years and are skeptical of the dramatic changes that a Medicare for All system would bring.
While 90% of Democrats surveyed in a new Marist College poll say they want a health care system in which private insurers and a public option exist, only 64% of Democrats say Medicare for All is a good idea.
Though the economy is showing signs of slowing — particularly in the auto industry, which is the backbone of the Michigan economy — there is also little evidence in public polling that voters are feeling that pain.
Seven in ten voters polled by CNN in June said they believed the economy was in good shape.
In Michigan, the Brooking Institution’s Mark Muro points out that overall employment is growing slower than the nation — 1% versus 1.5% across America. But Muro, who has closely followed the economic trends here, notes that manufacturing actually lost ground in Michigan year over year after Trump was elected.
“Michigan is going to be a place to watch because the trends are generally going sideways on employment, and the state is so linked to the auto industry,” Muro said.
Of the three battlegrounds — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — Muro said: “Michigan is going to be the one that’s most important to watch, because it is showing more slowing than the others and is susceptible to further slowing in auto.”