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2020 elections

Voters Wanted to Hear More About Trade, Taxes on Wealthy in Democratic Debates

With U.S economy in a record expansion, voters continue to trust Republicans over Democrats with the economy

The second night of Democratic presidential debates is held in Miami on June 27. Many voters wanted to hear more about trade and taxes on the wealthy during the first Democratic presidential debates, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico survey. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
  • 43% of debate watchers wanted to hear more about trade.

  • Taxing the wealthy wasn’t mentioned enough, 40% of voters said.

  • 1 in 4 voters said debt-free college was discussed too much in the debates.

Many voters wanted to hear more about trade and taxes on the wealthy during the first Democratic presidential debates, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico survey.

Despite a trade war with China and escalating trade tensions elsewhere, the economy just hit its 121st straight month of economic expansion — the longest on record — and unemployment is the lowest it’s been in roughly 50 years. Those numbers and the robust economy are likely to be a major part of President Donald Trump’s re-election pitch.

“Our economy is the envy of the world, perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country, and as long as you keep this team in place we have a tremendous way to go,” Trump said as he launched his campaign in Orlando last month.

That presents a significant challenge for Democratic presidential candidates, who will need to craft an alternative narrative on the economy.

One of the smartest plays in upcoming debates could be to emphasize the economic issue where Wall Street thinks Trump is weakest: trade.

A 43 percent plurality of voters who watched the debates said they wanted to hear more about trade, while 40 percent said they wanted to hear more about taxes on the wealthy.

The poll surveyed 1,472 voters between June 29 and July 1 and carries a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

So far, trade hasn’t been a focus for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have proposed policies addressing student loan debt and taxes on the wealthy. While those proposals generally have wide support, more voters were likely to say they heard too much about those issues when compared to trade during the debate.

Only 5 percent said they heard too much about trade, compared to 14 percent who said they heard too much about economic inequality, 22 percent who said they heard too much about taxes on the wealthy and 25 percent on debt-free college.

Talking about the economy is high stakes for 2020 presidential candidates. Controlling messaging on the economy could be a powerful tool for either party.

Voters are consistently most likely to say that economic issues are the most important topics when they consider whom to vote for in national elections. In the latest Morning Consult/Politico survey, 26 percent chose economic issues as the most important, while security issues came in second at 19 percent.

Right now, Republicans have the edge on economic issues. 

Forty-three percent of voters trust congressional Republicans to handle the economy, over 37 percent who trust Democrats, according to the poll. On jobs, 42 percent trust Republicans compared to 39 percent who trust Democrats.