Impeachment is the talk of political nation, and with good reason. There hasn’t been an impeachment trial in 20 years, and there’s never been one with national polls showing public support for removal from office this high during the proceedings. According to the latest WBUR New Hampshire poll, large majorities of likely Democratic primary voters think President Trump is guilty of both articles of impeachment and support his removal.
But when asked what they want to hear from their Democratic candidates for president — several of whom are sidelined by the Senate trial in Washington — voters prefer to talk about almost anything else.
Voters were asked, “What do you want the candidates for president to be discussing as they compete for votes?” Instead of being given a menu of options, responses were recorded verbatim, and then grouped into categories. WBUR and The MassINC Polling Group asked voters the same question last summer in the WBUR listening area of Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.
In response to the question in the recent poll, only 6% of voters offered negative comments about Trump. Only one response out of 426 mentioned impeachment explicitly. In the previous poll, only 8% of comments from self-identified Democrats related to negative feelings toward Trump.
That’s not to say that New Hampshire Democratic voters like Trump. His favorables and job approval are deeply underwater in general and on every policy area tested in this poll. Most want him out. But when it comes to the campaign trail, they want to hear Democratic candidates talk about policy issues over impeachment.
Far and away, the top issue voters want to hear about is health care. Nearly half (48%) mentioned health care topics as top issues for candidates to discuss. It was the most frequently mentioned across every gender, age, education, income, and regional group examined in the poll. The environment and climate change was the next most frequently mentioned topic, cited by 34% of voters overall. The issue resonated particularly with voters under age 45 (40%) and women (39%).
The economy remains at the forefront for many voters — 20% mention jobs, wages, or the economy as a topic they’d like to hear about on the campaign trail. Education issues (16%) rounded out the top tier. The student debt aspect of this issue was especially important to younger voters: 22% of voters under age 45 cited education as an issue, compared to 12% of older voters.
Apart from policy, voters want to focus on the positive rather than attack Trump. Some 9% of voters say they want the candidates to focus on unity, civility, and character, while 6% want to hear an “anti-Trump” message.
For the most part, candidates seem to have gotten the message. Most of the candidates seem happy to dive into the details of their policy proposals in town halls and rallies across the early-voting states. As in 2018, health care has been a focal point. The televised debates have been dominated by the parsing of the pros and cons of Medicare for All versus a public option.
House election results in the 2018 midterms highlight the upside of a health care focus. Exit polls showed the driving force pushing that year’s “blue wave” was health care, not opposition to Trump, and certainly not impeachment.
But with Trump himself on the ballot in 2020, will candidates be able to keep the discussion — and the press — on issues of substance? Reelection races are often referenda on the incumbent, and this particular incumbent has a knack for driving the news cycle with outrageous remarks and tweets.
With the news cycle locked in on Trump, and candidates literally locked into Trump’s impeachment, focusing on issues will be a challenge. But polls and recent election results say even if Democrats are fed up with Trump, they’d rather hear about something else.