Opinion

Poll of  ‘unheard middle’ voters provides roadmap for economic recovery

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As Maine begins to navigate how to loosen restrictions on activities in the shadow of COVID-19 and develop a plan for recovery, a new 10-state poll gives insights on voters’ priorities.

 

Recognizing that partisan political leanings have begun to skew ideas even around public health, the poll focuses on the “unheard middle” by eliminating respondents who self-identify as strong Democrats or strong Republicans.

 

Conducted by Global Strategy Group, one of the country’s leading Democratic polling firms, the poll gives high marks to governors and state legislatures for their handling of COVID-19. (Disclosure: I have worked with GSG on polling in the past but was not involved in the creation or fielding of this poll.) The poll was done in conjunction with Mainers for Working Families.

 

“Unheard middle” voters give Gov. Janet Mills a 71% approval rating of her handling of the public health crisis compared to just 23% who disapprove. Similarly, the Maine Legislature also scores well, with 59% approval and 22% disapproval.

 

The Maine sample size was relatively small, 202 voters, but was part of a much larger 10-state sample of more than 2,000 voters. Other states polled are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

 

“We conducted this survey to hear from the ‘unheard middle’ in American politics,” said Andrew Baumann, polling analyst for Global Strategy Group. “Our polling shows Maine’s ‘unheard middle’ voters believe their state government has a significant role to play in COVID-19 recovery and hard-working people and small businesses should be the top priority for decision makers and leaders in Maine.”

 

The poll provides a roadmap forward for policy initiatives that are appealing to voters in the middle.

 

On May 6, Mills convened a group of experts to advise her on the state’s economic recovery. As the group considers policy alternatives, voters hope to see an active state government that puts the interests of small businesses and working families first – with a particular focus on making sure health care is accessible and affordable.

 

For example, 90% support low-interest loans for small businesses, 87% support extending the grace period for people to pay health insurance bills before coverage is canceled and 84% support limiting what drug companies can charge for prescriptions. In addition, 80% support allowing Maine people to buy into a public health insurance plan and 75% support requiring employers to provide paid sick days.

 

Other popular initiatives include extending unemployment insurance and expanding tax credits for low-income working families. “Unheard middle” voters also support ending tax breaks for large corporations and asking big businesses to pay their fair share to expand supports for small businesses and working people.

 

One idea that was decidedly unpopular: lowering the minimum wage. Only 13% of respondents thought that was a good way to respond to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

 

Voters are obviously concerned about the impact that COVID-19 will have on America’s economy and public health.

 

But there was also an underlying level of concern about the economy even before COVID-19. According to the poll, many people didn’t believe the economy was working for them even before coronavirus. Those groups included women, young voters, people of color and lower-income families. Republicans, older voters and high-earners were more likely to think the economy was working well for regular people, but even 43% of those earning more than $100,000 thought the economy was failing those earning less.

 

The poll is interesting because it tries to account for the impact that hard partisans might have on its results and examine the views of those who aren’t as likely to retreat to party positions.

 

The findings are pretty clear: “unheard middle” voters want the state government to be aggressive in its response to this economic and public health crisis and they want that activism to extend beyond the immediate needs to improve the chances that the new economy that emerges works better for people.

 

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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