Democrats are grappling with what their message should be in the final months before the 2018 midterm elections this fall — Russian meddling? Health care? “Abolish ICE”?
But a new poll suggests there’s another message that works even better: The Trump administration and the Republican Party are hopelessly corrupt and incapable of governing because of it. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in May, “The swamp has never been more foul, or more fetid, than under this president.”
And while other messaging that’s focused on Trump’s Russia connections and the president’s overall “abnormality” have been ineffective, the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund found that the issue of corruption does well with Democratic and independent voters.
Conducted the first week of July, the poll found 54 percent of voters across 48 GOP-controlled congressional districts said Republicans are “more corrupt” than Democrats, with 46 percent arguing that Democrats were more corrupt.
Independents are even tougher on the GOP: 60 percent of independents polled said that Republicans are responsible for the majority of corruption taking place in Washington. Moreover, 56 percent of Republicans said Congress is not checking the Trump administration enough, and 57 percent of independents agree.
Interestingly, the corruption message seems particularly effective with white voters without college educations, while a focus on jobs and health care works well with nonwhite voters and supporters of Hillary Clinton. Per the poll:
In a match-up between Republican and Democratic narratives, a Democratic anti-corruption frame performs as well overall as a putting families first frame centered on healthcare and the economy. In both narrative match-ups, Democrats hold the upper hand by 8 points, 54 – 46 percent, which is a 4-point gain over the generic congressional ballot. However, the two message frames arrive there by different means. The putting families first healthcare and jobs focused frame is relatively stronger with non-white voters, white college-educated voters, and voters who went for Clinton in 2016. The anti-corruption frame is stronger with white non-college voters and those who voted for Trump — and may help make inroads with these kinds of voters in districts where Democratic candidates need more crossover support.
Corruption allegations have dogged Trump almost from the moment he announced his campaign for president, and the Trump administration has already lost major Cabinet members — an Environmental Protection Agency head, a Veterans Affairs secretary, and a Health and Human Services secretary — to corruption scandals, while others, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, are now embroiled in scandals of their own.
That’s not counting the many, many scandals involving Trump and members of his family, scandals that, as my colleague Matthew Yglesias wrote in June, stop Republicans in Congress from investigating others enmeshed in corrupt behavior:
Republicans hold a majority in the Senate at the moment and could easily confirm replacements for any officials who got fired in a house-cleaning. But nobody can articulate a plausible red line — on corruption, on sexual misconduct, on racism, on conspiracy theories, on honesty, or virtually anything else — that wouldn’t implicate the president and his family.
In response, Democrats are making anti-corruption part of their midterm messaging, adding an anti-corruption plank to the party’s “A Better Deal” proposal announced in February and arguing for improved ethics legislation on the basis of continued corrupt behavior in government — mainly by members of the Trump administration:
The line between public service and private interests is too often blurred. Today, several Trump Administration officials are under federal investigation for corruption and waste of taxpayer money. Top posts have been handed out to former lobbyists and industry insiders who later use their government positions to land even more lucrative opportunities with the very same industries. It’s an endless cycle taken to a completely unprecedented level under President Trump, demonstrating a blatant disregard for the laws and norms in place to prevent public corruption.
As Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in May during a press briefing to announce the anti-corruption push, “Instead of delivering on his promise to drain the swamp, President Trump has become the swamp. Republicans, the White House, and the Congress are cravenly beholden to big money interests, and the American people are paying the price.”