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Exclusive polling: What likely voters want to see in a Biden Cabinet

This survey is the first in a new partnership between Vox and Data for Progress.

President-elect Joe Biden is currently weighing a big next step: picking his Cabinet. And many Americans know who they don’t want to see included: corporate executives.

According to a new poll from Data for Progress — the first in an ongoing partnership with Vox — a majority of likely voters think Senate Democrats should oppose potential Cabinet nominees who are fossil fuel executives, Wall Street executives, or executives who have exploited low-wage labor.

That’s one of the key findings from a comprehensive survey of voters’ attitudes on Biden’s Cabinet, from their position on corporate executives, to support for progressive nominees, openness to cross-party appointments, and expectations about racial and gender diversity. One of the most recurring themes: keeping money out of the administration.

Sixty-nine percent of likely voters believe that big corporations and the ultra-wealthy have had too much influence on previous administrations, according to the poll, which found that 74 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents, and 64 percent of Republicans felt this way.

Biden’s picks will have a huge influence in shaping everything from housing policies to trade agreements — and they’ll send a clear message about how the Biden administration intends to approach its agenda. Reports about whether Biden will consider Republicans like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich for a role have already prompted progressives to raise alarms about the new administration for being too cautious.

Likely voters seem less committed to one side of the ideological spectrum or the other with Cabinet appointments: While the Vox/DFP polling found the vast majority of voters weren’t opposed to a Republican nominee or two, a solid segment said they want a progressive named to one of the top-tier spots, like secretary of state or Treasury secretary.

“As he did during the campaign to his transition, Joe Biden will be intentional in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges,” Biden transition spokesperson Cameron French said in a statement. The transition team has noted that it’s focused on prioritizing diversity of ideology and background and building a team that looks like America. Previously, the team had told The New York Times that Biden was dedicated to making sure “public servants serve all Americans, not themselves or narrow special interests.”

Biden’s choices will ultimately have to satisfy the demands of different wings of the Democratic Party — while being able to endure a potentially grueling confirmation process in what could be a Republican-controlled Senate. Currently, the breakdown for the next Senate is 50-48 in favor of Republicans, with two races in Georgia — where Democrats face uphill odds — going to runoffs in January.

Because Senate control will be narrow either way, public opinion could play a role in rallying support for Cabinet picks or blocking certain nominees. Vox and Data for Progress have a comprehensive look at what that opinion might be.

The survey was conducted in two parts: the first part was fielded from October 28 to 29, with 1,253 likely voters, and the second part was fielded from November 5 to 6, with 1,095 likely voters. The sampling margin of error for the first part of the survey was 2.8 percentage points, and the margin of error for the second part was 3 percentage points.

This poll is part of a new partnership between Vox and Data for Progress, a progressive polling firm. The partnership will examine voter attitudes across the political spectrum about the White House agenda and new policies in Congress. Our first installment looks at what voters want from a Biden Cabinet.

Many voters are concerned about corporate influence

Likely voters from both parties are concerned about the influence that corporate executives could have as members of the White House team.

Sixty-eight percent of all likely voters said they believed the “revolving door” between large corporations and senior government roles presented a potential conflict of interest and tilted policy focus away from working families. Seventy-four percent of Democrats agreed with this statement, while 64 percent of independents and 66 percent of Republicans did as well.

A smaller share of likely voters said they believed this “revolving door” was necessary because it enabled government officials to have industry expertise. Thirty-five percent of all likely voters felt this way, with 39 percent of Democrats, 31 percent of independents, and 32 percent of Republicans agreeing with the idea.

But a large majority of likely voters thought that Senate Democrats should vote against potential nominees who were fossil fuel executives, Wall Street executives, or executives who exploited low-wage labor.

According to a Business Insider report, there are some business leaders, including BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, former Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, who could be under consideration for roles including Treasury secretary and commerce secretary — something that many progressive groups have opposed.

Progressive organizations including Demand Progress and Indivisible have urged Biden to avoid appointing corporate executives and lobbyists to Cabinet positions, recently sending a letter to the president-elect, according to the New York Times. “In particular, we urge you to decline to nominate or hire corporate executives, lobbyists, and prominent corporate consultants to serve in high office,” they wrote.

It appears that many voters agree with them.

Many Democrats want to see a progressive nominee in one of the top roles

There is strong support among Democrats for a nominee who identifies as progressive for one of the top Cabinet roles, including secretary of state, Treasury secretary, defense secretary, and attorney general.

Fifty-six percent of Democrats supported appointing a progressive to one of these roles — which might not be particularly surprising — but there’s some support among the broader electorate as well. About two-fifths (39 percent) of likely voters overall said they’d like to see a progressive in one of those roles, with 32 percent of independents and 26 percent of Republicans agreeing. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Democrats and likely voters overall said they were neutral on this question.

The Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats, both progressive organizations, released their preferred list of Cabinet appointees last week including Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Treasury secretary, Sen. Bernie Sanders as labor secretary, and Rep. Barbara Lee as secretary of state.

Some of these potential options could face strong opposition from Republicans, however, who’ve already indicated that they intend to stonewall more left-leaning nominees.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

There appears to be broad openness to appointing Republicans to the Cabinet, though less so among Democratic voters. Thirty-four percent of Democrats do not think Biden should appoint a Republican, compared to 20 percent of voters overall, 12 percent of independents, and 11 percent of Republicans. Overall, 26 percent of likely voters said they were ambivalent about Biden possibly picking Republicans.

Republicans including former Sen. Jeff Flake, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Kasich, and Whitman are among the names floated in discussions, according to a Politico report.

Many voters want to see a Cabinet that is representative of the country

Many likely voters — including an overwhelming majority of Democrats — would like to see a Cabinet that is representative of the country’s diversity.

Forty-nine percent of voters overall think the Cabinet needs to reflect the country’s gender and racial diversity, with 72 percent of Democrats taking this position, 40 percent of independents, and 34 percent of Republicans. Women, as well as Black voters, were also more likely to support this stance compared to men, and to white voters. Fifty-three percent of women, compared to 46 percent of men, and 56 percent of Black voters, compared to 48 percent of white voters, were interested in prioritizing representation.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

When looking at specific roles in the Cabinet, a higher proportion of Democrats, versus independents and Republicans, were consistently interested in nominating a woman or person of color for one of the top jobs. Forty-four percent of Democrats were interested in seeing a woman or person of color nominated for Treasury secretary, versus 17 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans, for example. For each of the top Cabinet roles, however, roughly half of likely voters polled were neutral on diversity concerns.

Biden has previously said that promoting diversity within the Cabinet is one of his chief goals. “Across the board — from our classrooms to our courtrooms to the president’s Cabinet — we have to make sure that our leadership and our institutions actually look like America,” he wrote in an op-ed this past summer. Depending on who he nominates, he could appoint the first woman to both the Treasury and defense secretary positions.

As Matt Yglesias previously reported for Vox, Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration, is among the top candidates for the defense secretary role and Lael Brainard, of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, is among the top candidates for the Treasury secretary job.

In the past, presidents have announced some Cabinet choices by mid-December prior to their inauguration. This survey offers a glimpse of what likely voters are hoping to see.

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