RESEARCH MEMO: Polling Ryan
TO: Interested Parties
FR: Priorities USA Action (Based on Polling Conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research and Global Strategy Group)
RE: Memo: Polling Ryan
Since Priorities USA Action began in mid-2011, we have focused extensive time on public opinion research surrounding the House Republican Budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan. Our research came to two main conclusions:
1. The Ryan Budget is politically toxic document overall. The specific proposals it contains – particularly on tax policy, education and Medicare – left voters viscerally angry.
2. Our challenge would be to convince voters that a politician could support it.
In focus groups and polling conducted with swing voters in battleground states in 2011 and 2012, many voters were deeply concerned – in many cases shocked – with the priorities in Ryan’s budget. The response to the plan was virtually unanimous strong opposition. However, when told that Romney supported the Ryan plan, many voters simply did not believe it. The underlying assumption was clear: no frontrunner for a major party’s Presidential nomination could support such an extreme proposal.
Therefore, a key strategic challenge for Democrats was to convince voters that Romney was the kind of candidate who could actually support a proposal that cut and eliminated programs for the poor and middle class to finance tax cuts for the very wealthiest.
That is why we started by educating voters about Mitt Romney’s business record. It provided illustrations of a corporate CEO who put profit ahead of the concerns of middle class workers, time after time. Provided with this information on Romney’s business record, voters in focus groups were much more open to the fact that Romney supports the policies in the Ryan Budget that cut education and Medicare for the middle class in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy. One Colorado swing voter made it clear that they now realized that Romney – in his private sector experience and his policies as President – is about “the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”
By choosing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney actually helped to solve one of the key strategic challenges we had in helping voters to understand that, in fact, Romney does support the kind of policies embedded in the Ryan budget.
The toxic nature of the Ryan Budget simply can’t be overstated. In Priorities USA Action polling in 2011 and 2012, descriptions of the Ryan Budget were consistently and decisively the most effective messages against Romney and Republicans – better than dozens of others tested. Descriptions of the Ryan plan’s impact on education, taxes, Medicare, job training and high-tech research consistently raise “major doubts” about Romney in over 55 percent of likely voters. Among independent and swing voters, the concerns are even greater.
Mostly overlooked among the pundit class is that Ryan’s Medicare proposal is only one driver of the plan’s unpopularity. The Ryan plan's deep cuts to early childhood education are ‘extremely concerning’ for 62% of voters. Cuts to Pell Grants for college students are extremely concerning to 57% of voters. The plan’s shift in the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class is extremely concerning to 62%. Cuts to job training, nursing home care, scientific research and children’s health care all raise similar concerns for voters. Other individual items with the Ryan Budget – such as cuts to higher education, tax cuts for corporations, and increasing health care costs for seniors – were consistently labeled as “extremely concerning” by about half of voters.
Finally, Paul Ryan’s insistence on tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans completely undermines the plan’s stated focus on reducing deficits. In focus groups, voters did not take seriously a supposed deficit reduction plan that also included significant new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
It is for all of these reasons that our very first ad of the cycle “Pages,” which ran in South Carolina in May of 2011, was focused on tying Mitt Romney to the Ryan budget. Up until that point, Romney had attempted to dodge questions on the Ryan plan.
Because of the significant spending advantage for Romney provided by Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers and a deeply polarized electorate, this election will stay close until the very end.
Over the next months, Priorities USA Action will be focused on defining the choice in this election for voters in key battleground states. The selection of Paul Ryan makes that task much clearer.