So-called “Reagan Democrats” played a significant role in the 1980 blow-out election, demonstrating how a charismatic candidate with uplifting language could swing moderate voters of the opposing party. In 2008, President Barack Obama assembled a winning coalition which included some moderate Republicans. Now, on the road to the 2016 election, as Republican presidential candidates jostle for the mantle of Reagan, a significant percentage of former Obama voters appears willing to swing right and pull the lever for the GOP.
In online research conducted this year, Resonate identified 5.9 percent of the U.S. population, or at least 10.9 million adults, who reported voting for Obama in 2008 or 2012, but now identify as Republicans or as prospective voters in the GOP presidential primary. For context, in the 2012 election, Obama won by a margin of 5 million votes.
Who are these voters, and how will they decide whether their loyalty is to a candidate, to a party or to one or more issues? (This data comes from a sample size of 3,540 with a margin of error of +/- 2 percent.)
Let’s start with the basics. Demographically, 58 percent are men, and they are most likely to be middle-aged (38 percent more likely to be 45-54). Socioeconomically, they’re at least as well educated, and gainfully employed, as the average American. Geographically, you’re more likely to find them in the upper Midwest. And ideologically, you’ll find they’re a moderate bunch: 72 percent are social moderates or liberals, while 51 percent are self-described fiscal conservatives. A fraction, but a not a big one, say they identify with the tea party (6.7 percent). And while some of these voters supported Romney in 2012 (42 percent), the majority supported Obama twice.
Two issues stand out as being more important to them than the average voter: “Obama-cans,” if you will, are 57 percent more likely to favor bipartisan approaches to governing, and they are 25 percent more focused on homeland security. They are less motivated by campaign rhetoric on crime (-15 percent) and social issues (-14 percent).
If you’re a Republican: Know that 49 percent percent of Obama-cans have some reservations about voting for a presidential candidate whose last name is Clinton or Bush. But Jeb is among the Republican candidates they would consider, along with Gov. Chris Christie and Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Notice a problem there? With the exception of Rubio (maybe), these are not the candidates who’ve caught fire with the Republican primary electorate. And no candidate performs worse among these voters than Sen. Ted Cruz. That pivot from the primary to the general election could get bumpy.
If you’re a Democrat: Hillary Clinton runs 32 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable with these voters, and 65 percent have not yet formed an opinion on Sen. Bernie Sanders. But the good news is that these voters share some progressive values: 71 percent are in favor of prioritizing investments in alternative energy, they are more likely to be engaged on abortion rights, and a solid majority support marriage equality. Worst case: Go on Jimmy Fallon, as Hillary Clinton did, as these voters are 48 percent more likely to tune in.
Either party trying to win these voters over should know that they are particularly influenced by broadcast news (88 percent more likely than average adult) and newspapers (42 percent more likely), as well as debates (41 percent more likely). Also influential: their family and friends (45 percent more likely), because the only thing harder than sitting on a fence for 11 more months, is sitting there alone.
This column by SVP & Chief Analytics Officer Michael Horn originally appeared in USNews.