One might think a president in a very tight re-election race would do all he could to educate voters of his legislative achievements—particularly swing voters in key swing states. In the case of President Biden, one would be wrong.
A consistent theme in the monthly focus groups we conduct for the Swing Voter Project is a lack of awareness among Trump-to-Biden voters of trillion-dollar Congressional legislation that President Biden has signed into law.
For example, according to a July 2023 survey published in the Washington Post, a whopping 71% of Americans—not just swing voters—said they knew little or nothing about the Inflation Reduction Act nearly a year after it was enacted. It’s not just this law that voters are unfamiliar with.
We moderated focus groups on August 8 with 13 swing voters across Michigan and focused our conversation on transportation and infrastructure issues. All 13 were aware that infrastructure projects—roads, bridges, or dams—have been taking place in their state.
Yet among these 13, four were completely unaware of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden in November 2021. Only six credited the undertaking of these Michigan projects to President Biden. And just four recalled seeing signage indicating that an infrastructure project was funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by Biden.
Of the nine swing voters who had heard of the infrastructure bill, most had positive things to say about it, as six of the nine categorized the law as a “good” thing (as opposed to “bad” or a “mixed bag”). Paul C., from Jackson, lamented, “Most of our road systems here in Michigan are really, really old, and can’t handle the flow of traffic that modern society has. So [that problem] definitely needed to be addressed.”
None of the nine thought the law was bad. The other three view the law as a “mixed bag.” Kyle H., from Woodhaven, worried that the bill is “pumping more money into an economy that’s already overheated.” He added, “We’re up to 32 trillion in national debt. Does [infrastructure repair] need to be done? Yes. Can we afford it? I don’t know.”
Given that swing-voters familiar with Biden’s efforts to improve infrastructure tend to approve of the effects, infrastructure seems to be an area that President Biden ought to exploit when it comes to the 2024 election. As an added political bonus for the President, some Republicans in Congress have been promoting infrastructure projects in their districts despite having voted against the infrastructure bill that made such work possible—a fact that nine of our participants find troubling.
When it comes to electric vehicles, Michigan swing voters are lukewarm at best. Only five Michigan swing voters supported the Biden Administration’s plan to mandate that two-thirds of new cars and one-quarter of heavy trucks be electric by the year 2032.
Among those who oppose the plan, some think it’s too soon. “I think the idea is a good one, but the timeline is incorrect… As far as your truck and your towing, that’s not ready yet. I think it’s too soon,” remarked Mary A. from Canton.
Others remain unsure about the practicality of EVs. Sonya S., from Hartland, said, “Right now I couldn’t get an electric car and drive the way that I drive. It would be absolutely impossible. I can take a road trip across the country from here to Washington [in a gas-powered car], and I wouldn’t be able to do it in an electric car.”
Ten participants would like to see vehicles powered by hydrogen, biodiesel, or synthetic fuels given an even playing field with the electric car industry.
The takeaway is that Republicans have an opening to gain favor with Michigan swing voters, as President Biden’s agenda on electric vehicles appears too extreme at the moment. This GOP opening is pronounced, particularly as Biden’s infrastructure and climate change innovation efforts are not getting through to voters.
Michigan swing voters are also divided when it comes to regulating the airline industry, as five of 13 said they would like to see the government take action while eight did not. Daniel A., from Lansing, noted that airlines are “doing things that seem to be best for them, not necessarily the consumer,” adding, “I think something needs to change in that regard, as to the government coming in and having policies that protect the consumer—[those that benefit] the actual person flying, as opposed to the company who’s just trying to save money by canceling a flight for a certain day.” Brian C. also noted, “When the buck is almighty, then you have to have regulation in place. Otherwise, greed takes over.”
Lukewarm support for government intervention might be explained by the fact that 11 swing voters thought the cost of regulations would eventually be passed onto consumers.
Additionally, only two of 13 participants knew that Biden implemented new regulations holding airlines accountable for flight cancellations and delays. Both individuals, however, agreed that these rules seemed to increase the price of air travel.
Thus Michigan swing voters view policies surrounding airline regulation like a zero-sum game: Step in to hold airlines accountable or stay out for the sake of lower prices.
As the polls indicate, the 2024 race is still very much in the air, and President Biden is truly struggling. Not only does he make Michigan swing voters feel “bored,” “embarrassed,” and “disgusted,” but some feel that he hasn’t delivered on his promises. “He’s not doing anything that he said he would do, and it’s very disappointing,” said Lauren T. from Bloomfield Hills.
One could reasonably argue that if a research firm such as ours can find the “Laurens” of America to participate in a focus group, the President’s campaign should be able to locate her too—and make her aware of his achievements.
Whether one supports or opposes the president, it’s clear that leaving swing voters “on the table” is an act of political malpractice.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Sago. Jonny Flieder is a student at Haverford College and an intern at Engagious.