Polling Summit

Democratic pollsters Celinda Lake (left) and Paul Maslin joined GOP strategist Brian Reisinger and Republican pollster B.J. Martino at a WisPolitics.com polling summit in Madison Wednesday. 

Pollsters on both sides of the aisle agree that it's Democrats who have the advantage on one of the 2020 election's top issues: health care. 

But on another major issue, the economy, they say the jury's still out on which party will be able to own the topic. 

The analysis from Democratic pollsters Celinda Lake and Paul Maslin, GOP pollster B.J. Martino and Republican strategist Brian Reisinger came during a WisPolitics.com polling summit in Madison Wednesday afternoon. 

Calling health care a "strongly winning issue for Democrats," Celinda Lake said the party's and public's discussion over "Medicare For All" currently is a debate to define what the phrase means. 

In separate comments, the Lake Research Partners pollster added that the issue is of particular import to white, blue collar, suburban women, a key "swing vote" this cycle. The issue is also one where women are able to influence their husbands to act a certain way, she said. 

"One of our goals in 2020 has to be keep married women from voting the same way as their husbands," she said, adding: "When you think about it, health care is the one issue that men say the women in their lives tell them what to do. It’s a good issue for us to emphasize because it gives women that independent opinion."

While B.J. Martino of The Tarrance Group acknowledged Democrats are best suited to win on health care, he attributed that to the fight over the issue being centered on fear in recent years — "fear of what I stand to lose if things change." 

He also stressed the need for Republicans to not shy away from the issue, but speak to it and turn the focus back to jobs and the economy. 

“We’re not going to ultimately win on the issue of health care, but we have to address it,” he said. 

But while the Democratic pollsters pointed to their strength on health care, they acknowledged the party's comparable weakness on economic issues. 

Paul Maslin, of FM3, faulted Democrats in 2016 for failing to challenge then-candidate Donald Trump on his business record and said "there wasn't an economic message" coming from Hillary Clinton that cycle. 

But now, while he said people are critical of Democrats' "ability to be trusted with the economy," he questioned to what extent Trump and Republicans are able to sell their economic message.

"It's very late in the game and they haven't done a very good job of it," he said. "What would seemingly have been a strong Trump advantage really isn’t, but it’s unclear if it’s going to swing to us either."

Reisinger, who worked on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's campaign in 2016 and former Gov. Scott Walker's in 2018, said Republicans have "a good economic story to tell" but added it's only been told "partially." 

It can also be leveraged, he said, to hold on to supporters in rural Wisconsin. 

While he noted U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue "didn't do anybody any favors" last week in a Wisconsin appearance where he said small dairy farms may need to grow to stay in business, Reisinger said rural voters "still largely support" Trump's trade policies. 

“They see him as being really the only person who’s willing to shake things up enough to help them and to stick it to China,” he said.

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