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Battleground Surveys
Consolidating Democrats: The strategy that gives a governing majority
Friday, September 23 2016
Download this file (Dcorps_WV_Sept BG Deck_9.23.2016_release.pdf)Presentation[ ]1008 Kb
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On the eve of the first major presidential debate, the latest likely voter survey of the battleground states on behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund shows Hillary Clinton settled into a strong lead in Pennsylvania, a modest one in North Carolina, and essentially tied in Ohio and Nevada.[1] Her overall margin has narrowed from where we had it across the battleground in June. Nothing comes easily in this election year, but the Clinton margin should grow from the structure of the race revealed in this analysis. In the two-person ballot, her margin grows 2-points to a 5-point lead across these states and she takes the lead in Nevada.  And if the 3rd party candidates weaken, as is normal, Clinton disproportionately benefits.  


The structure of the race

This survey shows why the presidential race in the battleground has tightened, but also why it is likely to widen back up. Trump’s better margins come from some consolidation of base Republicans and Clinton has lost support to 3rd party candidates in the wake of the campaign’s travails. Trump continues to earn overwhelming and intense support with white working class men who are making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition. Over three-quarters of white non-college men say the country is on the wrong track, making them the most pessimistic voters in the country. And 63 percent are casting a ballot for Trump, as they make disappointment known.  But as we shall see, even extraordinary turnout from these voters cannot tip the Clinton states to Trump.

Clinton still wins the Electoral College majority, however, because of her stable support with parts of the Rising American Electorate and her inroads with other swing groups. The unmarried woman and minorities at the heart of the RAE are voting for Clinton in force. Three-quarters of minorities are voting for Clinton in these battleground states, she is getting 62 percent with unmarried women and is even winning the majority of white unmarried women (52 Clinton to 31 percent for Trump). Right now, unmarried women are showing respectable levels of voter engagement. In this poll, unmarried women and Democrats fall just 2-3 points below Republicans in saying this election matters tremendously.


But Clinton is also over-performing with college graduates, suburban voters and the white working class women who are put off by Trump.  That is a big part of the story.


Donald Trump’s vote, on the other hand, is driven primarily by the white working class men who are making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition; they are 30 percent of the Trump vote. But in this new America, they would have to increase their share of the vote from 15 to 24 percent in North Carolina, 15 to 18 percent in Nevada, and 20 to 31 percent in Pennsylvania, all else being equal, to put Trump ahead in those states.


Incomplete partisan consolidation

The incomplete consolidation of Democratic partisans for Clinton and the weak consolidation of Clinton voters for Senate and House candidates are the main reason Democrats down-ballot are falling short of their potential at this point. Clinton is getting 87 percent of Democrats, short of the 92 percent Obama had in these states in 2012. She only gets 78 percent of Obama voters and 79 percent of those who approve of Obama.

Clinton will likely benefit disproportionately if the race becomes more polarized. In the two-way ballot she gets 93 percent of Democratic voters. So, she clearly has the potential to drive up her margin with partisans.

Trump does not have such an opportunity. He currently gets 82 percent of Republicans, certainly up from our earlier surveys. However, his vote in the two-way ballot leaves him at just 86 percent of the vote in the GOP base. There are 14 percent in the Republican Party who just won't vote for him. Those holdouts are concentrated among the moderate Republicans where he is getting only 60 percent of the vote.[2] One-quarter are voting for a 3rd party candidate (21 percent for Johnson) and 10 percent are casting ballots for Clinton. Furthermore, there is a halo effect for Clinton, who enjoys a 57 percent recall among Democratic primary voters, but not for Trump among Republicans. He is topped out within his base.


Potential Democratic consolidation creates this campaign’s target groups

The starting target is the 18 percent of the Democratic and Democratic leaning voters who are holding back from Hillary Clinton. These target Democrats are change voters: three-quarters say the country is on the wrong path. Well over 60 percent have unfavorable views of both Clinton and Trump, though they feel very positively about President Obama.

Millennials are at the center of the story. They comprise nearly four-in-ten of these unconsolidated Democrats. They form a parallel story to the disaffected white working class men. Millennials want change, and 61 percent say this country is off on the wrong track. They are in an anti-establishment mood, and 31 percent of millennials are now not voting for a major party candidate. Clinton is only getting 40 percent of the millennial vote in a 4-way ballot. She is particularly struggling with the white millennials where she is running even with Trump – 34 Clinton to 33 Trump, with one-third voting for 3rd party candidates. 


Consolidating Democrats and winning races

The incomplete consolidation of the Democratic Party at the top of the ballot is exaggerated down-ballot, and that creates a huge opportunity. That will also impact what messages can really move the vote. Only 62 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents are voting for the Democratic Senate candidate. That means that there is a big bloc of 15 percent of the electorate in these states who are voting for Clinton but not Democrats in these key federal races.

Clinton widening her lead and winning states and Democrats making gains in the Senate and House depends on the right strategy and messages for reaching these voters. We tested one on GOP extremism, one linking Republican candidates to Trump and one offering a positive Democratic economic message.

Democrats, millennials and Democratic target voters are desperate to hear where the Democratic candidates want to lead the country. The message that consolidates Democrats more than any other tested in this survey is one that offers a clear positive economic agenda.  It says that Democrats have a plan for the economy, and that to get these things done, we need a Democratic majority in Congress.


A big majority of 61 percent found this to be a convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidate for Senate, 29 percent said it was very convincing. But it was particularly well-received by the Democratic target groups that need to be consolidated. Over half of them said it was a very convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidates.

An attack on Republican candidates for being associated with Trump as their party’s nominee is not as successful. It gets a strong response, but it is weakened by the fact that a plurality of voters think the GOP is divided and many candidates in his own party do not support him. Also, it simply does not lead to people consolidating their vote behind Democrats.


But it is clear that the greatest gains down-ballot, and at the top of the ticket, come when voters hear the Democrats offer a positive vision for where they will take the country and how they will change an economy that only enriches the few. It puts them on the side of change and a better future.



The race has tightened but Hillary Clinton is leading in the presidential battleground due to her strong support from unmarried women, minorities, and swing groups turned off by Donald Trump. There is still room for the Democrats to consolidate, however, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot. Democratic targets for consolidation are eager to hear more about what Democratic candidates will do if elected. A message that argues for a Democrat majority to execute a progressive economic agenda moves unconsolidated Democrats to vote for their party candidate, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot.

[1]On behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner fielded this survey of 1,600 likely voters across 4 competitive battleground states on September 10-19, 2016. Respondents were divided equally among states (n=400) of North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The states were weighted proportional to their vote share. Fifty one percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full electorate in each state. Margin of error for the full sample = +/-2.45 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error for each state sample= +/-4.90 percentage points at 95% confidence.   

[2] Republicans who say they are liberal or moderate on ideology. They are more than one-third of base Republicans and only one-quarter are voting for Trump. They are 37 percent of the Johnson vote.

Creating a down-ballot Democratic wave
Monday, July 11 2016
Download this file (Dcor_Building a Down Ballot Democratic Wave_7.11.2016_for release.pdf)Memo[ ]245 Kb

On Friday, Democracy Corps released our most recent national survey showing Hillary Clinton with an 11-point lead over Donald Trump (48 to 37 percent, with 8 percent for the Libertarian).  Importantly, it showed the Democrats with an 8-point lead in the named congressional ballot (49 to 41 percent), something we have not seen since June of 2009 in our polls. It is also the first time we have seen the presidential margin exceed the Democrats’ party identification advantage: in this case, 6 points overall and 8 points without independent leaners.[1]

The Democrats achieved an 8-point margin at the ballot box when they won control of the House in 2006, though this was before the further gerrymandering of districts. Others will soon estimate what margin Democrats will really need to have a chance of winning the House this November.

They are more likely to achieve that goal if voters start voting a straight-Democratic ticket or more Republican voters defect at the congressional and local level.

This might just be such an election. The Republican brand at the national and state level is badly tarnished. In Democracy Corps’ 9-state battleground survey for Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund, it did not take much for those not currently supporting the Democratic Senate candidate to say, enough![2] In the poll, we pointed out that “Republicans in Congress and in their own state legislature:

  • oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest (36 percent, bothers the most),
  • oppose restricting gun rights for people on the terror watch list and outlawing sale of assault rifles (19 percent),
  • oppose gay marriage and new laws barring discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people (13 percent),
  • oppose new laws guaranteeing equal pay for women (10 percent).”[3]

After hearing that information, one-third of those not voting for the Democratic Senate candidate said they would now vote for the Democrat, and one-in-four said they were “very certain” to change their vote. A stunning one-quarter of those voting for the Republican candidate for Senate said they would now vote for his or her Democratic opponent.


That is a breathtaking number, and we now believe we are on to something – something that Republicans figured out when they used Obamacare in the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014.  It motivated and unified their base, brought out the emotions and frustration associated with Obama’s hegemony; it was real and believable; and most important, it allowed them to say, “vote against the Democrats because of Obamacare, not because I want a political party to win.”

Linking Republican candidates to the GOP Congress, the GOP-controlled state legislature and their positions on social issues – starting with their opposition to abortion without exceptions and extending to gun control and gay marriage and discrimination against working women – combines all of the astounding things they are hearing from the GOP. That the Republican position on abortion has such a strong recall reflects what they are in fact doing and underscores the GOP’s fight against women’s and equal rights; talking about opposition to gun regulations enlists the emotions around the senseless, uncontrolled gun violence.

This information also immediately consolidated the potential Democratic vote down-ballot. It moved three-quarters of the Clinton voters who were not yet supporting the Democrat in the race for Senate; it shifted half of the Rising American Electorate not yet voting for the Democrat, including half of the millennials and unmarried women. It is clearly giving Democratically-inclined voters a reason to vote straight-ticket.


The focus on their opposition to abortion, sensible gun limits, and equality for the LGBT community and women, both in Congress and in our state legislature, is emotional, real, motivating and allows Democrats to consolidate their broad base in a potentially big election.

We will be testing other parts of conservative agenda, including their support for tax cuts for the richest, in future surveys and focus groups to measure the emotive power of this approach to the election.

In the meantime, we hope this contributes to the strategic conversation among progressives.    

[1]Democracy Corps conducted a poll of 900 likely voters across the nation from June 23rd – 28th.  Sixty-six percent of the surveys were completed among cell phone respondents. The margin of error is +/- 3.27 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups.

[2]On behalf of Women’s Voice. Women’s Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps conducted a nine-state battleground survey of 2700 likely voters from June 11th – 20th.  Three hundred cases were completed in each state: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of error for the entire survey is +/- 1.89 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error within each state is +/-5.66 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups. 

[3]In the Senate-race states surveyed, this question was asked of those who did not select the Democratic candidate for Senate. In Michigan, this question was asked of those not identifying as Democrats.  

9 State Battleground Poll: Trump's Rustbelt play bound to disappoint, Clinton stronger than Obama in diverse states
Thursday, June 30 2016
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Donald Trump’s unpopularity, beliefs, values and leadership qualities are forging a new 2016 battleground for the election of the President and U.S. Senate. Trump and Clinton no longer face symmetric image problems. With 60 percent viewing Trump unfavorably and half of presidential year voters saying they will never vote for him, he is losing Republican support to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and college educated voters to Clinton and the Democrats. Trump is helping Clinton consolidate Democrats, unmarried women, and minority voters.


As a result, Trump’s Rustbelt strategy is faltering badly. He is losing to  Clinton by 8 points across the Rustbelt battleground states and runs no better than Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. But more important, Clinton is beating  Trump by 8 points in the more demographically diverse battleground states, outperforming Obama in Florida by 10 points, North Carolina by 13 points, and Arizona by 4 points. That grows the Electoral College map for Democrats and produces an Electoral College earthquake.


These results understate what is possible for Clinton because the Bernie Sanders and Millennial vote is not yet fully consolidated behind her. Johnson is winning 22 percent of the millennial vote,  though the building Democratic unity and endorsements may erode that.


The Libertarian Party will likely be a long-term factor in the race. Not surprisingly, Johnson is getting 24 percent of independents. But on the right, he is also winning 11 percent of Romney voters, 26 percent of Kasich supporters (and 21 percent of all non-Trump GOP primary supporters), and 23 percent of GOP-moderates. On the left, he is winning 17 percent of Sanders primary voters, 25 percent of white millennials, and 10 percent of unmarried women. But ask yourself: do you think the right or the left will be more successful uniting behind a candidate in the coming month?


The results also understate what is possible down-ballot. Trump is only winning 38 percent of the vote across the Senate battleground, and that creates a lot of uncertainty. The Republican brand is badly tarnished – nationally and in the states where the GOP has control. All the Republican Senate candidates are under 50 percent and North Carolina and Arizona incumbents may be in reach. Plus, one-quarter of those voting Republican in the U.S. Senate race in their state say they are certain to change their vote and support the Democrat when learning of the Republicans’ position on abortion, guns and gay marriage.[1] Because the 2016 pesidential battleground is so friendly, Democratic Senate candidates can target the one-in-ten voters who are now voting for Clinton, but not yet supporting the Democratic Senate candidates and other down-ballot Democrats.     


This survey on behalf of WVWVAF and VPC provides an unprecedented look at these dynamics because of the very large sample of 2,700 interviews – 300 presidential year voters from a voter file in 9 states – in the 5 Rustbelt states that Trump has targeted and 4 states with growing racial diversity and cosmopolitan populations that are increasingly open to Democrats.[2]




[1] In Michigan, this question was asked of those who did not identify as Democrats.

[2] On behalf of Women’s Voice. Women’s Vote Action Fund and the Voter Participation Center, Democracy Corps conducted a nine-state battleground survey of 2700 likely voters from June 11th – 20th.  Three hundred cases were completed in each state: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of error for the entire survey is +/- 1.89 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error within each state is +/-5.66 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups.  

Senate Battleground: The Path to Retaking the Senate
Thursday, November 05 2015
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A major new survey in four U.S. Senate battleground states shows that Democrats are within striking distance of the majority in 2016.  Democratic candidates are 6 points up in Colorado (Democratic hold), 5 points ahead of a Republican incumbent in Wisconsin (a Democratic pick up) and knotted in Ohio and Florida (both Democratic pick up states).  The Republican brand continues to sour with the numbers for Senate leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Congress, and the leading Republican presidential candidates all underwater. Demographically, the progressive Rising American Electorate (RAE) voters—unmarried women, people of color, and millennials—now claim a majority or near-majority of the vote share in each of these states.  And most important, a Democratic middle class reform money and government message and agenda like the one tested in this poll shifts the vote in Colorado and significantly increases the turnout of unmarried women and white working class women.[1]

Democrats’ ability to convert this opportunity into a Democratic majority is predicated, however, on candidates in these states accomplishing a number of key political goals over the next year.

Fix the enthusiasm gap, particularly among unmarried women and millennials.  This is a long-standing problem, reflected in Democracy Corps’ research and other surveys.  Voters within the RAE are significantly less enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than non-RAE voters. This survey shows how to raise engagement with unmarried women.  

Fix the margin among Democratic base voters, particularly unmarried women. There is still room to grow support among RAE voters, and the underperformance of unmarried women in these Republican-held Senate seats could not be more dramatic. To cite one example, Obama won 63 percent of unmarried women in 2012 in Florida, but the Democrats’ Senate candidate reaches just 48 percent in this survey.

Fix the margin with unmarried women voters and improve the margin with white working class women. Unmarried women are holding back the Democratic Senate candidates across these key states and more progress can be made with white working class women who are increasingly open to voting for Democrats. The Democratic message and agenda tested in this poll—particularly protecting Social Security from benefit cuts, policies to help working families like equal pay, and reforming government so it works for the middle class—get their attention.

Brand a tarnished Republican Party that is too partisan for these times.

Run unambiguously on a middle class agenda that includes economic policies for working families and fundamentally reforms money and politics and reforms government for the middle class.  It is important to recognize how addressing the first two of these issues is predicated on effectively addressing the last.  In this survey, we field tested the money and government reform policies that WVWVAF and the Voter Participation Center developed this year.  The result?   Democratic candidates make major gains among unmarried women and help equalize the enthusiasm gap for unmarried women and white working class women.

Read Executive Summary

[1] This survey took place October 24-28. Respondents who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016. Data shown in this deck is among all 2016 likely voters unless otherwise noted. Margin of error for the full sample= +/-3.2 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups. Respondents were divided equally among states (n=400) of Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. Margin of error for each state sample= +/-4.9 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups. Forty percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full American electorate. Although the field is not settled in all of these states, we used republican Scott Tipton against Democratic incumbent Michael Bennett in Colorado, Democrat Patrick Murphy against Republican David Jolly in Florida, Democrat Ted Strickland against Republican incumbent Rob Portman in Ohio, and Democrat Russ Feingold against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

Child and College-Tuition Credits Equally Important to Voters, the Progressive Base & White Working Class
Monday, December 01 2014
Download this file (Tax Extenders Memo_12.1.14.pdf)Memo[ ]261 Kb
With the 113th Congress returning to D.C. for its final weeks of this session, it is important for the public to weigh in on the “tax extenders” – the obscure set of policy choices that have an immense impact on family incomes, the economy and the deficit – which will be considered.  The pundits and elites have rallied around the bi-partisan support for R & D tax credits and the media report a deal that includes making those and the college-tuition tax credits permanent; not slated for permanence in this deal are the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Congressional leaders considering this deal should know that they are threatening to walk away from the tax credits that have the most support with the public.
Democracy Corps conducted surveys in the Senate and House battlegrounds during the last two months before the 2014 election with the off-year electorate.  In those surveys, we tested the different tax extenders that would be before the Congress.[1]
The two tax credits that are the most popular choices for permanence and earn the most intense support among voters are the Child Tax Credit for lower income and middle class working families with children and the $4,000 a year tax credit for college-tuition and fees. 
  • House battleground: 88 percent favor making the college-tuition credit permanent, 59 percent strongly; 85 percent favor making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 58 percent strongly.
  • Senate battleground: 83 percent favor making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 59 percent strongly; 82 percent favor making the college-tuition credit permanent, 57 percent strongly.
Some have described the college-tuition credit as a "middle class" policy offer and the Child Tax Credit as targeted to lower income families, but that analysis misses the extent to which working and middle class voters are struggling in this economy with jobs that don't pay enough. They are looking for help making college affordable and want help lessening the burden of children on working families.  Making these credits permanent has broad support and listening to the voters in these contested House districts and Senate states is key to lawmakers being relevant when it comes to the new economy as well as to getting people to view politics as relevant for them.
The Rising American Electorate of minority, Millennial, and unmarried women voters respond to both credits with great intensity.  Remember, they will constitute one-half of the electorate in 2016. 
  • House battleground: 87 percent of the RAE support making the college-tuition credit permanent, 63 percent strongly; 84 percent support making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 59 percent strongly.
  • Senate battleground: 86 percent of the RAE support making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 66 percent strongly; 87 percent support making the college-tuition credit permanent, 61 percent strongly.
But as Democrats begin the broader discussion of how to appeal to the white working class, note that white non-college educated voters also put the child tax credit at the top of their list.  Both are clearly central to the Democrats as they move forward.
  • House battleground: 87 percent of white non-college voters favor making the college-tuition credit permanent, 61 percent strongly; 87 percent favor making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 56 percent strongly.
  • Senate battleground: 84 percent of white non-college voters favor making the Child Tax Credit permanent, 61 percent strongly; 83 percent favor making the college-tuition credit permanent, 54 percent strongly.
There is broad support for extending R & D tax credits, but note it does not have the intensity and breadth of support that the public gives to the college-tuition and Child Tax Credits.
  • House battleground: 83 percent favor making the R & D credits permanent, 48 percent strongly.
  • Senate battleground: 80 percent support favor the R & D credits permanent, 50 percent strongly.

[1]House Battleground survey of 1,100 likely 2014 voters in the 66 most competitive House districts, Oct. 4-9, 2014; Senate Battleground survey of 1,000 likely 2014 voters in the 12 most competitive Senate states, Sept. 20-24, 2014.
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