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Engaging the millennial generation
Thursday, February 04 2016
Download this file (Dcor_RTR Jan Millennial FGs_Memo_2.2.2016_forweb.pdf)Memo[ ]329 Kb

Millennials are unique and hold tremendous power and potential – economically, socially and politically. To better understand how to engage this generation, Democracy Corps conducted two focus groups in Philadelphia on January 19th, one among African American millennial women and one among white millennial men.

Their experiences and perspectives are very different from what we observe in other focus groups, yet there is tremendous potential to engage these voters with a “Level the Playing Field” message and policy agenda. They are very negative about politics, yet they are following the Republican primary battles closely and with some horror.  Their anger about student debt is embedded in a values-based critique of our times. And they are looking for ways to build civic and community involvement.      


Disconnected, frustrated, turned-off, but soundly rejecting conservative platform

This generation, like the rest, finds politics and politicians “disgusting” and “disappointing.” Many Americans would agree with this young woman’s assessment of our country: “It’s disappointing. I just think our country could do a lot better than some of this. It’s just going to take a real long time to fix the mess. For real.” (African American millennial woman)  Their response is driven by a combination of having no time to entertain this mess, mistrust, and a critique of focus.

This first instinct is especially prevalent among the men, who are tuned out. As one man explained, “I feel like politics never really come up in conversation. Like, I feel like me and my friends never, ever talk about politics. It doesn't come up. We're all just living our lives.” (White millennial man) Most describe themselves as “indifferent” about the future of the country, politics and government and “uninformed” about the candidates for president:

I feel like I don't really follow politics too much, and I feel like – I feel like I would be the person to forget to vote. (White millennial man)

[This is] Probably the first time I ever talked about politics. (White millennial man)


There is also a strong sense, particularly among the men, that they have been misled by politicians and government. This is less about corruption and more about misinformation and general skepticism about which sources can be trusted:  

They don't tell you shit, so we don't know shit.  (White millennial man)        

I feel misled. (White millennial man)

I would agree with that. (White millennial man)        

Misled. (White millennial man)

Misguided. (White millennial man) 

Misled. (White millennial man)


The African American women agree. They continue to warn that you cannot trust what you see on TV or social media and say you have to do your own research.

The third major theme was the belief that politicians and government have the wrong priorities. This was the central discussion among the women we spoke to:

I feel like there’s more that could be done, like to help fix where it’s been. But the focus is on other things. Like, everything doesn’t get the amount of focus that it needs to get, basically. (African American millennial woman)

I feel like the funding of the country is just not going where it should be at. Like, the funding is not going in […] the certain areas that it should go in. (African American millennial woman)

Schools and libraries are going to shut down and stuff, and I think that’s stuff that we need to focus on. This is the future, like our future. (African American millennial woman)

The men echo this sentiment. One man, a father, complained that all four of his neighborhood parks had been knocked down. Another asked, “Why are we spending billions on new prisons and not education, you know?” (White millennial man), launching another conversation about a $30 billion dollar prison being built in the Philadelphia area.

Many of the older millennials voted to elect President Obama, but eight years later they are pessimistic about the value of their vote. At best, their vote does not really count. At worst, it is an exercise that is meant to give the appearance of control to the masses. The men are particularly cynical about the democratic process, with an acute sense that others are in charge:

I don't think our vote actually counts. I mean, if they're going to pick, they're going to pick their puppet. They're going to pick the face they want. (White millennial man)

It feels like a face, like making the public feel like they're going to do something, but it's not really going to do something. (White millennial man)


Despite their pessimism and lack of interest, these younger voters are paying a lot of attention to the Republican Party and the presidential primary. They will not entertain these candidates. The white millennial men laughed out loud when asked to describe the Republican candidates for President:

            I feel like they're cartoon characters, Looney Tunes.  (White millennial man)

            I'd say some were laughable. (White millennial man)

            Scared. (White millennial man)

The African American millennial women are too repulsed to laugh:

            Ooh, Lord. Have mercy. (African American millennial woman)       

            Ashamed. (African American millennial woman)      

            Disgusted. (African American millennial woman)                                                     

            I don’t have any words.  (African American millennial woman)       

            Yeah. They’re just so distasteful. (African American millennial woman)       

            Repulsed.  (African American millennial woman)                                                     

            Disappointed. (African American millennial woman)           


It is very possible that the Republican nominee is what will motivate these millennials and get them involved.  


An economy that “expects so much and offers so little” – except to the top 1 percent and Trump

It is clear these millennials – especially the women – are in a very precarious position. They use words like “uncertain,” “unsure,” “worried,” “unpredictable, “hard” and “unstable” to describe the economy overall. (African American millennial women) There is some harsher language when it comes to describing their personal experience in the economy:

Unrealistic (African American millennial woman)

Sad and crappy (African American millennial woman)

I’m very disgusted. (African American millennial woman)

The only advantage to being a young person today is technology:

I think we grew up in more technology and stuff like that. Like, for me, that helped me with school. Oh, my God. Google? How would I have graduated without [it]. (African American millennial woman)

If you don't have cable to pay for Comcast or something, you have a YouTube app or something like that, you could watch TV that way, just think of something and search for it, that kind of thing. It's not like we have the radio and that's it. (White millennial man)

The world's at your fingertips. You know, it's information. (White millennial man)


While they believe the economy is “unbalanced” and “unfair” they did not have a structural analysis of the economy. (African American millennial women) The women, for their part, have a clear idea about who is writing the rules – “congress” and “politicians” – but they are not sure what the “rules” governing the economy are.  As one woman tried to explain, “Like everything is just like all over the place, up and down all the time. So, you don’t, like you have no idea what’s happening next.” (African American millennial woman) All they know is that “It’s just that serious a mess.” (African American millennial woman)

Their understanding of the rules may lack depth, but they are very aware of who is winning and losing in this economy:

[Let’s talk about the losers. Who’s not winning in today’s economy?]

Me. (African American millennial woman)

I think the middle-class the most. (African American millennial woman)

Idon’t believe there’s a middle-class anymore. (African American millennial woman)

The middle class. (African American millennial woman)

Us. (African American millennial woman)

The middle class and the lower – yeah, the working class, I think. Anybody who’s not like the 1%. (African American millennial woman)

The very wealthy are undoubtedly the winners:

            The rich. (White millennial man)

            The scumbags. (White millennial man)

            Trump. (African American millennial woman)

            The top percent. (African American millennial woman)

            The 1%. (African American millennial woman)

            Trump. (African American millennial woman)


This comes with a pretty strong class analysis.  As one man put it, “You could work hard all your life and bust your hump, and some guy would come over and take your pension fund right away, and what do you got?[...]Some rich guy somewhere, well off, house in the Hamptons, things like that.” (White millennial man)


Student debt, hard work and betrayed generation

The struggles at the heart of their lived experience revolve around their student debt, the need to gain enough experience to get a job, and working in jobs that barely pay enough to make the ends meet and nowhere near what a person should expect for the work.

The cost of college and the struggle to pay back student loan debt is top of mind among these millennials, even though several are more than a decade out of school. This was the first matter mentioned when we asked the men what is not going well in the economy today:

Student loans. (White millennial man)

Yeah, student loans. (White millennial man)

Well, going to college. I mean, go to college, get a student loan, then you work at McDonald's for the rest of your life. (White millennial man)

You want to put gas in your car or you want to pay your student loan? I mean, that's just what it is. (White millennial man)

And if you have student loans, your credit is wrecked. (White millennial man)

This was also very important to the women. Some were still living at home to afford college. Another complained, “I’m in some crazy debt and I’m only 24.” (African American woman) But they see education as their ticket to a better life, despite the burden. 

Jobs that don’t pay enough are the central struggle for these men and women. They feel as if they are paid just enough to survive, and not enough to warrant the effort:

I still live at home with my mom and dad, I haven't moved out. You know, I'm working hard, but there's no payoff to it, you know? (White millennial man)

I just feel like every time I run into some money, every time I get paid, there's another loan, something else that I have to pay, and I just – I'm not down, and I'm not coming up. I'm just floating right there. There's always something, you know, that's occupying my cash or funds. (White millennial man)

Just from experience, the expectations are a little unrealistic. They expect so much but offer little. (African American millennial woman)

Because you young, they don’t care what they pay you. They pay you so little, and this is so ridiculous. I can remember back in the day when you can just be coming out and actually get a job and go right into the field that you went to school for and actually make what you’re supposed to make at the starting rate. Now, they just want to get over. (African American millennial woman)

What unifies these struggles is an overarching ethical complaint: their hard work is not appreciated and is not rewarded. These millennials were raised right.  They value hard work and take advantage of opportunities given to them, sought out college and more training, many working their way through, somehow found jobs in the midst of a recession and worked as hard as anyone. They did everything right. In return for their efforts they are saddled with student debt and are under-paid and over-worked in their places of business:

I feel like they underappreciate the good people and I feel like that’s what sets people up. I feel like it’s setting them up for failure. You want people to be educated, you want people to go to college and stuff, but then they get out of college or whatever other graduate schools they go to with all this money in debt. So, then, that can mess up their credit score and stuff like that and then, you know, then you want people to make an honest living and stuff like that. But, then it’s like they work so hard to get to where they’re at, and then it’s like they’re going backwards because they have all this money they have to pay back. And then they don’t want people to – not that I would condone it – but they don’t want people to sell drugs and all that kind of stuff, but you make it impossible for people to do things the right way. So, how is that rewarding the people that are doing the hard work when it’s just like punishing them, really? (African American millennial woman)

We keep talking about hard work and everything like that, it's come up like 20 times already in our conversation. I think that's very tied to the American dream, and I'm not sure if hard work is as valued today as it was in 1950. (White millennial man)

I was just going to say, personally, for all of my jobs that I worked and all of my schools that I went to, I can be the hardest working person in the classroom, but the teacher’s not looking for the hardest working person in the classroom. And I can, like I work every job that I get, just because I take it seriously. You know what I mean? But, it’s not worth the money that you make. Honestly, I don’t think it is. I might not, this might not be my career, but I always find myself feeling miserable after a while in whatever job I’m working at, because I just feel like I’m not getting noticed, I’m not getting recognized, and I do work hard at everything that I do, and I don’t feel like it matters anymore. So, you slack or you’re working hard, you’re still going to have the same outcome. You know what I mean? (African American millennial woman)


A related and recurring theme in both of these groups is that it is all about the people you know, not how hard you work, and that works to their disadvantage more often than not:

You just – it's easier to get a job if you know people. (White millennial man)

You've got to know people now, it's all about who you know nowadays. (White millennial man)

You got to lie. I feel like some people make you feel like you got to lie about who you are in order to make it – to the next round or the next level to get somewhere. (African American millennial woman)

My first job, I know I actually had to know somebody, and that’s how I actually got into where my first job was actually at. (African American millennial woman)


The need to “level the playing field” takes on a whole new meaning in this context.

Interestingly, the millennials worry about the younger generation – and their worries and descriptions of those younger than them sound a lot like what we hear from older generations about the millennials: they don’t work as hard and have higher expectations:   

Our youth, I mean, look. (White millennial man)

I feel like, with us now, in this day and age. Not the people younger than us, because they’re babies. But, this day and age, we have a more better understanding of what it is to work hard and to actually work for what you want to do. Some of the people underneath of us, they just think it’s supposed to be given to you, and we actually work hard for what we need. We seen our parents actually work hard to get us things and stuff like that. (African American millennial woman)

I could say, for me, the way I was raised. My mom pushed me to go to college after I graduated and stuff like that. And now it’s like I work at a school and these kids just sit there and don’t work. And I’m just so happy that Obama stopped No Child Left Behind, that they’re going to stop it, because you could literally just not come to school and do no work, and you pass just because – and that’s just setting these kids up for failure. (African American millennial woman)


Opportunity for a “Level the Playing Field” message

These millennials are ready to respond to the Roosevelt policy agenda and “Level the Playing Field” message, and they do. After reading the “Level the Playing Field” message, they say these are “the topics that I would like my opinion heard on” and it “would be awesome” if some of these things were done. (White millennial men) 

The participants also read a conservative economic message. One of biggest findings in this group is just how much stronger their preference is for the “Level the Playing Field” message in comparison. Only one participant preferred the conservative statement to the Roosevelt statement across both groups. They completely reject “trickle down” as an option. They agree “the proof is in the pudding. It's been a long enough time to show the results.” (White millennial man) Nothing is trickling down to these millennials.


“Level the Playing Field.” When asked what they liked most about the Roosevelt economic message, several chose the “Level the Playing Field” slogan for which the message is named.  It was particularly popular with the men. Some read this as having a chance to find a good job:

It means everybody just has a choice, you know. Like I said earlier about getting jobs. It's kind of hard to get your own job, unless you create it or you know somebody that's in it. It – I see kids every day that I know try to get jobs, and they just can't get them you know, or their uncle will get them in there. (White millennial man)

The last sentence appealed to me. Let’s just level the playing field so the middle class can grow. Like we were talking about earlier, the economy, how it was different from back in the day until now. I know from my mom’s story it was way easier for her to get into the hospital where she was at back in the day and make what she used to be making than when she had to come out, she got fired or whatever, and trying to go back and they’re trying to start her at the bottom of the barrel. It’s just ridiculous. (African American millennial woman)

Another participant read this as giving the small business man a shot in an economy dominated by big corporations:

I read that differently. As opposed to, you know, getting a job or finding a career, I read that more as level the playing field for starting a small business, you know. It's easier for a large corporation to start up a sister company that it is for, you knowIt's like the old saying – there's an old saying, you know, what's the best way to make a billion dollars? The best way to make a billion dollars is start with a million dollars. And so, I read that differently, you know, as, let's let small businesses have a chance to grow, versus large corporations opening sister companies. (White millennial man)

Another participant thought about Caucasian billionaires and the gender and racial disparities:

I feel like if everybody was given some kind of way to all start on the same playing field. Because I feel like the people who are billionaires and stuff now, they come from old money. They all made their riches in like the 1900, way, the early 1900s and stuff like that when women didn’t have rights, most minorities didn’t have – well, no. All minorities, they didn’t have any rights. So, the ones who were really making the money and able to start businesses were pretty much just like the Caucasian males, pretty much. (African American millennial woman)

There is power in the flexibility of this “Level the Playing Field” offer.


We need a country that works for the middle class.  Another phrase that was frequently underlined as a positive statement in both groups was “we need a country that works for the middle class.”  Many of these young people considered themselves middle class because they know that things could be worse – they could be making minimum wage. As one man explained his preference for this message, “Just, it was more about the middle class, and I think we're kind of represented here as the middle class.” (White millennial man)


CEOs and billionaires are using their lobbyists to write the rules so government works for them. At least half of the participants in each group marked as negative the statement that “CEOs and billionaires are using their lobbyists to write the rules so government works for them.”  They really start to put two and two together when they read this sentence. They begin to understand what you mean by asking who is writing the rules of the economy, and connect CEOs’ and billionaires’ political spending to policy and the economy:

They use money and influence to give people what they want. (White millennial man)

This one statement where it says CEOs and billionaires are using their lobbyists to write the rules so government works for them. I remember, I don’t know if it was the last election or something, I know billionaire people had a problem with getting a bigger tax cut out of their cut or something like that. Who the hell is y’all to feel some type of way that you’re all getting a bigger tax cut? You all are making the money. Us, as the middle class, we’re giving you more than what they’re taking out. We’re going to give it right back to you. (African American millennial woman)

I feel like the CEOs and billionaires and banks, honestly, I feel like they’re the ones that really run the government when you think about it, because think about when the politicians are running their campaign and stuff like that. They need that money in some – they need the money for the commercials and stuff. Who’s the one? You’ve got to pay attention to who’s giving them the money. (African American millennial woman)

That, and then I feel like they’re using that to like, “You help me out; I’ll help you out.” It’s like they use their money to make sure that they’re protected by the government, whoever the politician is running, making sure their best interest is protected. (African American millennial woman)

It’s the same idea that the money is driven, is being driven, is driving all the politics like a puppeteer and it stays. It just stays in that circle. It doesn’t go outside of their circle of billionaires. (African American millennial woman)


Accordingly, several of these millennials responded positively to a commitment to “start by reducing the toxic influence of money in politics.”  As one woman explained, “I think that stood out to me, because that’s the only way I see that politician is getting ahead, because they’re using that money. The more money, the more endorsements, the more people are banking them with money, that’s how they’re able to get seen by anybody, the commercial ads, radio ads. And the money is really driving politics, and I think it’s taken away from what, I guess, what it’s supposed to be about.”(African American millennial woman)


Make college affordable and relieve the pressure of student loan debt and guarantee women receive equal pay.  This message also speaks to their struggle to make enough money and pay off their student loans by offering to guarantee women equal pay and make college affordable:

Yeah, and it said guarantee women receive equal pay. Now that I will definitely say is like a big problem. I can tell the difference between my parents, like when we were talking about parents and stuff, my dad doesn’t do half as much work as my mom does, not even. But he takes care of mostly all the bills. She gets stressed, like she’s stressed out and she really works hard. You know what I mean? I don’t think that’s fair, so, yeah, I do agree with that. (African American millennial woman)

It would be nice that this is really happening, and happening more often. Make college affordable and relieve the pressure of student loan debt. Guarantee women receive equal pay. (African American millennial woman)

Even some of the men identified equal pay for women as one of the most positive things in this paragraph.


A “Rewriting the Rules” policy agenda

After hearing this message, the participants were asked to choose from a list of policies which would be most important to happen for the economy. Their choices clearly reflect the call to “Level the Playing Field,” their feeling that billionaires and the rich are using their money to make politicians and the economy work for them, and their struggles to afford a quality education and find a good paying jobs.


Education. Policies to make college affordable and better prepare students for college were some of the most popular chosen in these groups. It reflects their struggles with student loan debt and the value that these young people place on education in this changing economy.  Three of the six most frequently circled polices were devoted to education.

One of the top policies was one that would have an immediate impact on these young people who are struggling with repaying their student loans: adopt income-based repayments of college debt.

The other two education-related polices are ones that seek to expand opportunities to develop skills for the new economy. The single most popular policy on this list was one that sought to help students prepare for college by improving pre-college curriculums so that they are relevant to the new economy as well as expanding opportunities for experiential learning. Six of the men and seven of the women made this one of the top five policies on their list, and five of the millennials said this was the single most important thing for the economy on the list. The second policy was especially popular among the women and seeks to prepare workers for the rapidly changing job market by expanding access to free community college and trade programs so workers can return to school to get credentials and skills.  Their preference for these policies reflects earlier statements about their struggles to find even entry-level jobs that do not require experience.


Democracy. Half of each millennial group said that a robust policy to reform money in politics was one the most important to happen. In fact, three of the men said that this would be their starting point if they had to pick which thing needed to happen first. This policy seeks to disclose campaign donations, end unlimited campaign spending by billionaires and corporate donors, and empower small donors by matching their contributions.


Making work pay. We have found in our recent web-polling that increasing penalties on companies that violate minimum wage and overtime laws and enforcing those laws is one of the most popular progressive policy offerings. This we reaffirmed in these millennial groups, where eight participants saw this as one of the most important things to happen. With many of these young people describing an economy that puts more pressure on young people in the workplace, this is one way to ensure a more level playing field at their jobs and help with earning what they deserve.


Tax Reform. Finally, several millennials thought a tax policy to remove incentives for corporations to move their corporate headquarters to avoid paying taxes was important. This policy reflects one of the things that they disliked about the conservative economic message – they do not think that corporations should receive more tax cuts. One woman explained why they did not deserve such tax cuts:

I put an X on the first one, though, because it says businesses grow and create jobs, but then it says cut taxes on businesses and entrepreneurs, because I feel like a lot of the big companies, like Apple and stuff like that, the ones who are really making a lot, I feel like they’re not investing in our economy. So, where they get their stuff made is not here. They get it made in like China and stuff like that.” (African American millennial woman)

Importantly, these millennials are not sure if any of these things will get done, but they did say hearing such a list would lead them to get more involved. It was inspiring to hear one man volunteer, “Yeah, I mean, I guess with some of the things I circled, that I was interested in, if somebody started hitting on them, then I would pay more attention to, you now, what they were saying, you know.” (White millennial man) 

There is huge potential to engage millennials if they hear politicians offering these policies and this “Rewriting the Rules” message.


Black Lives Matter & Racial Justice

The Black Lives Matter movement and issues of racial justice were well received by the white millennial men. When given a diagram showing the wealth disparities between races, almost everyone was sympathetic to what they saw as a product of a long history of discrimination:

I feel like it makes sense. I feel like within the last 15 years, I feel like we now respect each other more, like you were – you try to take race out of the equation, but 50 years ago, others were getting put down, and all the whites were looked at as the superior. It makes sense. Especially assets and property, or things that you own, I feel like it starts 100 years ago, and it's just going to get bigger from there. And if the white – I don't know how to word this – the white people, they had more opportunities in the past, and obviously, you just, we have a head start. (White millennial man)

Yeah, it makes sense. It really does. You walk into a business, it's all white. (White millennial man)

Yeah, it's what you're thinking about all the old, rich, white dudes. (White millennial man)

The one “doubter” in the group distrusted this chart only because he did not think even white people were making this much. He lived in a community dominated by minorities, and there was no daylight between him and his neighbors. 

When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, the men had a good grasp of its goals, even if they “feel distant from the problem” and did not see it at work in their communities (White millennial man). They understand this as a movement for overdue equality at the highest level and they recognized that African Americans and police have a long and turbulent past that is legitimate and not easily solved:

I just think it's police and blacks have their own certain relationship dating back […] (White millennial man)

I'm like, I know that sometimes it doesn't seem like they have an equal opportunity, but I felt like equality should have been happened a long time ago, you know. (White millennial man)

So, you know, police brutality, equal pay. I think law enforcement is the main area of focus. (White millennial man)

However, the men were put off by some of the more brazen tactics of some of the protestors involved in the BLM movement. They identify two types of BLM supporter – one is “what you see online, you know, hashtag activism” and the other is “causing more problems” and “throwing statues and burning [things] down.” (White millennial men) They go so far as to compare the latter to the Black Panthers. Despite their sympathy, these concerns prevent them from fully embracing this movement. But they are not working against it either.

The African American millennial women were conscious of the BLM movement. The goals of the BLM movement – from criminal justice reform to racial wealth disparities – were points of enthusiastic conversation during earlier discussions. And some spoke about the need to come together as African Americans to mobilize for better. But when it came to the BLM movement in their community, these women wanted something more than marching, saying, “it’s pointless” or worse, “It’s dangerous.” (African American millennial women)  

I feel like a bunch of walks and blocking streets off and marching and stuff is not going to do much, because, at the end of the day, they still shoot on my block every other day. So, it’s like, I just feel like everything starts at home. Who raised you? You know, what they instill in your mind and what’s on your social media Website and who you’re hanging around and stuff like that. (African American millennial woman)

I feel like they should be more community-based in terms of, I wish they [were]going into schools. Kind of like a City Year type education works type thing. Like, if we could get together as one. If everybody in each part, like West Philly, in each part of the city they had like some type of, where everybody signed up on the e-mail and sent it out to say, you know, we’re going to come into the school this week and talk about a certain topic or something. But, I don’t know. Just marching, I never participated in any of that [...] (African American millennial woman)


Getting Involved

We already saw how pessimistic these millennial voters were about the political process and the value of their vote. When it comes to other ways to influence change in their communities, participants complained about a political system that is not set-up in a way that makes their voices heard: “Honestly, no, to the question of, is our political system hearing the younger generation. Because I don't know that, I don't know the avenues that they would be listening.” (White millennial man)  But they accept responsibility for not trying hard enough:

“I feel like people don't – we're not protesting, or we're not getting together and going to this and asking them the questions that we want the answers to. We're just complaining and sitting on the side, because we're doing our own thing. I feel like we get caught up in our own lives, so we don't really think about the politics, and then the election comes up, and a lot of people are uninformed or don't really know what to do.” (White millennial man)


Their hesitancy to get involved may be explained by a feeling of disrespect: “I think the younger crowd are intimidated by the higher-ups, government, politics”(White millennial man); “So, the new generation, they don’t want to really hear what we have to say or hear our ideas and stuff like that. I think sometimes old people think that we don’t know what we’re talking about, even though we’re in this age.”(African American millennial women)

The solution for these young people is, “you’ve got to fight the system from the inside out.” (African American millennial woman)  And they see a role for social media in getting people involved. When we asked them how millennials are heard when they try to make change, this was their first choice:

I mean, nowadays, they use all the social media to get the word out. I think that is a good way, because word does travel fast on social media. As many reposts and re-likes and views and everything. (African American millennial woman)

Twitter. (African American millennial woman)

I think the mainstream social networks, they may want their people to actually look at. Every big news tags, every big radio station, has those particular main type of sites. (African American millennial woman)

Some of the men wondered if this is an effective way to generate change if it is not reaching beyond a circle of friends and followers – but they do acknowledge that they are at least beginning to have political conversations with their friends, which can have important consequences.

And the more that we talked about getting involved, the more they began to value dialogue with their friends and people in their community as a way to start making change. We asked the men to create a Facebook Page for millennials, and many of them wrote enthusiastic calls to arms:

Nicholas: Speak now or never be head!!! Your voice matters!! Don’t be discouraged. Foundation is key let’s build!

Daniel: Not many young people, at least the ones I know, consider what’s happening outside their own neighborhood. What’s next/the future.

Tom:  One person can make a difference. A single voice can become the voice of many. Your best interests are worth talking about.

Zach: There’s more to the world than just your own life. We are all trying to make it in this world but you have to step back and see the big picture. Don’t get caught up in your personal life and let the top% influence the world you live in. Vote, pay attention. Don’t talk about it, be about it. Be the change.

John: Quit complaining about life not going your way if you’re doing nothing to change it.

William: Helping your community – knowing the people in your community, making it a better/safe place.


This was an inspirational change of attitude from a group that felt powerless and admitted to being totally uninterested in politics when they first sat down.



New Take on the New Economy
Monday, November 17 2014
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The state of the American economy looms over the public creating long-term pessimism about the state of the country, making the economy, wages and jobs the biggest factor in people’s vote in the last national election and the next.  People are very aware of improvements in the macro economy and in the labor market, but they are even more aware that new jobs pay less and people have not seen a raise in a very long time. They continue to struggle to deal with prices, piece together multiple jobs and have restructured their lives to survive financially, even as they watch CEO compensation, Super PAC spending and inequality soar.
That is the starting finding of this new survey for the Economy Media Project and Democracy Corps.[1] And since people have barely heard from President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and liberal economists on this new economy – Republicans are more trusted on the economy by a lot and conservatives are at parity with liberals on the intellectual arguments. Without progressives really attacking the core economic problems, austerity is still preferred to investment and full-employment spending.
That is true, despite an American public very focused on what jobs pay and helping working families, very critical of the top 1 percent and CEOs, determined to see something done about inequality and supportive of long-term plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country. But this new survey shows that the average voters and even the growing progressive base of minorities, Millenials, and the unmarried have yet heard an economic narrative to rally around, but they clearly want to. The stakes are high and so are the opportunities at this pivotal moment.
The State of the Economy
The economy is the largest contributor to an abiding pessimism about the country as a whole, with about two-thirds saying the country is headed in the wrong direction for decades.  The economic cloud hangs over the nation’s politics, as both Senate and House battleground polls demonstrate where 55 percent of voters in Senate battleground states said “their position on the economy, creating jobs and improving wages” was the biggest factor in their vote.[2]
There is some improvement in the perceptions of the macro economy, but the proportion giving a warm or favorable rating has barely hit 30 percent. But much more powerful are feelings about “the state of your personal finances,” which are unchanged in the past year, indeed since the crash.
Perception of Macroeconomy Has Improved, but No Change in Personal Finances
The personal labor market has improved to some extent over the last 18 months, reflecting overall unemployment data.  Fewer people are losing their jobs and fewer are receiving reduced benefits, a restructuring that has begun to set in.
The behavioral changes to manage this long-term stagnation are producing what may be permanent changes in economic and social adaptations. While somewhat fewer report struggling with prices at the grocery store, more than half still report making big changes to buying habits due to rising prices.  With jobs paying less, 36 percent report they are working more hours or took second job to make ends meet.  A quarter still face the loss of health insurance, which may relate to unsettled attitudes about the Affordable Care Act that are still more negative than positive.  And 31 percent have moved to multi-generational home to deal with cost of living.  That is unchanged and dominant among Millennials and Gen X’ers.
Most Micro Economic Indicators Have Not Changed
This grinding micro personal economy continues to take a big toll with the growing parts of the electorate that have rallied to Democrats in recent years – African Americans and Hispanics, Millennials and unmarried women are very economically vulnerable and open to a government role on the economy and social insurance.  Among this Rising American Electorate, 69 percent changed their grocery-buying habits, 65 percent are more likely to have taken a second job, 46 percent have fallen behind on their mortgage, and 38 percent moved to a multi-generational household[3].
The lack of progress on these everyday economic experience leads many to question whether an economic recovery is actually even occurring—48 percent say “The national economy is recovering and more people are getting work” against a nearly equal 47 percent who report that “There is no economic recovery because individuals aren't seeing any improvement.”
The New Economy Changes What the Main Economic Problems Are
This economy that produces sub-par job growth, few income gains and increased inequality is changing what people see as the main economic problems to be addressed. And that is everything if you are building an economic narrative and message and building an agenda. The public is pretty smart it seems about this new economy. 
The problems fall into four substantive areas: the character of new jobs, inequality, lack of U.S. jobs, and a real concern about government spending and deficits.
Topping the list is the character of new jobs, above all, jobs that do not pay to live on and everything that follows from that.  This understanding and grouping emerged in the focus groups that we conducted for the EMP and other non-profits over the last year, but they also tested in electoral surveys as the strongest economic message when combined together. Jobs that do not pay enough to live on leave people at the edge financially, threatened by inexplicable expenses like child care and student debt, and leaves women determined to get equal pay.
Character of New Jobs and Inequality at Center of New Economic Consciousness
Inequality has emerged as a huge concern as well – and indeed, the two top responses in the inequality cluster of problems test as highly as the two top problems in the cluster around the character of jobs. The public is paying a lot of attention to the United States becoming an unequal country of only rich and poor and shrinking middle class.
Interestingly, the focus on economic inequality tends to be highest among the college-educated; the non-college educated and working class are singularly focused on jobs not paying enough to live on, and everything that follows from that. People in the East are most highly concerned about the character of jobs theme, while in the GOP Conservative Heartland focus primarily on government spending and deficits and regulation.[4]
Following the character of new jobs and inequality is the notion that there is a lack of U.S. jobs, due to trade agreements and outsourcing that undermine U.S. jobs and pay, and too few new jobs and industries being created here at home. Trade agreements and outsourcing on its own tops the list of concerns (along with jobs not paying enough to live on and the United States becoming unequal), particularly among likely 2014 voters, independents, and older women.
There is also a real concern about high government spending and budget deficits, as well as growing government regulations that keep businesses from hiring. One third of voters rate government spending as one of the top problems to address with the economy, though this is primarily driven by white voters, men, conservative Republicans, and white Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers.
The concern about the changing character of work dominates the consciousness of the Rising American Electorate in particular. For them, equal pay for women is the number one economic problem to be addressed. Fundamentally, this is the economic agenda of the Millennial Generation and the minority populations, with concern about making ends meet.  But the issues of making ends meet are also of big concern among college-educated women, who are growing in numbers and are increasingly part of the Rising American Electorate and are key to any progressive or Democratic majority.
The Character of Jobs is at the Heart of Problems with the Economy for the RAE
The Economic Debate
The public understands that the country faces huge new economic challenges, and yet, they do not at this point turn presumptively to Democrats to address them, nor do they embrace liberal and progressive arguments centered on these issues. Despite Democrats holding a five point partisan identification advantage, people believe by a 43 – 38 percent margin that Republicans are better than Democrats on the economy, a 10 point deficit based on the presumptive partisan orientation. The public really has pulled back from Democrats on the economy. 
The progressive-liberal economic approach centered on creating full employment, raising incomes at every level, and public investment stands only at parity with a conservative approach that stresses reductions in the size of government and level of spending, cutting taxes, and making entrepreneurship easier.  Conservatives are not dominating this space, but liberals must begin to win these debates in order to have a real impact on policy change.
There is no overall difference in these economic approaches when tested unbranded (“Speaker A” and “Speaker B”) versus branded (“Progressive Speaker” and “Conservative Speaker”), but branding does impact some key groups. Both statements are at parity among independents when unbranded, but they favor the conservative approach by 15 points when branded as such. The Rising American Electorate favors the progressive-liberal approach by 24 points when branded, compared to just two points when unbranded.   
That the public does not embrace liberal economics needs is a huge problem – and needs to be addressed. Perhaps there is not enough focus on the character of work and markets, and perhaps the public does not trust government to pay enough attention to small business and changes in the labor market.
Economic Debate at Parity
The country splits evenly on key elements of the economic debate that you would expect progressives to win. People are divided on (and increasingly unsure about) whether rising middle class incomes or a better environment for businesses will have a more beneficial impact on the economy.  It is possible that the stagnation of incomes has robbed the purely middle class argument as an economic tenet to support key income producing policies. It is possible that the progressive argument has to address what is happening with independent contracting and free-lancing and small business.  Perhaps a third of people are employed in such jobs, and small business has become even more a way out of this grueling economy, but only conservatives are speaking to that aspiration.
Middle Class Statement Does Not Dominate Entrepreneurship and Small Business
We know that austerity brought by gridlock suppressed economic growth and increased unemployment. We also know that austerity threatens further recession and deflation in Europe, yet the public remains very cautious about investing and spending increases to achieve full employment that will raise wage levels.  The country may require a much higher level of spending and tolerance for inflation to really bring the economy back, but progressives are not even in the debate as they approach increased spending and investment.
By a 17 point margin, voters favor austerity over more spending, saying that the biggest economic problem our country faces is not a lack of investment to grow the economy, but too much government spending and interference in markets. This is particularly true among white non-college voters (46 point margin), white seniors (40 points), independents (21 points), and white unmarried women (19 points).
Austerity Still Prevails Over Full Employment Spending
But keep in mind, there is overwhelming and rising support for a plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country and create jobs over the next five years.  It is fair to say that people do want to embrace that big a national economic vision, but progressives have not yet built the intellectual framework to support.   
Rising Support for a Plan to Invest in New Industries
Tackling Inequality
Inequality is another matter.  The public knows who are the villains of the piece, view the problem as central, and are not put off by arguments in favor of entrepreneurs, job-creators and markets.  And they have pretty good ideas on how to begin addressing the problem, starting with investing in education, taxing the top 1 percent so they pay their fair share, and raising pay, starting with raising the minimum wage.
This is rooted in a public distaste for a whole range of bad actors that voters feel play a central role in the current economic dispensation.  CEO’s of large businesses earn intensely negative ratings as the result of being seen as irresponsible, disloyal to employees, and as primary beneficiaries of the system that has collected wealth in the hands of the top one percent.  They are viewed negatively by almost every demographic group in the electorate, including white working class voters and independents.  Barely a plurality of Republicans gives them favorable ratings (39 to 30 percent). But the Rising American Electorate is particularly averse to CEO’s of large companies; 51 percent rate them unfavorably, and there is strong intensity behind these numbers – 36 percent feel very unfavorable.
CEOs of Large Businesses and Campaign Arm Viewed Very Negatively
The public’s concern about growing inequality also trumps a worry about punishing entrepreneurs and keeping businesses from investing. Despite a slight overall softening from 2013, this remains a deep concern for voters that carries strong intensity. Of the 55 percent majority that list inequality as a bigger concern, 43 percent feel this way very strongly. Millennials and younger women, self-ascribed moderates, young non-college voters, and those in the West are particularly concerned about reducing the growing inequality in this country.
Concern for Inequality of Rich and Poor and the Middle Class Trump Concern for Business and Markets
This survey also tested four approaches to building a plan to address inequality, and there is  powerful support for three of them: investing in education, making sure the top 1 percent pay their fair share in taxes, and increasing middle class incomes, starting with raising the minimum wage.  Each produces a similar level of overall and intense public support; nearly half give very favorable ratings to each, and six in ten or higher support each plan overall. It is important to note that the notion of reducing the power of corporations and the financial sector, while supported overall, fares much less well than the other approaches, suggesting the context for the populist argument is going after the wealthy elite rather than the financial sector as a whole.
Public Says Address Inequality with Education, Taxing Top One Percent, and
Raising Minimum Wage to Get Better Paying Jobs
Inequality is on the public agenda, and voters come to this debate with distinct priorities informed by their understanding of the new economy.  The public is ready for the debate to be joined and for the country to address them with interventions to bring reform.
With this pre-election survey of the public’s feelings on the economy in hand, it should not be surprising that voters punished Democrats when voting on the economy and many of those struggling chose not to vote – an election with the lowest turnout since the 1942 midterm election during World War II.
The economic message articulated by the president during the last rallies before the election spoke about the economic progress that Democrats and the administration had achieved.  These were his remarks at a rally for Governor Dan Malloy in Bridgepoint, Connecticut: 
“You think about when I came into office, we were seeing the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes. Unemployment was about 800,000 per month we were losing jobs. And over the past four and a half years, America has created more than 10 million new jobs. We've created more jobs than Japan, Europe, and all the advanced countries combined. (Applause.) Over the past six months, our economy has grown at the fastest pace in more than 10 years. There’s almost no economic measure where we are not doing better now than when Dan took office or when I took office.”[5]
When the president held his press conference after the wave election, he remained firm, even though he acknowledged that people were not yet feeling the gains.
“This country has made real progress since the crisis six years ago. The fact is, more Americans are working. Unemployment has come down. More Americans have health insurance. Manufacturing has grown. Our deficits have shrunk. Our dependence on foreign oil is down, as are gas prices. Our graduation rates are up. Our businesses aren’t just creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s. Our economy is outpacing most of the world. But we’ve just got to keep at it until every American feels the gains of a growing economy where it matters most, and that’s in their own lives.”[6]
There were some progressive commentators after the election who regretted that Democrats did not spotlight the economic progress and argue we need to give the president a majority in Congress to “keep things going.” Another critic argued that progressives do not really know how to produce wage grow and so Democrats may as well take credit for the macro economy and attack the Republicans for offering no more than European austerity.[7]
With the public aggrieved about the new economy and demanding big changes in direction, Democrats and progressives will only get heard when they join the economic debate with a very different voice.

[1]The survey of 950 2012 voters including 698 likely 2014 voters nationwide was conducted from October 16-21, 2014 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the Economy Media Project and Democracy Corps.  Voters who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on a combination of vote history and stated intention of voting in 2014. Unless otherwise noted, margin of error for the full sample= +/-3.2 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error for likely 2014 voters= +/-3.4 percentage points. Fifty percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and trying to accurately sample the full American electorate.''
[2]Survey of 1,000 likely 2014 voters (unweighted 2200) in the most competitive Senate races in the country conducted by GQR for Democracy Crops from September 20-24, 2014 and a survey of 1,105 likely 2014 voters in the most competitive Congressional seats across the country, conducted by GQR for Democracy Corps from October 4-9, 2014.
[3] This data reflects the total of those who have felt a personal impact or an impact on someone in their family.
[4]GOP Conservative Heartland: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming.
[5]Remarks by the President at Rally for Governor Dan Malloy at Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, November 2, 2014.
[6]Remarks by the President in a Press Conference in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., November 5, 2014.
[7]Jonathan Capehart, “The falling jobless rate and spineless Democrats,” Washington Post, November 7, 2014; John Marshall, “Forget the Chatter, This is the Democrats’ Real Problem,” Talking Points Memo, November 10, 2014.
The New American Economy - Full Report
Tuesday, July 30 2013
Download this file (dcor.emp.memo.073013.web.pdf)Memo[July 2013 Full Report]768 Kb

“How do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”

Americans are living in a new economy—one in which jobs do not pay enough to live on what they used to—and barley keep up with prices at the grocery store, student loan payments, and childcare expenses. Voters have moved to a post-recession understanding of how pay and prices balance out in their household budgets. Because their understanding of the economy is no longer situated in the temporary reductions of the recession but a seemingly permanent assessment about jobs, they now have very different assumptions about life chances, opportunity, income, and equity.

Read more... [The New American Economy - Full Report]
The New American Economy
Monday, July 01 2013
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There are emerging perceptions and understandings about how the economy now operates that can be fairly described as a New American Economy – with very different assumptions about life chances and equity.  These conclusions are very tentative, based on two working class groups in Columbus, Ohio, and two groups in Orlando with young college women and Latino voters.  This is the summary of a longer report, which we will distribute soon, but we wanted to circulate this material now. 

The New Economy: 5 Tenets

1. People believe that American jobs have been fundamentally restructured to pay less; America is producing jobs “you can’t live off.”

  • This may be the biggest change in the perception of the economy and it dominates all other reactions. In the past, people talked about jobs paying “less” as a consequence of the Great Recession, but this change in the character of jobs is just given.
  • When they heard reports of the new jobs being created, the discussion was totally about what those jobs pay: they have had to replace “one career job” with two or more “disposable jobs”; “you have to work twice as hard to make half as much as you used to”; “how do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”
  • Sacrifice has become part of the routine: “After we pay our bills we make sure that our children eat but there’s times my husband and I can’t afford it and we eat peanut butter, potatoes, or rice. We make sure our children are eating 4 food groups but we can’t.”
  • Because jobs don’t allow you to make ends meet, you have to cobble together several jobs to make a full time income; two jobs may not be enough, so one parent must work two jobs while the other works one job and cares for children.
  • The pay leaves them on the edge: one woman says, “I can’t afford to lose right now” because she is right at the edge.

2. People sense there is a macro recovery under way and things are getting better. However, they universally describe the economy as “uncertain” and their feelings as “concerned” and “worried.”

  • People know of others who have gotten jobs or sold a house, and they have heard credible reports of the economy improving. That produces less anger in reaction to elites over-interpreting positive economic news, like the monthly jobs number.
  • Nonetheless, the improvements have not reached them yet, which leads to this kind of qualifier: “the housing market is supposed to be on an upswing again.”; “you want to be optimistic for the future.”
  • Their first reactions to the economy included these terms: “pretty scary”; “worried”; “concerned” ;“not good” ;“it’s starting to balance out a bit, but we never know…it’s a roller coaster.”

3. They have restructured their households and families to deal with this new economy, which feels permanent, not just an adaptation during the Great Recession.

  • People talk about working full or part-time in retirement or postponing retirement.
  • More people have moved in with family members, sharing intergenerational housing. This includes parents taking in adult children, but also 20-somethings taking in their parents who have lost jobs or fallen on hard times.
  • Couponing and penny-pinching is given, but there is also some talk about neighbors sharing big-ticket necessities like lawn mowers that are difficult for one family to afford.

4. With their households on the edge, they are consumed by the costs of childcare and student debt. Both of these reactions seem to have a new intensity – from women moving totally into the labor force as jobs pay less and as young people have turned to college as an economic strategy.

  • Childcare: “[childcare is] more than my mortgage payment but I can’t not do it because the money that I bring in pays for electricity and food…it’s…just a complete vicious circle.”; “If we want…to keep the American Dream alive and have a middle class America then we have to do something to make child care more affordable.”
  • Working just to pay off student debt: “You are working just to pay off your student loans so it’s almost, it’s a double edged sword. ”; “That’s paying your bills. That’s paying your rent… you’re never getting ahead.”; “I’m working as a bartender not by choice… I make more money doing that than any position I could get in my degree so I pay my student loans as a bartender.”

5. They have downsized and adapted their expectations for a good economy – now just means having “a few extra dollars after payday.”

  • The new signs of an improving economy are humble. They say they will know they are doing better when they are “able to save more” or get “yearly pay raises” or when “I can pay my bills.”
  • They describe the job and income situation as a “serious problem,” not a “crisis” – suggesting they have adapted to the new economy.
  • They refuse to give up on the American Dream, but there are few rags to riches discussions.



1. Education has become more important in this new economy – as a personal strategy and as a macro strategy to produce a stronger economy. This includes investing in math and science education, job training, and making education more affordable.

  • There was near universal agreement that education is the most important investment we can make in our economy: “Without technology and education we’re doomed. We have to increase those.”; “I think our children are our future, they need to be smart and well educated for our country to get better.”; “I feel like if they… put more money into education, that it will benefit the country as a whole more. We’ll be able to compete more for jobs with other countries.”
  • This is simultaneously a personal strategy, as the women in particular pursue education.

2. Making work pay has emerged more central as a policy response. There was very strong support for a make work pay package—including making sure women get equal pay, expanding paid family, maternity, and sick leave for families, and making childcare available and affordable.

3. With families restructured and weighted down by debt, people remain responsive to conservative arguments on debt and spending.

  • “When you’re in debt you owe lots of money to people they’re going to come to collect it… like, the government’s in that much debt.” And, “what happens when we spend more than we’ll ever pay back? If I borrowed or charged us $450 million dollars on my credit card I’m going to lose my house, my car, everything. Is China going to repossess our country and then move their overpopulated people here? Where will we go? They own us.”

4. But information about rapidly falling deficits stops them and allows a shift to jobs and growth. This is the statement that shifted the debate: In May of this year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit is declining this year compared to the last few years. The deficit has been reduced by 60 percent over the past two years and will be cut in half again over the next two years, which economists consider a normal level. 

5. Addressing inequality is critical, but the starting point and emotion is on political inequality á la Stiglitz and Reich. People are consumed by the lack of jobs that pay and the fate of the middle class, but they look right at the top when focused on the rigged political battle that favors the rich and connected. They are animated about the political inequality – the use of lobbyists and money to rig the game for those at the top. That is the entry point to making change.

  • “[The top 2 percent are] holding us hostage and then they’ve got the money to buy the politicians to get what they want.”
  • “The general concept of our elected officials being there to support their constituents and the people that have elected to put them in office and unfortunately I think the reality is that too many times they’re placing their votes with people that line their pockets from special interest groups.”
  • “The problem is you have corruption on these high levels where you have these people who are, you know, laundering money or they’re giving themselves these multi-million dollar annual bonuses and they’re cutting wages or they’re cutting jobs or they’re outsourcing jobs.”

6. People desperate for an end to political dysfunction. People are very conscious of the political dysfunction in Washington that keeps government from doing anything to address the country's problems – indeed, making it harder. That is not unrelated to calling people to use government to effect change. Their postcards at the end of the group were very revealing:

  • “We are not as divided in our opinions as our elected representatives! 2. With good old American political compromises our problems are solvable. 3. America’s citizens are often more patriotic than congress.”
  • “I think the government needs to work together to get things accomplished that benefit America and not special interests.”
  • “If both political parties could work together, we might actually be able to accomplish something.”
Ten Economic Lessons from President Obama’s State of the Union Address
Thursday, March 07 2013
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1.The economy is still very difficult for voters at the pocketbook level. This economy is still very painful for people. In focus groups with swing voters who watched the President’s speech with us, participants were very graphic about their personal financial situations and economic outlook.  They are very much on edge financially, which is their dominant context because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological, but tangible and painful for people.

You can’t survive on one income. You can’t buy gas.

I work 7 days a week to afford my house, my car.

Often times I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don’t understand the hardship.


2.  The President can highlight economic progress without taking credit. For the first time since 2009, the President was able to highlight good economic news without shutting voters down; these voters in Denver applauded it. In past exercises, we have found that when President Obama takes credit for progress on the economy in these times, voters react badly and view him as out of touch. The President thread a very careful needle in this speech and it worked. These voters are open to the President’s celebration of good economic news, as long as the President does not take credit for it.  The way President Obama framed current economic growth was through business, not government – businesses hiring again and jobs coming back to America was news these voters were willing to celebrate. We should not underestimate voters’ responses—this was a major turning point.


3.   Voters are aware of, and concerned about, the decline of the middle class. One of the biggest shifts came when President Obama talked about a decade of stagnation, and the need to reignite the middle class and restore the basic middle class bargain. All respondents (including Republican-leaning participants) responded to this. But the President lost the Republicans in our audience when he said that the government works on behalf of the many, not just the few. They came back, however, when he returned to the values of free enterprise.

4.  Voters support a growth agenda rather than an austerity agenda.Voters showed strong support for growth and jobs when the President asserted that “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.” The electorate is ready for a growth agenda that creates good, middle class jobs, and this was clear in their responses to specific policy items. Every time the President mentioned investment, our swing voters in Denver were very receptive—investment in manufacturing, science, and infrastructure all got positive support. One of the strongest responses came when the President talked about not cutting funding for education, job training, Medicare, and Social Security benefits. On that point, independents and unmarried women responded most sharply, climbing above the Democrats’ line. The only group to respond negatively were the Republicans in our audience, who proved outliers on many of these issues.



5.   Voters are looking for a balanced approach.Taken in the context of the sequester, there is significant support for President Obama’s balanced approach rather than the Republicans’ cuts-only approach to deficit reduction. Voters, especially unmarried women, responded with deep concern to the potential budget cuts. And the President got broad support when he talked about replacing reckless cuts with smart savings. He also won the voters in our audience when he talked about getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected. This balanced approach was met with a great deal of approval from our audience, who fully grasped the contrast between closing loopholes for the wealthiest versus cutting retirement benefits for those who cannot afford it.

6.   There is strong support for further and more progressive tax reform.There is strong support for reform, including closing loopholes and instituting the Buffett rule, to make sure the wealthiest pay their share. At the end of the speech we saw big shifts in support for the President in supporting the middle class and handling the economy.



7.   Raising the minimum wage is a good start.Given the on-going stagnation and difficulties at the middle and bottom of the income spectrum, voters are looking for policies that will grow the economy from the bottom up. Raising the minimum wage produced a strong result among all groups except Republicans. Democrats reacted very favorably, as did independents and unmarried women. When the President proposed linking the minimum wage to the cost of living all groups, including Republicans, spiked.



8.   Unmarried women are more engaged and are the most engaged on economic issues affecting them. When we have conducted similar exercises in the past among unmarried women, their movement on the dials presaged their level of engagement and openness to voting for Democrats. During the 2012 campaign, they were more tentative and more closely aligned with independents. In sharp contrast, unmarried women in our group in Denver moved in close concert with the Democrats, and climbed even higher than the Democratic line at several key moments—including when the President talked about his growth and investment agenda, not allowing the painful sequester cuts to hit programs like education and job training, not cutting entitlement benefits for those who need it most, and closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected.



9.   Republicans are on a path different from all others on economic and budget choices.The President’s call to raise taxes on the wealthiest instead of making reckless cuts to education received strongly positive responses from all groups except the Republicans in our audience. On these measures, all of the dials rose while the Republican line dropped. In several key places in the speech, Republican lines moved in the opposite direction of all other lines: “consumers, patients and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before”; “this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few”; “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan”; “by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans”; “the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs”; “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty -- and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.” The point is not that Republicans were less receptive to the President’s speech than those who voted for him. We expected that. The striking observation is that these Republicans were unquestionably moving in the opposite direction as everyone else in the room. There is a difference between the points at which the Republican lines moved in unison with, just several octaves below, Democrats and independents, and the points at which all lines moved up while Republican lines dropped.

10.   Voters are receptive to smarter government that invests in broad-based growth.This is not 2010, when voters looked to punish the President for a lagging economy, the health care law, or high spending. While their trust in government has eroded, voters seem very open to the President’s call for smarter government that tackles big issues. For now, voters seem ready to support both his short-term plan and his long-term vision for restoring the economy.





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