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May 03, 2016

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Rewriting the Rules of the Economy
Progressives Win on Economy vs. Trump-Nationalist
Tuesday, May 03 2016
Download this file (Dcorps_RTR_April Web Deck_5.4.2016_FOR RELEASE.pdf)Presentation[ ]1049 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_RTR April Web Survey_Memo_5.4.2016_RELEASE.pdf)Report[ ]447 Kb

The Reagan Era produced a Republican Party trusted on the economy and left conservatives hegemonic on economic ideas and policy – small government, top-rate tax cuts, and deregulation to power growth. Even after trickle-down policies nearly destroyed the economy, this conservative hegemony was left unchallenged by President Obama who made the recovery his main economic project. Indeed, Mitt Romney was more trusted on the economy than Obama in 2012, and even now, the parties stand at parity at best.


But Democracy Corps’ new survey on behalf of the Roosevelt Institute reflects a unique moment and opportunity for progressives.[1] Voters now embrace a "Level the Playing Field" economic framework and a “Rewriting the Rules” policy agenda that allows progressives to dominate in their analysis of what is the problem, what is the cure, and whom to trust on the economy. That would be a sea change. Furthermore, the path is open whether conservative economics continues to be shaped by Reagan's ideas or by more economic nationalist ones.  


In an experimental design, this survey contrasted two progressive economic approaches: one "Level the Playing Field" and the other, "Ladders of Opportunity." The former is more impactful and engaging and produces a greater advantage on the economy. That strong advantage is not the product of policy differences, however. The frameworks overlap in their policy offerings, and the policies highlighted in each framework are valued across the public. 


Why is a “Level the Playing Field” approach a more successful and motivating economic framework? The answer lies in the depth of the economic critique, the demand for political reform, and the additional commitment to adjusting some of the most fundamental economic levers at our disposal: corporate governance, financial reform, taxation, trade and government investment.    


A “Level the Playing Field” approach begins with a tough diagnosis of the current economy that leaves the middle class on life support while the top reaps all the gains. It continues with an indictment of the corrupt political deal that allows corporations and billionaires to use their donations and lobbyists to rewrite the rules of the economy to favor them. Like the “Opportunity” approach, it recommends a number of progressive policies: equal pay for women, affordable and quality education at all levels, better trade policy, and targeted and broad investments to power growth. But a “Level Playing Field” approach goes further and emphasizes the need to significantly change the way corporations, the financial sector and political leaders operate; the “Opportunity” approach proposes investing in people, correcting past imbalances and removing the barriers to people’s economic ascent.  In the end, despite considerable similarities in the policy recommendations, voters think economic change when they hear a “Level Playing Field” approach, and not when they hear an “Opportunity” approach.


The “Level Field” approach is also a precondition for progressive hegemony on the economy because conservative economics is changing too. Donald Trump has made trade, immigration and nationalist economics more central to the conservative economic vision. Ted Cruz has made crony capitalism more central to the Reagan economic vision, which lays the foundation for conservative opposition to special interest spending and trade promotion authority.


This new poll tested the choices for voters emerging out of the national presidential debate and demonstrates how progressive economics can dominate this new era with a commitment to “Leveling the Playing Field,” as conservative economics did in the post-Reagan Era.


[1] National web-survey of 1,200 likely 2016 voters conducted from April 11-18, 2016.Likely voters were determined based on whether they voted in 2012 or registered since and stated intention of voting in 2016. 

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.



Taking on Trade, Unions and Banks in 2016
Tuesday, January 26 2016
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At a time when two-thirds of the country says America is on the wrong track and when conservatives are mounting a sustained attack on America’s direction, the country is even more ready to embrace a Rewriting the Rules narrative, agenda and message, according to this new poll with Democracy Corps.  Bringing in trade, union representation and banking regulation only adds to the power of these bold changes, first advanced by the Roosevelt Institute nine months ago.       

These issues are being debated in the Democratic primary, and all the candidates have endorsed major policy recommendations at the heart of the Rewriting the Rules report. President Obama too has talked about the need “to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.” However, he and some Democratic candidates are calling for the country to “defend and build on the progress we’ve made” the past 7 years and saying we need “a sensible achievable agenda.”[1] That is less aligned with the changes the report advocates.  That message has allowed the Republican presidential candidates to embrace change and talk about wage stagnation, rising inequality on Obama’s watch, the need for more jobs and trade agreements that don’t hurt America.

In economic terms, the national contest is getting harder. But there is a huge opportunity for progressives to emerge victorious if they lay down the battle lines. We see again and again policies and messages that are framed as checks on corporate power show the greatest potential to drive enthusiasm and unite Americans.

This online poll of 1,200 likely voters shows progressive candidates who embrace an aggressive “Level the Playing Field” message enhanced with progressive positions on trade and unions dominate the conservative candidates with their conservative message and policies.[2] This progressive message begins with frustration this country doesn’t work for the middle class, is governed by “trickle down” economics, and allows CEOs and billionaires to write the rules so government works for them, not you. But in a major new finding, this survey shows that bringing in opposition to new trade agreements written by big corporations seeking to undermine American jobs and incomes and voicing support for union representation so working people can challenge corporate power for higher income elevates both vote and turnout.

The union-centric message performs particularly well with progressive base voters, but candidates should also welcome the trade debate. With TPP and NAFTA very unpopular, especially among independents, the trade-centric message performs particularly well with independents. Bringing trade into the debate also further undermines support for key conservative economic principles overall.

New policies that go beyond Glass-Steagall to regulate the financial sector and break up the big banks further strengthens the progressive economic argument. Adding tough new rules that make “our financial system work for families, small businesses and community banks” gives progressives effective new language on Wall Street reform.

These three additions – strengthening unions, opposing new trade deals and reigning in Wall Street risk – can all be subsumed under the central principle of the Rewriting the Rules report: that CEOs, corporations and big banks have used their power and influence to write the rules in their favor and it’s time to rewrite the rules to level the playing field and grow the middle class.

Finally, this survey settles some important tactical issues that will make progressive messages more powerful:

  • Jobs remain the elemental starting point, even more than higher incomes, though an economy that creates more jobs must be buttressed by government policies and greater worker empowerment that allow jobs will pay enough to live on and reward hard work.
  • Focusing on the corruption of our government by billionaires and corporate donors is very powerful; though raising the Koch brothers specifically wipes out any advantage in the message.
  • Centering on the middle class and bringing in working families sustains our messages, but moving to “ordinary people” and like substitutes weakens it.

These results could not be more timely and useful. They build on research we conducted last fall on leveling the playing field in America, as part of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rewriting the Rules project.


Starting point: voter anger generates conservative engagement, progressive disengagement

Voters continue to say that the country is on the wrong track by a margin of 2 to 1. The progressive base is similarly disaffected, with 60 percent of the Rising American Electorate – minorities, unmarried women and millennials – saying we are headed in the wrong direction. While conservatives have turned this dissatisfaction into engagement, progressives are disengaged.  Only 59 percent of the RAE ranks their interest in the election a “10” compared to 68 percent of conservatives. This is the defining challenge of this election.

An offer to build on the administration’s progress is tone-deaf in this context.


Progressive opportunity: tapping into desire for change to move an aggressive agenda

Voters, including the progressive base want change. But the change they are seeking is an aggressive progressive approach, not a conservative approach.  A candidate offering a progressive “Level the Playing Field” economic message decisively defeats a conservative economic message by a margin of 11 points, with 37 percent of voters saying such a message makes them much more positive towards the candidate.


It is not surprising that the Democratic race is competitive, given Bernie Sanders’ alignment with this message. It is not yet clear whether Secretary Clinton’s message will evolve to this point.


Voters demand strong Wall Street accountability

Taking on Wall Street risk and changing the way banks work so they protect regular consumers is central to the Rewriting the Rules agenda and one of the most important policy levers at our disposal to change the way the economy works. An agenda that down-sizes “Too Big to Fail” banks but also regulates shadow and high-risk banking and increases enforcement wins dramatically more support than one just centered on protecting consumer banking from Wall Street risk-taking. This bold banking reform scores 10 points higher than one that seeks to pass a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act for our times.    

This bold bank reform also heavily outscores the conservative policies that seek to abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and repeal Dodd Frank. Fully 58 percent of voters support stronger regulation of banks – including ending “Too Big to Fail,” regulating shadow-banking and risky financial products, and enforcing financial crimes – so the financial system works for the middle class, with 33 percent strongly supportive.

In fact, reining in Wall Street risk is one of the most popular policies in the progressive arsenal, second only to enforcing labors laws (64 percent effective, 36 percent very effective) and as popular as investing in infrastructure.


Bringing the trade and union debates center-stage helps progressives

The economists who contributed to the Rewriting the Rules report were clear: strengthening unions and improving the trade system are integral to the collection of policies that would be most effective to address inequality, grow the economy and raise incomes. We cannot rewrite the rules and level the playing field without taking on these issues. The good news is that bringing these issues into the debate – particularly trade – helps progressives.

This survey featured an experimental design in which one-third heard a control “Rewriting the Rules” debate with a back and forth between progressives and conservatives; one-third heard the same debate but with an added emphasis on labor rights, and one-third heard the control debate augmented with a trade discussion. Each split heard both progressive and conservative policies, arguments, and messages. We then looked at three different measures to understand whether the inclusion of labor rights or opposition to trade helps or hurts a progressive candidate.

The first test was the simplest – we looked at respondents’ ratings of the “Level the Playing Field” message. When that message also included an argument about trade or unions, it performed as well or better than the original “Level the Playing Field” message.


The union version performed somewhat better among Democrats, with two-thirds saying it makes them much more positive, compared to 60 percent for the control version and 59 percent for the trade version.

The trade message performed particularly well with independents, with 32 percent strongly supporting the trade message, compared to 29 percent for the union message and 28 percent for the control message. This is not surprising given the hostility independents show towards trade agreements in this poll.


The second test was a regression analysis. Controlling for other factors, the union message had the greatest likelihood of shifting respondents’ votes towards Democrats in the congressional vote; meanwhile, the trade message had the greatest likelihood of becoming more interested in voting in 2016. Together, these messages can increase turnout in a low-enthusiasm election and shift the vote towards progressive candidates.

The third test makes the most of the experiment design of the poll and looks at the extent of support for conservative principles about the economy, growth and government, depending on which arguments respondents heard. Those who heard the trade debate were dramatically less supportive of the conservative worldview on the size of government and tax and regulation at the end of the survey. It seems that joining the trade debate with a plausible policy agenda legitimated a role for government and undermined the idea of small government, in ways we do not fully understand. It also eased some concerns about the impact of policy on small business. 


These findings, taken together, show that trade and labor arguments can boost engagement for progressive candidates and can weaken support for conservative policy positions.


Landing the trade argument

The Rewriting the Rules agenda includes key trade policy changes. The progressive policy offerings around better trade deals are more strongly supported than the conservative proposals, with voters giving the most support to the policies vowing to end the deals that protect big pharmaceutical companies that use trade deals to keep prices high and ensuring America maintains sovereignty and the ability to regulate country of origin.


It is clear progressives want a debate about trade and candidates make gains when they join this argument.  The most convincing argument in favor of the conservative trade position is less convincing that every progressive argument tested.

Candidates should be against an agreement where corporate interests and CEOs negotiate their benefits in secret, while political leaders fail to look out for American workers: 64 percent of Americans find this argument persuasive, including 31 percent who find it very persuasive. That is more support than the best the Republicans have to offer, with a 10 point lead in intensity. That the agreements have cost American jobs is a close second in persuasiveness. Sovereignty is less powerful as an argument, at the moment.


Making the case on union representation

In the current environment, it is no surprise that unions have a more negative than positive image in this survey.  The online panel is a little more negative than the public generally. But that does not mean the progressive policy agenda related to worker empowerment and union representation is not strongly supported by the public when they hear it.  Indeed, the policies emerging from the Rewriting the Rules report intended to expand the role of unions in the economy and politics win substantially more support than the conservative agenda backed by a conservative candidate. Those hearing the union version of the “Level the Playing Field” message prefer it to the conservative economic message with a statement about reigning in unions, 62 to 54.

The progressive union policies are some of the most strongly supported policies tested in this survey, and they enjoy much stronger support than the conservative policies. Sixty-four percent think greater penalties for companies that violate overtime and minimum wage laws will produce a better economy, 36 percent say it would be very effective. This puts it alongside infrastructure investment and reigning in Wall Street risk as amongst the most powerful policy ideas progressives have. As a point of comparison, making college affordable scores 10 points lower.

There is strong support for giving people the “legal right to join together with co-workers and negotiate with employers for better wages and benefits,” buttressed by laws against employer retaliation. Fresh language helps strengthen the case for collective bargaining. When we describe the policy as a “legal right to join together with co-workers and negotiate with employers” – without mentioning the words “union” or “collective bargaining” – 55 percent think it would produce a better economy, 26 percent say it would be very effective. When the same policy included the words “union” and “collective bargaining” only 42 percent said it would be effective in producing a better economy. Progressives will win more support for their efforts if they use this more descriptive language.


The challenge for progressives is that the conservative rhetoric has a stronger grip on the public imagination. While the top two progressive arguments are a statistical tie with the top two conservative arguments, the conservative lines have a 10 point intensity advantage.

Progressives’ strongest argument is one that aims to use unions as a check on corporations and CEOs that are only interested in their profits and shareholder payouts, not American workers. This view places the blame for jobs moving overseas on the shoulders of greedy corporate interests, not on union workers. A 53 percent majority say this is a convincing argument, 22 percent very convincing. The second most convincing argument in the progressive arsenal says unionized firms lead to higher wages for everyone in an industry by forcing them to compete for employees.



Settling tactical choices

In an effort to consolidate the progressive community, this survey also settles some nontrivial tactical choices.

Koch brothers. By 55 to 45 voters think ‘Billionaires and corporate donors have unacceptable influence over government’ rather than that ‘Business influences government, but so do labor unions and other special interests.’ But when the Koch brothers are added to the message, the billionaire rhetoric loses its power. The inclusion of the Koch brothers makes the critique look political, and leads to one of the biggest differences in the survey: adding the clause ‘like the Koch brothers’ to the message shifts the balance of opinion in favor of billionaires (46 to 54).


Jobs and raising incomes. Despite the creation of 14 million jobs under this administration and the certainty that we now need to focus on getting jobs to pay more, voters still are hungry for more jobs as the highest priority. They may well equate there being more jobs with more employee choice and market power. In this survey, job creation is the public’s priority over raising incomes by a 34 point margin. With the Rising American Electorate (RAE) – people of color, millennials and unmarried women – job creation is preferred to higher incomes by 30 points. At the end of the day, there is something elemental about having a good job – and that is why a good job has to be at the heart of the progressive project. To have equal power, raising wages should be linked to jobs that pay more.

Inclusive growth over rapid growth. The public has gone beyond the economists’ prescriptions for faster economic growth to growth that is inclusive: “raises everyone’s incomes and wealth, not just those at the top.”  They opt for that kind of growth by a 54 point margin. They also prefer improved economic performance that “produces a higher standard of living” to rapid growth by a slightly smaller thought still strong margin (+50). Inclusive growth, however, gets more intense support: 42 percent, compared to 37 percent for improved economic performance.


Middle class. Economic messages gain strength when they are centered on the middle class, though “working families” can contribute as well. The “working families” language has a lot of energy.  By 56 to 43, voters say we need an economy that works for “working families” rather than the “middle class” – including a majority of the RAE.


But importantly, when a respondent hears repeatedly about the middle class, the vote holds up against the conservative attack, whereas when the language is about ‘ordinary people’ Democrats lose 4 points in the race. 


[2]National Web-Survey of 1,200 Likely 2016 Voters. This survey took place January 6- 12, 2016. Likely voters were determined based on whether they voted in 2012 or registered since and 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 is +/-2.83 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups.

Public Embraces Stiglitz "Rewriting the Rules" Economic Agenda: Roosevelt Institute "Level the Playing Field" Plan Motivating Progressives in 2016
Monday, October 05 2015
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Earlier this year, the Roosevelt Institute released its Rewriting the Rules economic agenda crafted by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.  What it offered sounded like a new common sense: the economy is governed by underlying rules; they are a choice and we have the power to change them.  But can this serious formulation win the intellectual argument with elites and the public, can its bold policies win acceptance, can the resulting political messages defeat opponents and energize and motivate a disaffected citizenry? Since the report's well publicized release, the Roosevelt Institute has partnered with Democracy Corps to determine whether its Rewriting the Rules analysis and recommendations were actionable in the short and long-term. 


This research is unique because we are not testing policies developed by pollsters or advocacy groups. We tested policies that the Roosevelt economists believe would be effective levers in changing the rules of the economy and producing a broadly shared economic growth. Well, it is now clear, the public embraces that agenda, while the conservative economists’ agenda is barely credible. 


After hearing a candidate’s pointed message attacking trickle down economics and promising to level the playing field for the middle class and America, the disengaged get more engaged and voters get more supportive of that leader.  But that campaign context understates the possible moment and opportunity. The public is ready to repudiate trickle down economics, the most important intellectual idea since Reagan, and turn away from its attendant conservative policies.  It is also ready to embrace the intellectual framework and bold policy options necessary for America to achieve inclusive growth. The scale of support for these disruptive changes suggests we may be going into a distinctive period.  The 1910 and 1912 national elections created momentum for progressive reform; 1932 and 1936 elections brought the New Deal; 1980 and 1984 elevated market individualism, deregulation and low top income tax rates; Ross Perot in 1992 and the conservative surge in 2008 and 2010 elevated worries about the national debt and austerity.


The Roosevelt narrative and policies were crystallized as a Level the Playing Field’ progressive message, and it is electorally compelling. It gets a stronger and more intense response than the conservative one.  It leads the disengaged to be more engaged, particularly the target audiences of the new American majority.  It also produces much stronger results than a mainstream progressive message that is silent on inequality and proposes modest changes.  Roosevelt’s message has the virtue of energizing the base, without diminishing its appeal to independents and swing working class voters.  At the end of the survey, the big ideological debate, the bold policies, and competing Roosevelt and conservative messages energized the Rising American Electorate of racial minorities, unmarried women and Millennials who could comprise 55 percent of the voters in 2016. 


The first phase of research included six focus groups in Atlanta, Denver, and Cleveland among African American women, Latino men, the white college-educated and working class men and women.[1]  After the focus groups, we conducted a national survey of 900 likely 2016 voters.[2]  It included an elaborate experimental design that measured how the Roosevelt formula tested against a conservative economic posture, as well as against a more mainstream progressive one that did not address inequality.


The results reported here will lead one to consider: what is the scale of opportunity in the elections ahead?

  • The core principles and rules in the Rewriting the Rules report have huge levels of intense support with the public. More than 80 percent agree and nearly 60 percent ‘strongly’ agree that “the rules of the economy matter and the top 1 percent have used their influence to shape the rules of the economy to their advantage.”  And an intense majority of 54 percent strongly agrees that “leveling the playing field” for working Americans and small businesses would bring greater economic growth and rising incomes. 


  • Conservative economic principles are greeted skeptically, to say the least. The country only splits evenly on whether regulations of big business end up hurting small businesses and jobs. And the term trickle down is greeted negatively by two-to-one (45 to 21 percent) of the public and across all ages and classes.  


  • In this survey, the non-emotive term, CEOs of large businesses are viewed very negatively; indeed, two to one negative (45 percent coolly and only 25 percent warmly). 


  • The current conservative economic narrative is barely competitive with the Roosevelt rewriting the rules narrative. The former narrative uses the language of prominent conservatives and Republicans, focusing heavily on big government, regulation and spending that is strangling the economy.  But the Roosevelt economic narrative is viewed as more convincing by a 12-point margin (73 to 61 percent).


  • The more the Roosevelt and conservative economic narratives are debated, the bigger the civic effects and greater the political advantage for the party aligned with it.  Those respondents who heard this ideological debate (one half of the respondents) rated the Roosevelt messages at the end survey 5 points higher, compared to those who heard no such debate. That suggests the more these economic ideas are put front and center, the higher the support for change in the political domain.


  • The level of support for the Roosevelt economists’ recommendations to progressive leaders suggests a public ready for serious changes across a broad range of areas.  Nearly 80 percent of people polled see the top policies as effective. And the level and intensity of support are, remarkably, about 20 points higher than for the policies advanced by conservative economists for the Republican presidential candidates. 


  • The broad agenda prioritized by the public includes policies that seek to reform politics and campaign funding, help working families, invest in infrastructure, increase taxes on the top 1 percent to support investment, help independent contractors and small businesses, and address CEO pay and corporate governance.


  • The public is more supportive of these policies when the agenda starts with reforming the corrupt system of financing politics.  A sophisticated public believes that the richest individuals and corporations are using their money to write the rules of the economy.  Thus, they see the most effective economic policies as ones that bar secret money, require immediate disclosure, bar corporate contributions and empower small donors.


  • By contrast, the public views the policies that dominate the Republican Congress and presidential debates as least effective: only a third of the public believe reducing regulations produced by unelected bureaucrats, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and closing our borders to protect workers would be very effective in bettering the economy. The current conservative economic policy agenda barely seems relevant to the public


  • The Level the Playing Field progressive message scorns trickle down, seeks an economy that works for the middle class, seeks to stop the toxic influence of corporate money, and seeks to level the playing field so we can grow the middle class and America again. It gets a dramatically more positive reception than a very realistic conservative message. This progressive message scores 12 points better overall.


  • The Level the Playing Field Democratic message performs dramatically better than a mainstream Democratic message with self-identified Democrats and, the critical swing group, white working class voters.  It is more motivating for Millennials, and it performs equally well with independents.  The mainstream message, which does not mention inequality or tax increase on the wealthy, is only competitive because Republicans rate it 12 points higher than one that seeks to level the playing field.


  • The percent choosing 10, the highest level of interest, jumped 17 points among racial minorities, 11 with off-year drop-off voters, 11 points with the Rising American Electorate, 12 with unmarried women, and 11 with Millennials.


Presented below are the narratives, policies and messages that emerged in this first phase of research for the Roosevelt Institute.





[1]Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, on behalf of Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute, conducted 6 focus groups: African American women and college educated men in Atlanta, Georgia on July 20th, college educated women and Hispanic men in Denver, Colorado on July 22nd, and white non-college educated women and white non-college educated men in Cleveland, Ohio on July 23rd.

[2]Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, on behalf of Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute, conducted a national survey of 900 likely 2016 voters from September 12-16, 2015. The survey consists of respondents who voted in the 2012 election, or registered since, and were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups.

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.
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