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November 16, 2015

Why 2016 could be shattering for...

By Stanley B. Greenberg, author of the new book "America Ascendant." This article appeared in the Washington Post. Election Day 2016 will produce a...

National Surveys
Public Embraces Stiglitz "Rewriting the Rules" Economic Agenda: Roosevelt Institute "Level the Playing Field" Plan Motivating Progressives in 2016
Monday, October 05 2015
Download this file (dcor.rewriting the rules.report_11.2.15_FINAL.pdf)Memo[ ]1730 Kb
Download this file (dcor_RTR_SeptNational_Deck_Roosevelt Release_FOR WEB.pdf)Presentation[ ]599 Kb
Download this file (Democracy Corps Roosevelt 091715 FQ.pdf)Toplines[ ]111 Kb

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.

Voters Reject Discrimination and Politicians Who Support Discrimination
Thursday, July 23 2015
Download this file (HRC (public memo non-discrimination) 715.pdf)Memo[ ]178 Kb
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that all of us—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—could marry the person they love. This decision brought our nation one step closer to equality. But this journey is not over.  Even in an America where we are free to marry, other basic civil rights are lacking.  Thirty-one states lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in critical matters of employment, housing, and access to public places. That means in many states, LGBT Americans are still at risk of being denied services, being fired for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office the next day, or simply for being who they are. This injustice has grown increasingly intolerable to an overwhelming majority of Americans. 
Today, Democracy Corps, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Human Rights Campaign release the results from a new survey of likely 2016 voters.  This survey reinforces voters’ long-held commitment to non-discrimination, as four out five voters believe this is a basic civil right.  This survey also demonstrates voters are willing to oppose candidates for public office who oppose these basic civil rights, including groups critical to the outcome of the 2016 election.  These results are very consistent with a Human Rights Campaign survey of likely voters taken in January showing 43 percent are much less likely to support a candidate who opposes non-discrimination. 
Moreover, the issue of “faith” does not change the politics of this issue. Voters do not accept religion as an excuse to discriminate. 
This memorandum summarizes the results of a national telephone survey of 950 likely 2016 voters. In order to better reflect the changing habits and demography of the country, 60 percent of those interviewed for this survey responded using cell phones.  The survey was conducted June 13-17, 2015 and carries a margin of error of +/- 4.38. 
Key Findings 
  • Voters reject discrimination.  By an impressive 78 percent to 16 percent, voters support protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment.  These results are very consistent with past surveys; in 2011, voters supported this proposal by a 79 to 18 percent margin. 
  • Support for non-discrimination unites the country.  At a time when Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on anything, they agree on this.  A 64 percent majority of Republicans support protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, as do 90 percent of Democrats.  Similarly, this legislation draws impressive majorities among college (84 percent) and non-college voters (73 percent), younger (85 percent) and older (75 per-cent), as well as observant Christians (70 percent favor). 
  • Voters will also consider this issue when voting next year.  A 59 percent majority of voters are less likely to support a candidate for president who opposes protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the work place.  Just 27 percent are more likely and 9 percent say it would make no difference.  This is not just a progressive base issue.  A 61 percent majority of Independent voters say they are less likely to support a candidate who opposes these protections, as do 58 percent of Catholic voters, 54 percent of blue collar voters and 60 percent of married women. 
  • This could be key issue among white millennial voters.  Arguably, the most interesting group in this debate is white millennial voters (defined here as voters born between 1980 and 1997).  These younger white voters supported Obama in 2008, but voted Republican in 2010, 2012 and 2014, reflecting their frustration with the slow pace of change.  However, they are committed to equality.  A near-unanimous 86 percent majority support em-ployment protections for LGBT people.  Moreover, 65 percent are less likely to support a candidate who opposes this protection. 
  • Religion is not an excuse to discriminate.  Politicians in Indiana, Arkansas and a number of other states have raised the issue of faith in efforts to stop the advance of non-discrimination.  As we found out in Indiana voters are having none of it.  In this survey, a 56 percent majority believe small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to someone because they are gay or lesbian, even if it violates their religious beliefs. Nearly half (46 percent), strongly oppose giving small businesses the right to discriminate, including 55 percent of white millennials.
This legislation is long overdue.  Non-discrimination legislation was first introduced to Congress in 1974 and has been reintroduced many times since.  As early as 1977, voters believed gay people should have “equal rights” in terms of job opportunities, according to Gallup. Nearly forty years later, this community is still waiting for federal legislation fully protecting their rights. This time, they carry the conviction of an impressive majority of American voters.  
Progressive Strategy for the White Working Class
Tuesday, July 21 2015

Two months ago, a number of progressives who are part of a group called the TDS White Working Class Roundtable gathered under the auspices of The Democratic Strategist and the Washington Monthly to discuss a strategy paper I authored. The group, moderated by Ed Kilgore, included Ruy Teixeira, John Judis, Mark Schmidt, Joan Walsh and Karen Nussbaum, as well as a number of other respected political strategists.

The members of this roundtable group share two central convictions: first, that Democrats urgently need to win more white working class votes if Democrats are going to create a stable Democratic majority in America and second that this goal can be sought without having to compromise a solid progressive agenda or alienate members of the Obama coalition.

And my discussion paper proposed a specific, poll tested strategy for taking a significant step in this direction. Based on Democracy Corps massive database of poll results and focus group research, I have found that a substantial group of white working class people—and white working class women in particular—would be open to an impressive range of progressive policies if the massive suspicion and hostility toward government that many white working class people feel could be overcome.

In the course of its discussions, members of the Roundtable group made the following specific recommendations about how you and other Democratic candidates in 2016 can overcome these obstacles and reach white working class Americans, which the Democratic Strategist has compiled in a new must read strategy memo:

  1. An agenda of government reform has to come before, not after, the presentation of a progressive platform.
  2. A government reform agenda must include not only populist measures to reduce the control of big money and corruption but also improvements in government systems and structures to actually make government more genuinely representative of the average citizen.
  3. Progressive policies must be “Loud and Clear” and not get bogged down in details.
  4. Progressive proposals must show that Democrats understand the complex reality of today’s new economy.
  5. Democrats must recognize the political implications of the changing social values of young workers.
  6. Racial attitudes do present a significant obstacle to Democrats in winning the support of white working class voters—but not enough to prevent Democratic candidates from winning the number of votes that they really need.

Read the full Democratic Strategist memo here.

Polarization of the white working class modestly helps Democrats
Monday, July 13 2015

A quick headline might say, “Democrats are doing a little better with the white working class than they were in 2012,”  though their vote still  hugging 35 percent may give you pause.  A more considered headline would tell you a big gender story.  Hillary Clinton and congressional Democrats (in a named ballot) are running considerably better with white working class women, produced by a sharp pull back from the Republicans.  But amazingly, Democratic gains with working class women are partially offset by losses with white working class men.  With the men, Clinton is trailing Obama's performance by 5 points.

For now, the white working class women are having their say and Clinton and the Democrats are eroding some of the Republicans' working class firewall. 


Based on a national survey of 950 likely 2016 voters conducted June 13-17, 2015 by Democracy Corps, 60 percent cell and national post-election surveys among 3,617 2012 voters conducted by Democracy Corps in 2012.

A New American Agenda for a New American Majority
Monday, June 29 2015
Download this file (DCOR National 061715 FQ_WVWV.pdf)Toplines[ ]271 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_WV_June poll_short memo_6.29.15.FINALforweb.pdf)Memo[ ]498 Kb

Democrats are well positioned leading into next year’s elections if they give their base, particularly unmarried women, a reason to turn out and vote.  As this research demonstrates, the promise of an agenda that addresses the real economy of everyday Americans and—this is an equally important piece—also provides them with a more responsive and equitable government gives key blocks in the Democratic coalition a greater stake in this election.

A new survey of 950 likely 2016 voters sponsored by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices, Woman Vote Action Fund shows Hillary Clinton with a stable and impressive lead over prominent Republican contenders (Marco Rubio and Scott Walker). The Democratic margin in a named congressional vote, up significantly from the 2014 election, inches up higher, and has moved 11 points in the Democratic direction since last November.[1]   This Democratic strength reflects the changing demographic reality of the new American electorate.  Unmarried women, people of color, millennials—voters of the Rising American Electorate (RAE)—will make up a majority of voters for the first time in 2016.  This new American majority carries with them a new American agenda.   

The dominant reason for Democratic vigor in this survey is the deep backing that Clinton and the Democrats enjoy among voters in the Rising American Electorate, where Clinton matches Obama’s 2012 vote and exceeds his showing among white unmarried women. These voters sustain Democratic margins.  

The Republicans also face a severe brand problem. They are defined, at least for now, by an increasingly unpopular Republican Congress and a Republican congressional leadership that has become a pariah among voters. Both Boehner and McConnell draw record unfavorable numbers in this survey, and the Speaker draws majority negative reviews. In addition, the Republicans have failed to adapt to the collapse in conservative culture.  As others have highlighted, and as this survey reinforces, the number of voters who describe themselves as conservative has dropped sharply; voters’ reactions to pro-life groups, marriage equality and, to a lesser degree, the NRA, further reveals this ideological shift.  The Republicans grow increasingly out of touch culturally with the country, a process likely accelerated by their nomination process. 

Democrats also face their own challenges.  Their base, specifically RAE voters and unmarried women, betray a huge disparity in interest and enthusiasm for participating in the 2016 elections compared to their more conservative counterparts.  A 67 percent majority of non-RAE voters describe their level of interest in the highest terms (a “ten” on a ten-point scale). Among RAE voters, this number drops to 48 percent.  These voters demonstrate real doubts about the ability of the government to deliver on the change they need.  The disparity in interest among Democratic base groups is a direct threat to their strategy, regardless of the outcome in 2016.

Nonetheless, this survey produces a big jump in Democratic enthusiasm after voters hear an agenda that speaks to their lives and promises a government that serves their interests, particularly among Democratic base groups such as unmarried women and drop-off voters.  

This agenda is big and progressive. It addresses an economy that still does not work for them and does not produce jobs that pay enough to sustain a family.  Changes like equal pay for women, a solution to the problems within Medicare and Social Security, and a serious and bold investment in our infrastructure find traction not just among base groups, but among blue collar voters as well.  But this agenda also confronts government that too often seems indifferent or even hostile to their interests. 

In the focus groups preceding this survey, participants described themselves as entirely disconnected from their leaders, and described a leadership class more focused on lining their pockets than helping people like them. Progressive government reform that promises to rid the system of waste and duplication, simplify the tax code, make government more “user-friendly,” and eliminate subsidies for rich corporate interests, together with serious economic changes, energizes key base groups. 

Read full report here.


[1]National survey of 950 likely 2016 voters, 60 percent cell, June 13-17, 2015. This research was a joint project of Democracy Corps, Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, and the Voter Participation Center.  This research is informed by two sets of focus groups conducted in Jacksonville and Orlando Florida on May 19 and June 4, 2015.   The Voter Participation research related to nonpartisan questions regarding policy topics.  Important methodology note: In order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full American electorate, for the first time, 60 percent of respondents in this survey were reached by cell phone.

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