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National Surveys
Edging toward an earthquake election
Friday, April 01 2016
Attachments:
Download this file (Dcor National 032416 FQ_FOR RELEASE.pdf)Toplines[ ]268 Kb
Download this file (Dcorps_March National_WVWV_4.1.2016_FOR PRESS CALL (2).pdf)Presentation[ ]1559 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_March National_Memo_4.1.2016_FOR RELEASE.pdf)Memo[ ]397 Kb

Democracy Corps’ new poll on behalf of WVWVAF shows the country edging toward an earthquake in November.[1] Hillary Clinton already holds a 13-point margin against Donald Trump and a 6-point lead over Ted Cruz, just a point short of Obama’s margin in 2008.  But seven new findings in this survey suggest something even more disruptive electorally.

 

  1. The GOP brand has reached a new historic low, putting the party at risk in swing segments of the electorate.

 

  1. The GOP civil war is producing an eye-opening numbers of Republicans ready to punish down-ballot candidates for not making the right choice with respect to how to run in relation to the front-runner. Moderate Republicans are already peeling off.

 

  1. The disengagement pall has been lifted. Our focus groups with white unmarried women,   millennials and African Americans showed a new consciousness about the stakes in November. In this poll, the percentage of Democrats giving the highest level of engagement has increased 10 points. The biggest increase in engagement came with college-educated women, putting them on par with Republicans and seniors.

 

  1. The Trump white working-class strategy is faltering because every white working-class man abandoning the Democratic candidate is being erased by Republican losses with the white working-class women. As you will see, it is statistically impossible for Trump to turn out enough angry white working class men to surpass Clinton.

 

  1. The Rising American Electorate (RAE) is producing high Democratic margins, with unmarried women producing the highest Democratic vote – and widest marriage gap – we have measured.

 

  1. After years of stagnating Democratic congressional performance, the Democrats have opened a 6-point lead in the named congressional vote. That is not enough to produce Democratic control, but this trend corresponds to when Democrats began to show life in 2006 and 2008 when they picked up seats.  If the Democrats simply reproduced Clinton’s margin with the RAE, the Democratic congressional vote would be at a much higher point. That creates obvious targets to cause an earthquake.

 

  1. The Democratic “Level the Playing Field” message dominates the Trump nationalist economic message, particularly if it incorporates reforming campaigns – which appeals to progressive base voters – and reforming government – which appeals to swing voters. This bold and populist economic message increases the vote, turnout, and support for congressional Democrats.  It is much stronger than Clinton’s current “Ladders of Opportunity” message, which limits her vote in the primary and general. The success of the “Level the Playing Field” message also suggests a united Democratic Party can make further gains.   

READ THE FULL MEMO


[1]This national survey took place March 17-24, 2016. Respondents who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016. Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at 95% confidence. 65 percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to accurately sample the American electorate.

 
Raised Stakes for the Rising American Electorate in 2016: Report from Focus Groups
Tuesday, March 22 2016
Attachments:
Download this file (Dcor_WVWV_FG_Key Findings_3.22.2016_FINAL.pdf)Key Findings[ ]240 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_WVWV_FG_Memo_SHORT_3.22.2016_FINAL_FOR WEB.pdf)Memo[ ]326 Kb

The country is in a desperate mood, expressed in the public’s discontent with the direction of country. The anxiety begins with an economy you can’t depend on that produces a struggling middle class, inequality and a growing disparity between rich and poor. It extends to a decline in morals and lack of personal responsibility, pushed by the media, which breeds more drugs and crime. And importantly, it is produced by a toxic political environment. Donald Trump’s victories leave them questioning the country’s values, whether they can trust their neighbors, and what the future holds. It is a dangerous brew that generates impassioned, engaged discussion in focus groups. It has created an election with high stakes.

This memo outlines the findings of four focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps on behalf of WVWVAF and VPC in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio on March 8-9 among segments of the Rising American Electorate: African American women (we included both frequent and less frequent voters), white unmarried millennial women, white unmarried older women, and white non-college unmarried women.

Two story lines emerge from these groups. The financially pressed mostly working class white unmarried and millennial women get past their doubts about Clinton in this context to support a progressive narrative for change. A second story line dominates the African American group where the stakes of the election have suddenly changed dramatically and people process events through a new filter. These stories have increased chances for an engaged and consolidated vote in November. That should produce a major strategic turn in the campaign ahead.

Below are the key findings from these focus groups:

  1. There is deep and sharply defined negativity about the direction of the country and this new definition makes it the key dynamic of the upcoming election. The words these women most commonly use include “sad,” “disappointed,” “frustrated,” and “confused.” Some strong currents in thinking about the economy, society, political economy and this presidential election shape these feelings about the country’s direction.
  • Not new is the perception that the recovery is tentative and its jobs don’t pay enough to live on and don’t allow you to get ahead.
  • People now talk at the same time about a lost middle class and the growing disparity or polarization of wealth between the lower and upper class.  They see a “divided” country and ordinary people coming up with nothing.
  • They are newly conscious and disgusted by the nexus of CEOs, Wall Street and money in politics. That is a “bad mix” and “bad influence.”
  • They seem newly concerned about a decline in morals, focus on the self and irresponsibility that results in drug use and crime.
  • And the intemperate presidential election, particularly the emergence and victories of Donald Trump, has put a big question mark over the direction of the country. They find his tone and views embarrassing and are shocked by the support he is winning for his racist and sexist views.
  1. Hillary Clinton is a positive figure, and those attributes may become more important in a contest with a Donald Trump.
  • She is serious, hardworking, knows what it takes to run the country, understands the issues, and is seen as the most diplomatic of the candidates.
  • They believe Clinton “would be better able to relate to women,” understands the challenges they face as working women and mothers, would bring “a woman’s perspective on important issues.”
  • The main doubts about Clinton concern her trustworthiness, mainly as a result of the pro-longed email ‘scandal.’ But we found two new areas of vulnerability have emerged in the primary and contrast with Trump: the worry that she is tied to special interests and Wall Street and won’t be able to bring change and the concern about the opposition she will face as the first woman president.
  • In light of President Obama and Trump’s attacks, these women voiced a heightened concern about how a female candidate and president will be treated. They have seen how Republicans have treated the first black president. They fear her opponents will prevent her from governing because she is a woman.
  1. In this environment, it should be not surprising that participants favor a message that condemns inequality and vows to level the playing field for the middle class with reforms and progressive policies.
  • The commitment to reform shows this candidate is serious about governing and has a plan for achieving their agenda. These women tend to believe reforming government so taxpayers get their money’s worth is the most important thing to happen, but they also say the system is corrupt and want to see campaigns reformed so big money is out of politics.
  • Policies to help working women are also very important.  They want a president who will ensure equal pay, paid family leave and affordable childcare, which shows “they realize a woman’s role has changed” and “they actually care about women.”
  • A commitment to trade agreements that create American jobs is an important addition to this message. A Trump attack on Clinton’s trade position takes a toll in the groups, so bringing trade into the economic message is a critical new element.
  • Improving the quality of education at all levels is a high priority in each of the groups, and a growing concern compared to past focus groups.  This should become part of the policy agenda in addition to dealing with the cost of college and student debt.
  1. They are watching Donald Trump closely, and they are listening to what he is saying.
  • His business experience is a major argument in his favor. They also find his candor refreshing and it distinguishes him from other politicians. This is integrally related to the fact that he is self-funding his campaign and can speak for himself, not the donors.
  • The women were able to find points of agreement in Trump’s messages, particularly on trade, and acknowledge he is saying some things people are afraid to say on immigration.
  1. But reactions to Trump among these women are deeply negative and concrete.  They fall along three dimensions:
  • They believe he is sexist, racist, intolerant of many groups and religions that make up America, and his effect is divisive. 
  • He is a rude, egotistical bully who has to have his way and cannot work with others.
  • He would hurt America internationally, be too quick to use the military and could not be trusted with nuclear weapons.  
  1. These groups suggest we have to rethink how motivated are these key members of the Rising American Electorate. They now see the stakes in 2016 and why this election matters.
  • For now, these women have been paying the most attention to the circus on the GOP side and less attention to the Democratic primary. They presume Clinton will become the nominee and will pay attention later.
  • Trump’s presence in the race raises the stakes in November. The country, their future, the world is at stake. And they are strongly motivated to vote against Donald Trump in November, and there is good reason to believe their concern is powerful enough to drive turnout for Clinton, even among the handful of Sanders supporters.
  • The African American women in these groups were a mix of high frequency and less frequent voters, but every one of them appeared determined to vote in November no matter the Republican nominee. They say electing a Democrat in 2016 is perhaps more important than re-electing President Obama, and they are also the most enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.
 
Getting Hillary Clinton’s Message Right on Reform
Friday, March 11 2016

All signs point to Hillary Clinton achieving a delegate majority in the Democratic nomination for President, but her image is being tarnished and defined by her ties to Wall Street. Despite ambitious plans to reform the financial sector and address big money in politics, doubts about Secretary Clinton persist due to her connections to Super PACs and Wall Street.  Even Clinton’s own voters, who like her a lot, perceive her as close to the big banks and perhaps restrained in what she will do for the middle class. At the same time, Donald Trump’s message of self-funding and a willingness to expose a broken system, fueled by big money contributions, is breaking through and getting heard.

For Clinton, the good news is there is a way to turn her fortunes around, as you will see in this memo.

Democracy Corps conducted focus groups on behalf of Every Voice in Cleveland, Ohio on March 3rd in order to better understand the views of Democratic primary voters on the issue of money in politics. We spoke to one group of women Clinton voters ages 30-60 and one group of male Sanders voters, 18-45.

As Clinton recognized when she announced her four policy pillars, addressing money and politics is important for the country; and we now know, campaign spending and corporate influence is important to primary and general election voters. That reality is reflected in these groups where participants say, “the corporate voice should have no part of our process” and “you can’t continue to overhand [sic] everything to all these billionaires. The big money that shuts the people up and stops us from making the progress on the issues we care about. Exactly, straightforward.”  (Clinton primary supporters)

These conclusions are elevated in a race where two candidates are trusted to take on special interests because they do not have a Super PAC and either self-fund or accept significant amounts in small personal donations.

Clinton’s price of silence is too high, particularly when her program is comprehensive but currently unknown to voters. In fact, both Clinton and Sanders voters think the Clinton platform is really from the Sanders campaign.  This report suggests how to make a transition to get heard in a powerful way and we believe these findings are applicable beyond the presidential race to down ballot contests.

 

Starting point: scared, centrality of Wall Street influence, desire for change

The starting point with these Clinton and Sanders voters is the dark mood for country and strong desire for change. Their words to describe the direction of the country include “scared,” “nervous,”  “worried,” “angry,” “terrified,” “saddened,” “disappointed,” and “concerned.” They are nervous for the country’s future and especially concerned about the economy, despite the much improved employment picture. At best they see our progress as tentative:

I think it’s very fragile and shaky. We’ve made some general improvement, we’ve made strides and the unemployment rate has come down. But I get the sense that it could go either way.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I worry that we’re gonna have another one of those meltdowns.” (Clinton primary supporter

At worst they think inequality is rampant and perhaps we have crossed the Rubicon: “I think things are out of control. The rich are getting richer. The gap between high class and low class is getting way bigger. (Clinton supporter)

They crave change, starting with special interests and particularly Wall Street: “I just think that things are out of control, and the middle class is failing.And I think that there needs to be some big time reform as far as big banks, Wall Street, those kinds of things.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Indeed, Wall Street and Super PACs are universally despised. Hillary supporters use strong language to describe these institutions. They are “gamblers,” “felons,” “out for themselves,” and “corrupt.” (Clinton primary supporters) They think “it feels like the liquidation of our democracy.” (Clinton primary supporter)

 

The primary challenge

To be sure, Secretary Clinton’s primary supporters are unwavering. They offer high praise of her resiliency, her ability to collaborate to accomplish goals, her experience, her willingness to take on tough challenges head on. They clearly believe that she is presidential and “the strongest choice to keep a Democrat in the White House.” (Clinton primary supporter) They also appreciate her tone and often repeat the language that she is using on the trail. 

Still, many of her own voters talk about her taking donations from the big banks and Wall Street.  

Well if you look at the top organizations she has in her Super PAC, it’s JP Morgan, it’s these huge banks, it’s these investment banks that caused a lot of the crisis. My concern is her tie to that and the support that she’s getting from them.” (Clinton primary supporter)

My concern was her Super PAC, and it’s all big banks and big business.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Right now – too much support from Big Banks & Big Business.  Tied to a Super PAC.” (Clinton primary supporter)

 

Ties to people with all of this money leads them to wonder if she can understand people like them? Is she really for the middle class?

Does she really understand issues of middle class? Takes Donations from big banks – is she being bought by special interest groups?” (Clinton primary supporter)

Basically this is my biggest issue with her. She says she understands but she is doing the opposite, she’s not coming from the place we are.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Among the Sanders voters, there is less of a question about which constituency she truly represents. It is settled that she “represents the wealthy.” (Sanders primary supporter) They suggest that she may in fact be a board member of a Wall Street bank.  They think this means her hands will be tied to make changes as president: “I think that's my biggest issue with her. I just, honestly, I do not believe her, that she'll do anything for the reform.” (Sanders primary supporter)

These concerns lead Democratic voters to seriously question Secretary Clinton’s integrity.

 “What will they expect if she does become president?” (Clinton primary supporter)

She takes donations from the big banks, she’s being bought. That’s concerning.” (Clinton primary supporter)

“[She] will continue to be distrusted.” (Sanders primary supporter) 

Honesty, lying about [her] personal finances.” (Sanders primary supporter)

I am worried about her being a liar.” (Sanders primary supporter)

 

Ammunition for opponents

Most voters do not yet fear these concerns will make her unelectable. They do believe that this is unnecessary “baggage” to be exploited by the opposition, whether that is in a general election or in office. 

Now they have a little bit of ammunition towards her, [Donald Trump is] just going to make it bigger and just run with it and keep digging and digging.” (Clinton primary supporter)

They’re making a mountain out of a molehill, but they have the stage to do it and I think that it could highjack the election and it could highjack people’s perception of her. And I think Donald Trump will milk it mercilessly.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I think it gives the republicans a lot of fire power, even if it’s not that true or big an issue.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Clinton’s supporters are most concerned by a potential attack questioning the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign government during her time as Secretary of State. The Sanders supporters are deeply concerned about an attack on her hypocrisy for vowing to take on the banks while accepting large sums for Wall Street speeches and donations to her Super PAC. 

They strongly agree that she cannot change the corruption in Washington if she takes their money. This led a majority of the Sanders voters to conclude that Donald Trump, who is self-funding his campaign, is more trustworthy than Hillary Clinton. This is a serious challenge when you consider the negative impressions of the Democratic primary voters toward the Republican front-runner:  “Liar,” “Racist,” “Failure,” “Arrogant,” “Misogynist,” “Insane,” “Pompous,” “Tragic,” “Sexist,” “A joke, embarrassing.” (Primary supporters) Two of the eight Sanders supporters said they would vote for Donald Trump in an election against Hillary Clinton.

 

The Clinton reform pillar: Sanders?

Clinton’s silence on these reform issues has come with a price, but there is also a great opportunity for her to get back into the reform debate.  We presented the Clinton and Sanders voters with the campaign finance reform platform extracted from HillaryClinton.com and did not attribute it to any candidate.

We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans. Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee. That is why campaign finance reform is one of the four goals of my political platform and candidacy.  We must overturn Citizens United, end secret, unaccountable money in politics, and establish a small-donor matching system to amplify the voices of everyday Americans. Our democracy should work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

Voters embraced this statement and agenda strongly. There is a lot to like in this platform, and they suggested it would level the playing field:

I like ‘democracy should work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well connected.’ And that’s what has happened for a long time.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I agree with it, and I especially like the piece about smaller donor matching system. I think that was what I was trying to get to before. There is no realistic coalition for Main Street to kind of pool their money and have the same amount of leverage.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I like the end statement, got to go with, like she said before, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I like the other one though, there should be an expanding of franchise not charging an entrance fee, you know?” (Clinton primary supporter)

It's great. It's very agreeable.” (Sanders primary supporter)

I like how he words it. It's down to earth.” (Sanders primary supporter)

 

But most telling, they suggested Clinton’s campaign reform platform came from Senator Sanders.   This is true even among her supporters:

He’s absolutely correct. I say he because it’s probably Bernie.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I just felt like I could just picture him out there saying it.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I think it's for Bernie Sanders.” (Sanders primary supporter)

Yeah, definitely Bernie Sanders is the one that came to mind that, yeah, that's who's saying it.” (Sanders primary supporter)

Only two participants from each group guessed this was taken from Secretary Clinton’s website. When we informed them this one of her four pillars when she announced her candidacy almost a year ago, the response was “Wow.” (Clinton primary supporters) They are “happy to hear that it was Hillary that said this” and the Clinton voters “wanted it to be her.” (Clinton primary supporters)

They believe the reason she is not talking about these things is because of her fundraising and Wall Street connections, which has left the door open for Sanders to own the issue:

I think because the easy kickback on her is because she is receiving money from Wall Street. And I think I just hear Bernie hitting this harder than she does.” (Clinton primary supporter)

She’s like vulnerable.” (Clinton primary supporter)

What you said is right. She’s more vulnerable to being said you’re not – do not have integrity maybe on this point. Which, I don’t know that that’s true. But, I don’t hear her chiming in on it as much as Bernie.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Maybe because she’s getting the funding and she’s not – I mean, I guess if you look at it, she’s getting the money, she’s not thinking right now, she’s thinking of other things.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I think it’s a double-edged sword for her.” (Clinton primary supporter)

Yeah, it's hard to stand by this pillar and talk about it when she is accepting a large amount of money from the things she said she didn't want to.” (Sanders primary supporter)

Having another candidate pick up on this, maybe, I'm going to distance myself from that point, because this candidate, you know, we all thought Bernie had said it. And maybe that's what she started seeing. If I go towards that, they're going to think this is coming from Bernie, and not me. I don't know.” (Sanders supporters)

 

Their advice: “it would behoove her to talk about this more openly, and make it more well known that this her stance.” (Clinton primary supporter) Not doing so gives the impression that “it’s not much of an issue to her.” (Sanders primary supporter)

 

Opportunity for re-entry on reform

In order to understand how Secretary Clinton can reassert her commitment to her campaign finance pillar with credibility, we tested three potential messages from a Democratic candidate that is backed by a Super PAC but still wants to reform money in politics. The first message takes a self-funding billionaire like Donald Trump as a jumping off point, asserts we cannot hand our Democracy over to billionaires when elections are supposed to be about all of us, and proposes reforms to break down the barrier of big money that shut too many people out of the process and prevent us from making real progress on issues.  The second message regrets a broken system that requires candidates to spend too much time fundraising and worrying about how much is being spent against them, traps good people who want to make good on their promises to do good, and commits to getting to work on reform. But it was a third message that overcame the credibility deficit and got their attention.

This message begins with agreement with her opponent on the seriousness of the problem, reminds voters of her policy position, rejects the insinuation that her own votes are up for sale. It goes on to accepts that this system gives the impression – and sometimes the reality – that the system is rigged and ordinary peoples’ voices don’t matter that much. It ends with a strong confirmation that this is unacceptable and will be a priority so America can work for all of us.

I agree with my opponent that big money in politics is a huge problem and something needs to be done. Our plans are virtually identical. We both are determined to overturn Citizens United, we both want to get unaccountable money out of the system, and we both want candidates to spend more time doing their jobs and less time fundraising. But I categorically reject the insinuation that my positions or votes are up for sale. I’ve stood up to special interests my entire career and have the scars to prove it. I know my values. I know President Obama’s values, and he fought to restrict the big banks even though he raised money. But I also get that all of this campaign spending and lobbying makes the system looked rigged and most Americans feel like they don’t have a say. They are right. Too much money comes from too few people, leaving the impression – and sometimes the reality – that government decisions follow the money. And most importantly, ordinary people and young people with a passion for changing America think their voices don’t matter and that is unacceptable. So I will make cleaning up money and politics a priority so we get make sure America works for the middle class and all Americans again.

Across the groups there was consensus that this was the strongest message.

Overall, this is stronger language. And it comes across – it’s just it’s a lot of clarity in it. I know exactly what she’s saying. She’s distinguishing herself from Bernie, instead of just a general agreement about things. And then some of this stuff I underlined was, ‘I categorically reject any insinuation in my positions or votes are for sale.’ I'm almost wondering if she should lead that way. ‘Too much money comes from too few people, leaving impression and reality.’ And I think she could expand on that, but overall, just better.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I agree that this one is better than the other ones. I like the – ‘I’ve stood up to special interest my entire career and have the scars to prove it.’” (Clinton primary supporter)

I underlined, ‘Ordinary people and young people with a passion for changing America, think that their voices don’t matter, and this is unacceptable.’ Because that goes back to my really strong feelings about our own backyard and building the life we have here.” (Clinton primary supporter)

I underlined the same thing. And I also underlined, ‘The campaign spending and lobbying makes the system look rigged,’ because I think it talks to the whole perception of it, so I thought that was strong, because there is a perception, not necessarily a problem [with the candidate].” (Clinton primary supporter)

Well, I like how the candidate said what they both were agreeing on, and then, [..] they weren’t attacking so much. But I did underline, ‘on accountable money.’” (Clinton primary supporter)

When she says–or, he or she says–about, when young people say their voice doesn't matter. That's a typical person that says, oh, I'm not going to vote, my vote doesn't matter. I mean, that hits the nail right on the head. I mean, that's what people feel, and if they change something about this, good for them.”(Sanders primary supporter)

That's how I felt, too. She's not–he or she's–not talking down their opponent. They both have the same views of the same issues, and then they're talking about, look at my past, look at my scars, I've been here, I have the track record of it. And then, again, they're trying to reach out to the American people, trying to get them involved, trying to get them off their    butts, like come on, you know, we need your help, too, because you do matter.” (Sanders primary supporter)

Really, the key for me was when [she said] ‘They are right.’ Meaning, yeah, this is a mess, and I'm actually taking responsibility, you know, I'll take the responsibility [for] it in this piece. That's how it came across to me.” (Sanders primary supporter)

 

Most importantly, they believed this was a natural thing coming from Secretary Clinton and almost assumed that it was her, saying “I think this is Hillary that said this,” and “I was reading like it was her, pretty much.” (Clinton primary supporters)

Hillary just is so articulate in what she’s saying. And this sounds exactly like her. She – I think she confronts things head on, and that’s what’s going on here.” (Clinton primary supporter)

This one was very direct. I knew it was her by just the comment, and I liked it. ‘I know President Obama values, he fought to restrict the big things, even though he raised money. But I also get that all the campaign spending and lobbying makes the system look rigged and most Americans feel like they don’t have a say.’” (Clinton primary supporter)

 
Reform and a winning 2016 strategy
Wednesday, February 03 2016
By Stan Greenberg & Page Gardner. This appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog on February 3, 2016.
 
These are days of rage in American politics.  Americans believe that the political and economic systems are rigged against them, that the government works only for the wealthy and that billionaires are buying elections.  They believe experienced politicians are part of the problem, that the status quo has got to go, and their anger is fueling the success of outside candidates.  That rage will shape the 2016 election ahead.
 
But it is time for progressives to see this as an opportunity, rather than a problem.  If they do not get it, they will miss an opening to galvanize the great majority of Americans who are increasingly hungry for change.  Coupled with this rising impulse is a demand for bold reform of how America does politics. Understanding this dynamic may be the difference between winning and losing this year, and could spark a transformation in the way we run elections and our government.
 
The Rising American Electorate — the combination of unmarried women, people of color and millennials—makes up the majority of eligible voters and this year, for the first time in history, could comprise the majority of votes cast in a national election. This year the Rising American Electorate will be voting for change. Many of them, particularly white unmarried women, stand out as among those most disaffected with the direction of the country, and share a lot of emotions with white working class women and men, the first audiences for the candidates of rage. They all crave fundamental government and political reform and are likely to vote for candidates who share their alarm and frustration, according to recent research conducted by Democracy Corps and the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
 
Over the course of last year, other major polls confirmed deepening voter belief in the need for reform. In November, a Pew Research Center poll found 59 percent of voters saying the government needs “very major reform,” up from 37 percent in 1997. A June New York Times/CBS News poll found a stunning 98 percent believe campaign financing needs changing – with 85 percent saying that the system needs fundamental changes or to be rebuilt completely.
 
Tapping into this desire for reform and acknowledging the need to end the influence of special interest money in elections and reduce waste in government -- in combination with an agenda that helps working families -- brings core constituencies including swing and Independent voters into the 2016 conversation.  It also produces significant shifts in the electorate and helps address three big challenges:
 
  • Closing the enthusiasm gap: Our December 2015 Democracy Corps/WVWVAF poll showed unmarried women, millennials and people of color significantly less excited about the election than older, white, conservative voters.
 
  • Ensuring unmarried women and millennial voters turn out in numbers large enough to drive wins not just in the presidential race but in Congressional and other races on the ballot too—a result that will help achieve their policy interests and goals.
 
  • Seizing the opportunity to align and find common cause with white working class women.
 
We believe these challenges can be overcome by adopting a narrative that puts a middle class agenda at the center of the economic debate and leads the conversation with an embrace of reform: reform of BOTH politics and government. 
 
Many candidates from the highest level down have embraced a bold work and family agenda that aims to level the playing field for the middle class. The agenda includes policies that protect Social Security, make college affordable and cut student debt and help working families with child care, paid sick days and equal pay for women.
 
But to engage, excite and increase turnout of progressive, independent and swing voters, these Americans must see that the parties and candidates themselves are enraged by the crony capitalism that is denying ordinary citizens a voice and a government that works for special interests, not taxpayers. That is why progressives must embrace upfront the call for systemic political and government reform that includes barring corporate and secret contributions, ensuring taxpayers get their money's worth and rooting out waste.
 
It is this sequencing of the message, starting with the demand to fix what’s broken, that captures voters’ attention and produces big increases in enthusiasm.  In our most recent poll, 62 percent of Rising American Electorate voters described themselves as very enthusiastic about voting in 2016, up from 56 percent after hearing the linked reform/middle class agenda message. The message also produced a 10-point increase among millennials.
 
Progressives should welcome the rage about politics because this momentum can be translated into electoral and policy changes.  Messaging that combines a core progressive economic message with a powerful statement on reforming our politics and our government produces significant changes in the electorate that, if fully realized, could lead to increased voter participation and convert voter anger into positive action that starts to repair our political system and government.  This year and this election might just be the moment when voters’ outrage triggers a new age for our nation, when our democracy delivers on the promise of majority rule.
 
Voters Demand Government & Political Reform
Monday, December 21 2015
Attachments:
Download this file (Dcorps_Dec National_WVWV_12.16.15_v4.pdf)Presentation[ ]1601 Kb
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A major new study conducted by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund demonstrates the strength of a new progressive narrative leading into the 2016 Election Year. This narrative puts a middle class agenda at the center of the economic debate, but it begins with an embrace of reform: reform of both politics and government. It argues for systematic changes in how we elect our representatives (political reform) and also critical changes in our governance (government reform) that roots out waste and gets voters their money’s worth.[1]

With two thirds believing the country is on the wrong track, voters are determined to see change – and that includes the economic status quo, the state of working families and the middle class, the corrupted political process and failed government.

This message is tested on the cusp of what could be a historic election for the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton holds a large and stable lead over Donald Trump (currently 8 points, with Clinton flirting with a majority), built largely on overwhelming support among Rising American Electorate (RAE) voters—unmarried women, people of color, and millennials. Democrats face two major challenges. First, the Democrats’ potential base of support is decidedly less enthusiastic about politics and voting than conservatives. Second, support for Democratic candidates for the Senate and House and down-ballot is pretty unimpressive, given the tarnished Republican brand. And that underperformance is particularly true for the RAE voters who are struggling and want to see change. For example, Clinton reaches 65 percent among all RAE voters in the trial heat against Trump, compared to just 58 percent for congressional Democrats in a named congressional trial heat. 

The critical piece to this research is this:  the message previewed above addresses these two challenges. It produces big increases in the enthusiasm among RAE voters; it also produces a significant shift toward the Democrats, not only among RAE voters, but among swing voters as well.

 

Strength at the top of the ticket does not translate

The Republican brand is thoroughly tarnished as that Party has not kept pace with an America changing culturally and demographically. While Trump (64 percent unfavorable) has done real violence to perceptions of the GOP, it also true that the congressional Republican leadership drew high negatives before Trump burst on the scene.  Disaffection from this party will likely outlive Trump even if he fails to win the nomination.

The result? Despite the historical challenge of winning a “third term” and being perceived as the incumbent party in a majority wrong track electorate, Democrats enjoy a 50 – 42 percent lead at the top-of-the-ticket against Trump. The foundation of this lead rests with voters in the RAE, including unmarried women (71 percent Clinton), millennial voters (69 percent) and people of color (75 percent). Clinton also leads with Independents voters and is competitive among white, working class women, both of which President Obama lost. 

If the voters in the RAE turn out in 2016, Hillary Clinton will make history.  However, only 56 percent of RAE voters rate themselves extremely enthusiastic about voting next year (ten on a ten-point scale), compared to 72 percent among non-RAE voters. Among millennial voters, this number drops to 43 percent. The other challenge Democrats face is down-ballot. Congressional Democrats manage only a 2-point margin in a named trial heat.  Most of the disparity with top-of-the-ticket reflects insufficient congressional support among RAE voters. There is a huge opportunity here – if Democratic candidates give people a reason to vote.

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A new, powerful middle class reform narrative addresses both Democrats’ enthusiasm problem and moves Democratic down-ballot support closer to where it needs to be to pull off a historic election.

 

The middle class political and government reform message

This survey is the only national instrument we are aware of that combines a core Democratic economic narrative with a powerful message of reform of both our politics and our government. It really opens up voters and puts Republicans on the defensive. It is also feels like common sense: of course, people who are struggling financially want their votes and tax money to count.

A 62 percent majority of voters react positively to this message, 41 percent much more positive.  This jumps to 72 percent among RAE voters, and 75 percent (51 percent much more positive) among unmarried women. This message also finds traction among Independents (60 percent positive) and other contested voters (65 percent among white non-college women). A Republican message does less well (54 percent total positive) and with less intensity (just 35 percent much more positive).

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Democrats enjoy support for a wide variety of specific reforms that address both politics and governance.  The strongest reform pledges to end secret money that is corrupting our politics.  Nearly as many voters, however, react strongly to governmental reforms, such as cracking down on Medicare fraud and auditing the federal government for waste. 

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The impact of this messaging

Even when paired and balanced against a Republican statement, the messaging above accomplishes two important tasks for the Democrats. It increases the enthusiasm of RAE voters and it improves their electoral position down-ballot.

After voters hear this message, 62 percent of RAE voters describe themselves as very enthusiastic about voting in 2016, up from 56 percent. The message produces a 10-point increase among millennials and also an outsized impact among unmarried women.

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It is typically very difficult to create significant movement in a balanced message exercise, particularly given the deep partisan polarization of voters.  Nonetheless, this messaging doubles the Democratic margin at the congressional level (to 48 – 44 percent Democratic).  Democratic support grows by three points among RAE voters (to 63 percent, close to Clinton’s 65 percent number).  The reform message also generates small, but significant gains among swing voters including a 3 point shift among white working class women (to 45 – 48 percent Republican).  

 

Conclusion

In March, 2013, the national wrong track number slipped back over 60 percent and at least 60 percent of voters of described the country as headed for the rocks ever since.  Candidates in contested elections who do not come to the table with a credible message of reform and change will not survive this kind of environment. The message outlined above combines a core progressive economic message with a powerful statement on reforming our politics and our government.  This marriage of frames produces significant changes in the electorate that, if fully realized, could lead to a historic Democratic election in 2016.



[1] This survey took place December 5-9, 2015 among respondents who voted in the 2012 election or registered since. Respondents 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 = +/-3.27 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups. Sixty percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full American electorate. 

 
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