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National Surveys
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.
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.

Voters Demand Government & Political Reform
Monday, December 21 2015
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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.


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).


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. 



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.


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).  



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. 

New Poll: In Era of Anger, Broad Support for Small Donor-Driven Reform of Campaigns
Thursday, December 17 2015
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Voters are angry. They are angry at an economy that does not work for average people and a pay-to-play culture in Washington that ignores the voices of working families to lard more favors and breaks to wealthy campaign donors. And they demand systematic change.

In a nationally representative survey of 900 likely 2016 voters conducted by Democracy Corps, an impressive 72 percent support a new law that would provide qualified candidate with limited public matching funds for small contributions they raise from constituents. Nearly four in ten (39 percent) strongly support this proposal. When this and other reform measures to reduce the influence of money in politics are played out in real campaign simulations, Democrats who embrace this reform, including Hillary Clinton and down-ballot congressional candidates, find a significant electoral advantage even in the face of attack.[1]

Voters Upset about Current Campaign System

Voters are frustrated with the way election campaigns are funded today. They are most disturbed by the fact that the big campaign donors today do not represent the electorate – they are mostly rich, white, older and male in a country that is increasingly younger, more diverse and where women are a majority – and have made their fortunes in finance and oil and coal (39 percent find this most upsetting).

They are also concerned that super PACs for many presidential candidates have raised more money than candidates have raised for their own campaigns (33 percent most upsetting), and that just 158 families have contributed nearly half of all of the money given to campaign thus far (33 percent most upsetting).[2] The cluster of concerns about the role money is playing in the presidential election all score above 30 percent, underscoring an “all-of-the-above” viewpoint. In short, voters are concerned about all aspects of the problem of money in politics.[3]


Broad Support for Change

An impressive 72 percent of voters support big changes in our campaign finance system to include public financing of campaigns and a system of matching funds for small donations. Critically, this is not simply a reflection of progressive support, but reveals the will of a broad coalition of voters including Independents, Trump voters and Tea party supporters.

Support reaches 74 percent among Democrats (42 percent strongly favor), but some of the highest and most intense support is among Independent voters (76 percent favor, 47 percent strongly favor). Support also remains high among insurgent groups on the political Right including Trump voters (69 percent favor) and Tea Party supporters (66 percent favor).


Serious Electoral Impact

Money-in-politics reform carries significant electoral bite as well. In the face of a serious and largely unanswered attack, Democratic candidates who embrace this change improve their electoral position.

Nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent) react positively to a message from a Democratic candidate embracing these reforms, including 61 percent of Independent voters and 81 percent of voters under age 30. While history complicates the issue to some extent for Secretary Clinton, half of voters also react favorably to her full-throated support for change.[4]


Voters also heard a series of attacks launched against both Secretary Clinton and Democratic candidates regarding the both candidate’s own fundraising, and the campaign reforms proposed.

One impressive finding is the resilience of down-ballot Democratic candidates when attacked as not credible in light of their own fundraising. Just 17 percent say they have very serious doubts about the Democratic candidate who “accept[ed] millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street and corporations,” the least concerning of the doubts raised against them. Incumbent Democrats should not be wary of running on reform because of their own fundraising.

Perhaps most important is how a strong Clinton offense on this issue mitigates against the inevitable Republican attacks on her campaign. Voters who hear Clinton’s embrace of reform first are far less likely to find credible attacks on her past fundraising. It is imperative that Secretary Clinton pre-empt these attacks by elevating her plans to reform elections and reduce the influence of money in politics.



Voters want change this cycle. They reasonably believe the system is rigged against them and that representative government of, by, and for all Americans no longer defines our democracy. As a result, they embrace systematic reforms to restore our system of government, including small donor-driven reforms, and support candidates who feel likewise.

[1]The survey among 900 likely 2016 voters was conducted from December 5-9, 2015, using a list of 2012 voters, 2014 voters, and new registrants. Unless otherwise noted, the margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.26 percent at 95 percent confidence.

[2]“Here are 120 million Monopoly pieces, roughly one for every household in the United States,” New York Times, October 10, 2015; “Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning the Money Race,” New York Times, October 16, 2015.

[3]Respondents were asked to choose their top two concerns for this question.

[4] It should be noted that we tested Clinton and not her major primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders because Sanders has more aggressively embraced money-in-politics messaging.

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.

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