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National Surveys
Why Trump Won: Part 1
Friday, November 11 2016
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We are entering a period too awful to contemplate, and James and I thought it important to share our first take on what happened and why. Thankfully, Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund and the Roosevelt Institute supported this election night survey and critical research on the changing electorate and the economy throughout this cycle that allows us to offer unique perspective.[1] There are extensive findings that we are only just beginning to fully explore and will continue to release to add texture to this complicated outcome. This note focuses on why people voted the way they did and what happened across this very diverse and divided electorate.

First, we believe Hillary Clinton and Democrats could have won this election if Democratic base voters turned out at higher numbers and appealed to enough white working class voters, particularly women, to win the Rust Belt.

Second, it should not be ignored that some of the reason for Trump’s upset is malicious interference by the Russian Federation and their allies at WikiLeaks, as well as reckless politics by the F.B.I. in the post-debate period. Battling back against this media coverage forced Clinton to take her foot off the pedal. She was unable to end the campaign turning out her voters by talking about the change they were demanding.

Democracy Corps’ research for WVWVAF and Roosevelt has consistently shown the importance of putting forward a progressive economic agenda and message of change to motivate a changing electorate, reach out to persuadable voters, and consolidate the Democratic base. In our polling we found that Hillary Clinton gains her biggest leads when she is calling for an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected, and puts forward bold policies to end trickle-down economics. Debate dial-meter testing for WVWVAF found voters became more enthusiastic about Clinton and viewed her more positively when she went after Trump for proposing massive tax-breaks for himself and failing to release his own tax returns.

Instead, the campaign closed by attacking Trump and few voters remembered her bold economic plans and the change she was promising. The result was an election where the “New American Majority” did not turnout in anywhere near the numbers expected.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump was on message running on cleaning-up the political system, attacking Clinton as a tool of big business and Wall Street, and offering a reprieve from bad trade deals that cost American jobs and greater public investment. For those who voted for – or considered – Trump, his vow to repeal Obamacare and keep liberals off the Supreme Court were the most important reasons to cast their ballots. But nearly as important were his economic plans and how his business success prepared him to create jobs. 


Trump’s hardline immigration stance ranked fifth and may be an overstated factor in the outcome of the election. Even a plurality of Republicans say that “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.

The arguments for Clinton that won her support were her experience, her temperament and suitability to serve as Commander in Chief, her capacity to govern for Americans of all backgrounds and her support for women on equal pay, the right to choose and funding Planned Parenthood. As we saw, that was her closing argument. Her plans to grow the economy by taxing the rich and investing in the middle class were overshadowed and only rank fifth in voter attention.


The attacks on Trump that registered among those who voted for Clinton and considered her concerned the hateful things he has said about vulnerable minority groups, his disrespect for women, and his inability to handle the nuclear codes given his thin-skin.  His plans to cut taxes on the rich, likely himself, and his refusal to release his tax returns scored even lower, and were not elevated enough to make an impression on voters.

Because the Clinton campaign ended up running on her experience, suitability to govern and openness to America's diversity and women, but not on the economy and change, it is not surprising that the Democrats ended up best on uniting the country and reviving the middle class. Because they did not run on the economy and change, Republicans have a 6-point lead on handling the economy. And while voters questioned Trump’s capacity to serve as Commander in Chief, the GOP has a 10-point lead on keeping the country safe.


On Election Day, millennials and Hispanics – two of the groups that form the Rising American Electorate – were among the least engaged voting blocs, with obvious consequences (only 72 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of millennials gave the highest rating of significance of this election on a 10-point scale).

Despite all that, the Rising American Electorate did become the majority of the vote for the first time. The groups of minorities, unmarried women and millennials who twice elected President Obama now formed 55 percent of voters, pushed up by the growth of millennials and Hispanics. African American voters held their share of the vote at 12 percent, while unmarried women still fell just short of being one-quarter of the voters. They helped Clinton win the popular vote.


White working class voters played a big part in the very late swing to Trump, particularly in the battleground states. This came in part from further consolidation of white working class male voters and elevated turnout, particularly in the rural areas and small towns in the Rust Belt. We always had Trump performing well here: he held a 36-point lead before the conventions, and in the end, won by 49-points with 72 percent of their vote.

Just as important was the late switch of white working class women. Hillary had been competitive among white non-college women after the debates, pushing Trump's margin with white working class women to 7 points.  But the disrupted close to the campaign saw those women move dramatically away, with Trump winning by 26 points, 7-points better than Romney.

These voters thought Trump was raising legitimate working class issues, and with the Clinton campaign mobilizing its diverse base and no longer talking about change, the white working class women moved to the Republicans in many states.

Obviously, we are only beginning to understand this new moment and what it means for progressives. We look forward to sharing the rest of our findings in the coming week.

[1] This survey took place Monday, November 7 – Wednesday November 9, 2016 among 1,300 voters or (on Monday only) those with a high stated intention of voting in 2016.  In addition to a 900 voter base sample, oversamples of 200 Rising American Electorate voters (unmarried women, minorities and millennials) and 200 battleground state voters (AZ, FL, OH, IA, NC, NV, NH, PA, VA, WI) were included. Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  Of the 1,300 respondents, 65 percent were interviewed via cell phone in order to accurately sample the American electorate.

Opposition to trade and TPP grows over course of campaign
Friday, November 04 2016
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Democracy Corps and GQR conducted a national survey for Public Citizen on attitudes towards trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the multi-nation trade agreement that President Obama may be sent to Congress for consideration immediately after the election.[1]

The results are challenging for the proponents of the agreement, as the opposition of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the general election campaign has raised awareness and increased opposition. The scale of change starts with Democrats, speeds up with independents and becomes a torrent with Republicans. 

The proponents are losing the public debate. We tested the administration's argument as well as the opponents’ argument against, and the results are dramatic across the board. The more the issue is debated, the more opinion moves against.

After hearing a simulated trade debate, 68 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to support a Member of Congress voting for TPP, 34 percent with intensity. This changes the ball game long-term for Republicans. While this sentiment is strongest among Republicans, it spans the political spectrum. Overall six out of 10 voters are ready to punish a “yes” vote on TPP, saying they are less likely to vote for a Member of Congress who votes to pass the TPP, and 28 percent saying they are much less likely to vote for that Member.  That includes a plurality of Democrats who view TPP as a potential stain on President Obama's legacy and want their member to vote no in the lame duck.


Presidential campaign shifts views on trade

The attention on trade and TPP during the general election campaign has increased negativity about trade in principle and views of TPP. This spring, voters said that in general, free trade agreements had been a good thing for the United States by a 15-point margin; today, a plurality of voters say past trade deals have been a bad thing for the United States (45 percent) and there is growing intensity as well.

When it comes to their family’s financial situation, voters say trade agreements have been more harmful than helpful by a 7-point margin (38 percent harmful, 31 percent helpful). More impressively, there is agreement across class, race and party lines that trade deals cost American jobs. A 53 percent majority say free trade agreements lead to job losses and only 14 percent say they create American jobs.


There has also been a significant shift against TPP, both in terms of overall feeling and support. As knowledge of TPP has risen 10 points, unfavorable views of TPP have also risen 10 points to 37 percent (24 percent don’t know, 20 percent remain neutral, and 20 percent support). Accordingly, the advantage for opponents of TPP has risen from 3-points to 15-points since June, with one-quarter strongly opposed. The shift is evident across the electorate, particularly with Republicans, but also independents and even Democrats – their margin of support has been cut in half.



Growing and intensifying opposition among Republican voters

While the growing negativity about  trade agreements in principle and the TPP specifically is bipartisan, the biggest story is what is happening within the voting base of the Republican Party.

This spring, Republicans were already those most opposed to past trade agreements in principle and NAFTA and TPP in specific – but their opposition has moved to a new level. Almost two-thirds of Republicans say past trade agreements have been a bad thing, up from 48 percent in June, and negative views of NAFTA have risen sharply from 47 percent unfavorable to 58 percent unfavorable (47 percent strongly). Only 21 percent of Republicans are unsure about TPP, down from 32 percent this spring, and as their awareness has grown so has their opposition has deepened to 61 percent, 40 percent strongly, from 50 percent in June.

This is not a casual alignment with Trump, like on other issues. This reflects pre-Trump long-term trends in the GOP base starting back in 2006. The opposition within the GOP base has reached an intensity that would be hard to match on many issues.


Republicans are now ready to punish leaders who push new trade deals like TPP . After hearing a simulated trade debate, 68 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to support a Member of Congress voting for TPP, 34 percent with intensity. This changes the ball game long-term for Republicans.


TPP proponents losing the trade debate

We read voters the strongest  arguments put forward by TPP proponents and opponents, and the results were dramatic. Just as we have seen over the course of the general election, the more voters hear about the proposed new trade agreement, the more they side with the opposition. The arguments were of the same duration and the pro-TPP argument was provided first.

To reflect the intensifying shift in the proponents’ case towards foreign policy arguments,  the pro-TPP case uses the forceful language put forward in recent months by the administration that warns of the threat to America’s global standing and security if we fail to pass this agreement. It also includes the often repeated language about the TPP eliminating tariffs and expanding markets for U.S. goods, creating more U.S. jobs, while establishing new labor and environmental standards. Even though this argument is attributed to President Obama (who has a 56 percent approval rating in this survey), the argument from opponents is much more powerful: two-thirds find the opposition argument convincing compared to just half who say so of the proponents’ position.


In part, the public reaction to the opposition position is about undue corporate influence over government and U.S. laws through the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system and negotiation process. Opponents’ arguments focus on how the TPP was negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors and that the TPP gives them new rights to sue the U.S. government in front of a panel of three corporate lawyers for unlimited sums paid by American taxpayers. In our earlier research on behalf of Public Citizen, introducing Investor State Dispute Settlement shifted an economic debate to one about corporate influence over government at the expense of ordinary Americans.

After hearing these arguments, opposition to TPP grows to 55 percent and one-third are intensely opposed. The biggest shifts come from the Republicans (+44 oppose to +55 oppose) and independents (+24 oppose to +35 oppose), white working class men (+40 oppose to +52 oppose), white working class women (+31 oppose to +42 oppose) and college educated women (+4 support to +7 oppose).


Voters ready to punish congress for lame duck vote for TPP

After voters hear arguments from the president and congressional leaders in favor of TPP and from congressional leaders who oppose it, the results are not pretty for a Member of Congress casting a vote for the deal in the lame duck. The argument in favor says that passing this agreement is critical to our economic future, our national security and our nation’s standing in the world and failing to pass TPP will threaten America’s position as a global leader . The argument from congressional opponents from both sides of the aisle says TPP will rig the rules against Americans – and Democrats specifically argue it will tarnish Obama’s legacy and note that Hillary Clinton also opposes the TPP.

In the lame duck context, voters are ready to punish a “yes” vote on TPP, with 6-in-10 saying they are less likely to vote for a Member of Congress who votes to pass it and 28 percent saying they are much less likely to vote for that Member.


This is an especially challenging result for the Republican leadership if they do go through with their plan to bring a vote on TPP during the lame duck session: two-thirds of Republican voters say they will punish such a Member of Congress and one-third say so with intensity. A TPP vote is sure to further isolate the GOP leadership from its base after a divisive presidential election. Paul Ryan’s speakership, should Republicans keep the House, may be the first casualty.

Democrats are also sending a signal to any lame-duck TPP supporter. After witnessing the first black president face years of unprecedented political opposition, many Democratic Members may feel conflicted about opposing him in the twilight of his presidency. But Democratic voters are sending a clear signal that passing the TPP would in fact undermine Obama’s  legacy because it will undo the progress he has made on the economy.  By a 15-point margin, a near majority of Democrats say they are less likely to vote for a candidate casting a pro-TPP vote.


Across the partisan divide, the message is clear to a Member of Congress considering voting for TPP after the election.

[1] This national survey took place October 21-24, 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 next month.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  Of the 900 respondents, 65 percent were interviewed via cell phone to accurately sample the American electorate.

Strategy for Maximizing Democratic Gains
Thursday, October 27 2016
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Democracy Corps’ new national survey shows Democrats have an opportunity to make significant gains if they have the right strategy in the final weeks of the campaign. This survey came out of the field on Monday night, just in time to arm campaigns, committees and progressive allies with the best strategy for maximizing gains.[1]

This survey shows Clinton with a comfortable double digit lead over Trump (+12), but that lead is not produced not by the “New American Majority” making itself felt.  Rather, her lead has been produced by Trump’s capacity to drive away female and college-educated voters and even seniors. Clinton has a small lead with white married women and is tied with white male college graduates. 

True, she is getting landslide margins with white female college graduates and millennials. But the Clinton campaign has not fully consolidated the progressive base of Democrats, Sanders voters, unmarried women and minorities and Democrats have not consolidated their support down ballot.

This survey gives the Hillary Clinton campaign, House and Senate committees and progressive allies the messages to sharply shift the vote in the final two weeks. They are:

  1. The GOP’s link to Donald Trump as the main attack communicated broadly and to minority voters;
  2. Clinton’s tough economic choice communicated in a targeted way to unmarried women, millennials, Democrats and white working class women.

It will come as good news that the DCCC's attack linking Republican candidates to Donald Trump produces the best overall result for Democrats, taking them into a 9-point lead against a Republican promising to balance Hillary Clinton. Both the Trump link and the economic contrast messages shift 17 percent of the voters to the Democrats, but the economic contrast moves some anti-Trump Republicans back into the GOP fold (producing only a 6-point Democratic margin).


The Trump association attack does better overall because it produces bigger shifts with independents and Republicans. Minority voters are also more consolidated by the Trump association message.

But advocating for an economy that works for the middle class and attacking the Republican for supporting more trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the richest and corporations, while accepting campaign funding from big oil and Wall Street, produces dramatically bigger shifts with unmarried women, millennials and white working class women.


These two weapons can be deployed together and produce additional shifts that can allow Democrats to win down-ballot. It will also help Hillary Clinton consolidate all the votes that are possible.

[1] This national survey took place October 21-24, 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 next month.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  Of the 900 respondents, 65 percent were interviewed via cell phone to accurately sample the American electorate.

Clinton in 12-point lead, potential for downballot gains
Tuesday, October 25 2016
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The final pre-election national survey for Democracy Corps shows Clinton moving into a commanding 12-point lead over Trump, getting to 50 percent of the vote as the third party vote is squeezed.[1] This lead is produced by some historic voting patterns and a breathtakingly unpopular Republican Party led by Donald Trump. It is also produced by a country where President Obama's approval has reached 56 percent and wrong track numbers for the country's direction have begun to fall.


Critically, the association of GOP candidates with Trump and a closing Democratic economic message have the chance to translate to much larger Democratic margins down-ballot.  After voters hear the simulated campaign play out, Democrats take a 9-point lead in the House ballot, just at the edge of a majority.

Clinton has consolidated 90 percent of Democrats and actually has room to grow. Trump is winning white working class men 57 to 31 percent, but that is not better than Mitt Romney (65 to 32 percent). He is only running even with independents, men, white college educated men and seniors. That allows Clinton to run up the score with women (56 to 33 percent), unmarried women (59 to 31 percent), white college educated women (56 to 30 percent), millennials (59 to 20 percent) and in the suburbs (54 to 36 percent).


The third party vote has been squeezed and Gary Johnson is only getting 5 percent of the four-way ballot. Though it is a small sample size, the remaining Johnson voters are mostly anti-Trump Republicans and they may not vote in the end: just 39 percent report the highest interest in voting, half the level of all likely voters. Jill Stein is only getting 2 percent of the four-way vote and her voters are Democrats.

No one is surprised that Trump emerges with a net favorability of -28 points and 60 percent hold unfavorable views of the GOP nominee. The House Republicans have an even worse image than Trump (-31 unfavorable) and the Republican Party has a -23 point unfavorable image with over half unfavorable (53 percent). With the Democratic Party at parity of positive and negative reactions, the Republicans have a brand problem. That is unlikely to change as only 26 percent of Republicans want their leaders in the next Congress to work with President Clinton to make progress.

There is a chance to translate Clinton's emerging landslide into a wave down-ballot. In a simulated contest where the Republican congressional candidate argues they are needed as an independent check on Clinton, the Democrats move into a 9-point lead in the congressional match-up after the Republican is attacked.

Overall, the current strategy of linking Republican candidates to Donald Trump and not opposing him produces the biggest overall shift down-ballot. That is an effective message and moves Republicans and independents.

But when Democrats echo the economic message that Clinton used in the debates – vowing to build an economy for everyone and raise taxes on the rich, in contrast with an opponent who wants more trickle-down economics – there is dramatically more consolidation with Democrats and the Rising American Electorate, particularly unmarried women and white unmarried women and millennials. There is room for more consolidation among Democrats down-ballot and at the top of the ticket and this economic message will help Democratic candidates get there.



[1] This national survey took place October 21-24, 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 next month.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  Of the 900 respondents, 65 percent were interviewed via cell phone in order to accurately sample the American electorate.

Debate dial meters show Clinton made gains & defined election choice
Friday, October 21 2016
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The final debate was a very good night for Hillary Clinton. Live dial meter focus groups conducted on behalf of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund reveal Clinton won the night 57 to 26 percent. She achieved this by her clarity of plans and self-confidence, by focus on the middle class, the economy and taxes, and appointing Supreme Court justices that would look out for everyone not just the rich, and by standing up for the rights of women.[1]

With just 19 days until the election on the night of the final debate, voters were moving toward final judgements about their presidential choice. At the end of the night, Trump’s supporters were 6 points less certain in their vote and he made almost no gain across a vast range of personal attributes. His refusal to accept the results of the election stopped the dials. Nonetheless, he did get some response from the white working class persuadables in this dial test and did get some additional vote support here.

His lowest points in the night came when Trump was given the opportunity to address the biggest doubts about him, from concerns about his fitness to serve and allegations of sexual assault to his bromance with Putin and his capacity to handle nuclear weapons. Clinton’s approach – pivoting on Trump’s liabilities to offer positive, unifying, hopeful messages about American values and a fairer future for everyone – had the opposite effect and created some of the strongest moments in the dials.

At the end of the dials, many described her as honest, for the middle class and having clear plans for the future – and said these were the best reason to support her.


Clinton provided the clearest contrast yet in the campaign and made “stand[ing] up for families against powerful interests, against corporations” so the economy works for everyone the mission and mandate for her presidency if elected. It is hard to underemphasize how much Hillary Clinton spoke about the middle class and the size of her gains on “looks out for the middle class” – up 14 points at the end of the survey. She also made dramatic 22 point gains in her margin over Trump on who would do a better job looking out for the middle class and handling the economy. She also built a 10 point advantage over Trump on not being beholden to special interests.


Her 30 year history lesson on her commitment to fighting for people, while Trump fought for himself, was successful and Trump’s rebuttal focused on assuring voters of the size of his father’s seed funding once again did him a disservice: the dials went from high highs to low lows in a matter of seconds. The result was impressive and perhaps defining shifts on honest and being trustworthy. She gained 11 points to 48 percent saying she was “honest and trustworthy.” That is why Clinton’s personal favorability rose 19 points.  It is hard to imagine Clinton’s performance does not produce a more favorable public image in the period ahead. Maybe the pundits will not be able to focus so much on the two unpopular candidates.  

The most important result may be the potential impact on down ballot contests. The Democratic Senate vote in the battleground states shifted from 46 percent to 55 percent over the course of the debate. Voters came out of the debate with a reason to vote for Clinton but perhaps for other Democrats too.





[1] Democracy Corps conducted online dial meter research among 140 likely voters nationally during the third presidential debate: 19 white millennials, 27 minority millennials, 48 white non-college persuadable voters, 28 white unmarried women, and 17 Clinton voters who were splitting their ticket in Senate races in battleground states. Surveys were administered before and after the live dial meter session. An online breakout focus group among those who shifted their vote to the Democratic candidate down-ballot was conducted after the debate. This research is qualitative in nature and involves 140 total participants. Results are not statistically projectable onto a larger population.

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