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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.
 
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
Download this file (Dcorps_WVWV_Dec National_WV Exec Summary_ 12.17.2015_final.pdf)Memo[ ]270 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_Dec National_FQ_WVWV_12.10.2015.pdf)Toplines[ ]253 Kb

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. 

 
New Poll: In Era of Anger, Broad Support for Small Donor-Driven Reform of Campaigns
Thursday, December 17 2015
Attachments:
Download this file (Dcorps_Dec National_EV_12.15.15_Final.pdf)Presentation[ ]1075 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_Dec National_FQ_EV_12.10.2015.pdf)Toplines[ ]255 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_Dec National_Memo_EveryVoice_12.15.2015_Final.pdf)Memo[ ]247 Kb

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]

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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).

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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]

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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.

alt

Conclusion

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.

 
Voters Reject Discrimination and Politicians Who Support Discrimination
Thursday, July 23 2015
Attachments:
Download this file (HRC (public memo non-discrimination) 715.pdf)Memo[ ]178 Kb
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that all of us—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—could marry the person they love. This decision brought our nation one step closer to equality. But this journey is not over.  Even in an America where we are free to marry, other basic civil rights are lacking.  Thirty-one states lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in critical matters of employment, housing, and access to public places. That means in many states, LGBT Americans are still at risk of being denied services, being fired for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office the next day, or simply for being who they are. This injustice has grown increasingly intolerable to an overwhelming majority of Americans. 
 
Today, Democracy Corps, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Human Rights Campaign release the results from a new survey of likely 2016 voters.  This survey reinforces voters’ long-held commitment to non-discrimination, as four out five voters believe this is a basic civil right.  This survey also demonstrates voters are willing to oppose candidates for public office who oppose these basic civil rights, including groups critical to the outcome of the 2016 election.  These results are very consistent with a Human Rights Campaign survey of likely voters taken in January showing 43 percent are much less likely to support a candidate who opposes non-discrimination. 
 
Moreover, the issue of “faith” does not change the politics of this issue. Voters do not accept religion as an excuse to discriminate. 
 
This memorandum summarizes the results of a national telephone survey of 950 likely 2016 voters. In order to better reflect the changing habits and demography of the country, 60 percent of those interviewed for this survey responded using cell phones.  The survey was conducted June 13-17, 2015 and carries a margin of error of +/- 4.38. 
 
Key Findings 
 
  • Voters reject discrimination.  By an impressive 78 percent to 16 percent, voters support protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment.  These results are very consistent with past surveys; in 2011, voters supported this proposal by a 79 to 18 percent margin. 
 
  • Support for non-discrimination unites the country.  At a time when Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on anything, they agree on this.  A 64 percent majority of Republicans support protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, as do 90 percent of Democrats.  Similarly, this legislation draws impressive majorities among college (84 percent) and non-college voters (73 percent), younger (85 percent) and older (75 per-cent), as well as observant Christians (70 percent favor). 
 
  • Voters will also consider this issue when voting next year.  A 59 percent majority of voters are less likely to support a candidate for president who opposes protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the work place.  Just 27 percent are more likely and 9 percent say it would make no difference.  This is not just a progressive base issue.  A 61 percent majority of Independent voters say they are less likely to support a candidate who opposes these protections, as do 58 percent of Catholic voters, 54 percent of blue collar voters and 60 percent of married women. 
 
  • This could be key issue among white millennial voters.  Arguably, the most interesting group in this debate is white millennial voters (defined here as voters born between 1980 and 1997).  These younger white voters supported Obama in 2008, but voted Republican in 2010, 2012 and 2014, reflecting their frustration with the slow pace of change.  However, they are committed to equality.  A near-unanimous 86 percent majority support em-ployment protections for LGBT people.  Moreover, 65 percent are less likely to support a candidate who opposes this protection. 
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  • Religion is not an excuse to discriminate.  Politicians in Indiana, Arkansas and a number of other states have raised the issue of faith in efforts to stop the advance of non-discrimination.  As we found out in Indiana voters are having none of it.  In this survey, a 56 percent majority believe small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to someone because they are gay or lesbian, even if it violates their religious beliefs. Nearly half (46 percent), strongly oppose giving small businesses the right to discriminate, including 55 percent of white millennials.
 
Conclusion 
 
This legislation is long overdue.  Non-discrimination legislation was first introduced to Congress in 1974 and has been reintroduced many times since.  As early as 1977, voters believed gay people should have “equal rights” in terms of job opportunities, according to Gallup. Nearly forty years later, this community is still waiting for federal legislation fully protecting their rights. This time, they carry the conviction of an impressive majority of American voters.  
 
A New American Agenda for a New American Majority
Monday, June 29 2015
Attachments:
Download this file (DCOR National 061715 FQ_WVWV.pdf)Toplines[ ]271 Kb
Download this file (Dcor_WV_June poll_short memo_6.29.15.FINALforweb.pdf)Memo[ ]498 Kb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read full report here.

 


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

 
 
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