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Battleground Surveys
Moving to scale to win on health care
Wednesday, April 05 2017
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The humiliating retreat of President Trump and Speaker Ryan on the Obamacare replacement was a powerful moment for working class women, financially pressed unmarried women, millennials, and minorities – both the Clinton and Trump voters. Based on the findings of just-completed focus groups with these key voters, the Republican failure has created a major opportunity for progressives.

  • The Democrats’ attack using the Congressional Budget Office was credible and poignant and should continue to tarnish all involved.
  • If Democrats press their attack in the context of affordability, Trump voters begin to think the president is forgetting the people who elected him and who want him to show more empathy for the middle class.    
  • The Democrats’ approach to the Affordable Care Act – saying only that “the law is not perfect” – misses how radically different voters see health care since the ACA’s passage, and how important it is for Democrats to be the voice of change and positioned as the drivers behind fixing health care to make it “affordable for all.”

Health care is being cited as one of the top problems to be addressed by leaders and has surged to be one of the primary personal challenges facing people in new focus groups conducted for Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.[1] These women are working class, millennials and minorities who are the least likely to have decent employer-based insurance. They are struggling with increasing costs, whether they are in the exchanges or not, and desperate for change.

With affordability top of mind, they can tell you exactly what they are spending on their son’s diabetes medications, their monthly premiums for their family, the increase they face next year, or the deductibles of the plans on the exchanges.

That is the context for why so many working class voters struggled with the ACA and many voted for candidates who promised to repeal and replace ‘Obamacare.’  But now that context gives progressives the upper hand, if they understand that the combination of stagnant wages and rising premiums, along with high deductibles, makes ‘affordability’ the dominant concern, and if they understand why this has become a federal issue.  


[1] These focus groups were conducted March 23, 27 and 28 in Akron, OH, Cleveland, OH and Richmond, VA among white non-college women, white unmarried women under 45 and older than 45, white millennial women and African American women. The groups included a representative mix of Clinton and Trump voters.  

The millennial strategy
Friday, October 07 2016
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Millennials are poised to give Hillary Clinton and Democrats a big margin in November's election if they are engaged to vote and if progressives are smart in dealing with the third party vote. Millennial voters are in a very different place than they were two weeks ago, according to a new web-survey of likely millennial voters in the eleven most competitive battleground states for Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.[1] Democratic millennials have started to consolidate for Clinton, but their Republican contemporaries have not done the same for Trump. Gary Johnson's millennial vote is now a repository for most of those anti-Trump Republicans.

The biggest, genuine problem is whether millennials will vote. The emerging battle over the economy – centered on taxes, trickledown and corporate responsibility – is getting their attention. Millennials are in an anti-corporate mood and desperate for change, and this new focus may move them to the polls on Election Day. 


The vote, shift to Clinton and partisan consolidation

Clinton now has a huge 25 point margin over Trump in a four-way race, comparable to Obama's 2012 performance with millennials in these same battleground states. Among white millennials, Clinton’s margin is 14 points stronger!

While she is getting 54 percent of the millennial vote, down from Obama’s vote in 2012 and 2008, Trump's vote sits at only 29 percent. Many Republican millennials are supporting Gary Johnson who is getting 14 percent of the vote.


Clinton is wining huge margins with unmarried women, including white unmarried women (+41 Clinton and +22, respectively), and is winning 78 percent of minority millennial voters. She has a 12 point margin with white college graduates, including a 20 point margin with the white college women, and gets a respectable 44 percent with white working class millennial women.

Page Gardner, Founder and President of WVWVAF, said the new poll demonstrates the strength of millennials and other members of the Rising American Electorate (millennials, people of color and unmarried women) to shape elections. “Unmarried women favor Clinton over Trump, creating a massive 'marriage gap' between single and married women. For white unmarried women, the gap has become a potentially insurmountable divide for Trump, and our new poll shows that millennials also are uniting around Clinton," Gardner said. “The electoral power of the Rising American Electorate has never been more evident. They clearly are in a position to determine election outcomes up and down the ballot.”

At the heart of the millennial story are the different reactions among partisans. Millennial Democrats are now giving Clinton 91 percent of their votes, up from 83 percent in our earlier battleground. With her two-way vote at 96 percent, there is reason to believe Democrats can be further consolidated, including squeezing more third party votes.


Republicans, on the other hand, are not consolidating around Trump – and that has allowed Clinton’s margin to grow. Trump is getting just three-quarters of the Republican millennials in a four-way vote and it gets no better after messaging at the end of the survey (77 percent). In a two-way ballot, he gets only 85 percent of GOP identifiers at the beginning and end of the survey. That 15 percent is determined not to support Trump.

Gary Johnson's voters are mostly Republican anti-Trump voters, and progressives should allow Johnson to play that role.

Attacks on Johnson do not have much of an impact on his vote and the margin. In fact, this survey includes an experiment that shows third party voters shift 8 points to Clinton in a two-way ballot when they instead hear messages about corporate responsibility and a contrast with Trump on taxes and trickledown economics. Attacks on Johnson only produce a 1 point shift.


Will Millennials vote?

Millennial enthusiasm is a huge issue and is unchanged from earlier polls. A significant gap is emerging between millennials and other voters on their level of interest in voting. Our September battleground survey for WVWVAF found 71 percent of all likely voters gave the greatest possible score for enthusiasm for voting, but just 49 percent of millennials in this survey say they are extremely interested in voting this year.


Their lack of enthusiasm is reflected in the 41 percent of Trump voters and 46 percent of Clinton voters who say their vote is more a vote against the other party’s nominee than for their candidate.


Anti-corporate millennials want revolutionary change

Millennials want big change and are deeply frustrated with an irresponsible corporate America and its undue influence over politicians. The intensity of their feelings is hard to underestimate. Nearly 60 percent of millennials say “we need a revolution in this country and we don’t have time for incremental change” – including 50 percent of Clinton voters. That gets your attention.


The focus of their revolutionary angst is the regime of trickledown economics and corporate governance. Just 18 percent of millennials have a favorable reaction to “trickledown economics” and their antipathy crosses party lines. They blame the big banks and corporate CEOs they believe use government to lock in unfair advantages while betraying their workers and paying too little in taxes. Millennials are primed for a message that aims to raise taxes on the rich and reign in corporations, particularly the third party voters who are the most negative towards corporate executives and banks.


Millennials need to hear that Clinton is upset with what is happening with corporations and politicians and she will take on the corporate special interests. A 59 percent majority says, "Hillary Clinton is too beholden to special interests to look out for people like me.” That includes more than half of Sanders voters who are, unsurprisingly, the biggest targets for Clinton to consolidate – one-quarter are not yet voting for Clinton.

Their turning out and voting is dependent on Clinton continuing to put forward the powerful economic message she has been delivering.


Economy, trickledown, taxes and corporate responsibility

In our dial meter testing of the first presidential debate, Clinton's economic message shifted voters toward her on handling the economy, jobs and taxes. Those gains also produced significant shifts in her personal favorability, and whether she is looking out for the middle class and is honest and trustworthy.

This survey tested Clinton’s economic message (in effect, the speech she delivered in Toledo) and found it is the key to building intense support and getting millennials to vote. Her message is infused with anger at corporate irresponsibility and centers on creating an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. She lays out her economic plans and makes clear the rich have to pay their fair share and corporate CEOs need to be held accountable.


The best reason to vote for Clinton is the contrast between her and Trump on taxation and trickledown economics: Clinton wants to end the reign of trickledown economics and raise taxes on the rich while Trump wants to enact the biggest tax cuts in history for the top 1 percent and his family. This is also the best reason to vote for Clinton among the Sanders voters who need to be consolidated: one-quarter said this was a very convincing reason to vote for Clinton.


Tax & trickledown contrast

Clinton wants to end the reign of trickle-down economics and raise taxes on the wealthy that have seen all the new income gains so they pay their fair share and so we can invest in the middle class. Trump will enact the biggest tax cut for the one percent in history, including a $4 billion dollar tax break for his family, and make inequality even worse.


The powerful contrast between Clinton and Trump on trickledown economics, together with her current economic message, is likely to consolidate the Democratic vote and give these change voters a reason to cast a ballot.

Other top reasons to vote for Clinton among millennial targets include the contrasts between her and Trump with respect to reproductive rights, dealing with climate change, and preparedness to be Commander in Chief. Climate change is particularly important to millennials and climate denial is a disqualifying position: 62 percent say it “is a severe threat and I won't vote for a candidate who won't take action to address it.”

These millennial voters are not cynical about the choice. They believe there are "huge" differences between Trump and Clinton and they do think the election result will make a difference in their lives.


Progressives now have a strategy for getting millennials to act on their continued belief that this election matters.

[1] This online survey of 1,000 likely millennial voters took place October 1-4 in 11 presidential battleground states: AZ, CO, FL, IA, NV, NH, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI. Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016, and vote history in 2012 and 2014. Millennials were defined as being born in 1980 or later.

Consolidating Democrats: The strategy that gives a governing majority
Friday, September 23 2016
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On the eve of the first major presidential debate, the latest likely voter survey of the battleground states on behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund shows Hillary Clinton settled into a strong lead in Pennsylvania, a modest one in North Carolina, and essentially tied in Ohio and Nevada.[1] Her overall margin has narrowed from where we had it across the battleground in June. Nothing comes easily in this election year, but the Clinton margin should grow from the structure of the race revealed in this analysis. In the two-person ballot, her margin grows 2-points to a 5-point lead across these states and she takes the lead in Nevada.  And if the 3rd party candidates weaken, as is normal, Clinton disproportionately benefits.  


The structure of the race

This survey shows why the presidential race in the battleground has tightened, but also why it is likely to widen back up. Trump’s better margins come from some consolidation of base Republicans and Clinton has lost support to 3rd party candidates in the wake of the campaign’s travails. Trump continues to earn overwhelming and intense support with white working class men who are making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition. Over three-quarters of white non-college men say the country is on the wrong track, making them the most pessimistic voters in the country. And 63 percent are casting a ballot for Trump, as they make disappointment known.  But as we shall see, even extraordinary turnout from these voters cannot tip the Clinton states to Trump.

Clinton still wins the Electoral College majority, however, because of her stable support with parts of the Rising American Electorate and her inroads with other swing groups. The unmarried woman and minorities at the heart of the RAE are voting for Clinton in force. Three-quarters of minorities are voting for Clinton in these battleground states, she is getting 62 percent with unmarried women and is even winning the majority of white unmarried women (52 Clinton to 31 percent for Trump). Right now, unmarried women are showing respectable levels of voter engagement. In this poll, unmarried women and Democrats fall just 2-3 points below Republicans in saying this election matters tremendously.


But Clinton is also over-performing with college graduates, suburban voters and the white working class women who are put off by Trump.  That is a big part of the story.


Donald Trump’s vote, on the other hand, is driven primarily by the white working class men who are making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition; they are 30 percent of the Trump vote. But in this new America, they would have to increase their share of the vote from 15 to 24 percent in North Carolina, 15 to 18 percent in Nevada, and 20 to 31 percent in Pennsylvania, all else being equal, to put Trump ahead in those states.


Incomplete partisan consolidation

The incomplete consolidation of Democratic partisans for Clinton and the weak consolidation of Clinton voters for Senate and House candidates are the main reason Democrats down-ballot are falling short of their potential at this point. Clinton is getting 87 percent of Democrats, short of the 92 percent Obama had in these states in 2012. She only gets 78 percent of Obama voters and 79 percent of those who approve of Obama.

Clinton will likely benefit disproportionately if the race becomes more polarized. In the two-way ballot she gets 93 percent of Democratic voters. So, she clearly has the potential to drive up her margin with partisans.

Trump does not have such an opportunity. He currently gets 82 percent of Republicans, certainly up from our earlier surveys. However, his vote in the two-way ballot leaves him at just 86 percent of the vote in the GOP base. There are 14 percent in the Republican Party who just won't vote for him. Those holdouts are concentrated among the moderate Republicans where he is getting only 60 percent of the vote.[2] One-quarter are voting for a 3rd party candidate (21 percent for Johnson) and 10 percent are casting ballots for Clinton. Furthermore, there is a halo effect for Clinton, who enjoys a 57 percent recall among Democratic primary voters, but not for Trump among Republicans. He is topped out within his base.


Potential Democratic consolidation creates this campaign’s target groups

The starting target is the 18 percent of the Democratic and Democratic leaning voters who are holding back from Hillary Clinton. These target Democrats are change voters: three-quarters say the country is on the wrong path. Well over 60 percent have unfavorable views of both Clinton and Trump, though they feel very positively about President Obama.

Millennials are at the center of the story. They comprise nearly four-in-ten of these unconsolidated Democrats. They form a parallel story to the disaffected white working class men. Millennials want change, and 61 percent say this country is off on the wrong track. They are in an anti-establishment mood, and 31 percent of millennials are now not voting for a major party candidate. Clinton is only getting 40 percent of the millennial vote in a 4-way ballot. She is particularly struggling with the white millennials where she is running even with Trump – 34 Clinton to 33 Trump, with one-third voting for 3rd party candidates. 


Consolidating Democrats and winning races

The incomplete consolidation of the Democratic Party at the top of the ballot is exaggerated down-ballot, and that creates a huge opportunity. That will also impact what messages can really move the vote. Only 62 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents are voting for the Democratic Senate candidate. That means that there is a big bloc of 15 percent of the electorate in these states who are voting for Clinton but not Democrats in these key federal races.

Clinton widening her lead and winning states and Democrats making gains in the Senate and House depends on the right strategy and messages for reaching these voters. We tested one on GOP extremism, one linking Republican candidates to Trump and one offering a positive Democratic economic message.

Democrats, millennials and Democratic target voters are desperate to hear where the Democratic candidates want to lead the country. The message that consolidates Democrats more than any other tested in this survey is one that offers a clear positive economic agenda.  It says that Democrats have a plan for the economy, and that to get these things done, we need a Democratic majority in Congress.


A big majority of 61 percent found this to be a convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidate for Senate, 29 percent said it was very convincing. But it was particularly well-received by the Democratic target groups that need to be consolidated. Over half of them said it was a very convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidates.

An attack on Republican candidates for being associated with Trump as their party’s nominee is not as successful. It gets a strong response, but it is weakened by the fact that a plurality of voters think the GOP is divided and many candidates in his own party do not support him. Also, it simply does not lead to people consolidating their vote behind Democrats.


But it is clear that the greatest gains down-ballot, and at the top of the ticket, come when voters hear the Democrats offer a positive vision for where they will take the country and how they will change an economy that only enriches the few. It puts them on the side of change and a better future.



The race has tightened but Hillary Clinton is leading in the presidential battleground due to her strong support from unmarried women, minorities, and swing groups turned off by Donald Trump. There is still room for the Democrats to consolidate, however, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot. Democratic targets for consolidation are eager to hear more about what Democratic candidates will do if elected. A message that argues for a Democrat majority to execute a progressive economic agenda moves unconsolidated Democrats to vote for their party candidate, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot.

[1]On behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner fielded this survey of 1,600 likely voters across 4 competitive battleground states on September 10-19, 2016. Respondents were divided equally among states (n=400) of North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The states were weighted proportional to their vote share. Fifty one percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full electorate in each state. Margin of error for the full sample = +/-2.45 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error for each state sample= +/-4.90 percentage points at 95% confidence.   

[2] Republicans who say they are liberal or moderate on ideology. They are more than one-third of base Republicans and only one-quarter are voting for Trump. They are 37 percent of the Johnson vote.

Creating a down-ballot Democratic wave
Monday, July 11 2016
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On Friday, Democracy Corps released our most recent national survey showing Hillary Clinton with an 11-point lead over Donald Trump (48 to 37 percent, with 8 percent for the Libertarian).  Importantly, it showed the Democrats with an 8-point lead in the named congressional ballot (49 to 41 percent), something we have not seen since June of 2009 in our polls. It is also the first time we have seen the presidential margin exceed the Democrats’ party identification advantage: in this case, 6 points overall and 8 points without independent leaners.[1]

The Democrats achieved an 8-point margin at the ballot box when they won control of the House in 2006, though this was before the further gerrymandering of districts. Others will soon estimate what margin Democrats will really need to have a chance of winning the House this November.

They are more likely to achieve that goal if voters start voting a straight-Democratic ticket or more Republican voters defect at the congressional and local level.

This might just be such an election. The Republican brand at the national and state level is badly tarnished. In Democracy Corps’ 9-state battleground survey for Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund, it did not take much for those not currently supporting the Democratic Senate candidate to say, enough![2] In the poll, we pointed out that “Republicans in Congress and in their own state legislature:

  • oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest (36 percent, bothers the most),
  • oppose restricting gun rights for people on the terror watch list and outlawing sale of assault rifles (19 percent),
  • oppose gay marriage and new laws barring discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people (13 percent),
  • oppose new laws guaranteeing equal pay for women (10 percent).”[3]

After hearing that information, one-third of those not voting for the Democratic Senate candidate said they would now vote for the Democrat, and one-in-four said they were “very certain” to change their vote. A stunning one-quarter of those voting for the Republican candidate for Senate said they would now vote for his or her Democratic opponent.


That is a breathtaking number, and we now believe we are on to something – something that Republicans figured out when they used Obamacare in the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014.  It motivated and unified their base, brought out the emotions and frustration associated with Obama’s hegemony; it was real and believable; and most important, it allowed them to say, “vote against the Democrats because of Obamacare, not because I want a political party to win.”

Linking Republican candidates to the GOP Congress, the GOP-controlled state legislature and their positions on social issues – starting with their opposition to abortion without exceptions and extending to gun control and gay marriage and discrimination against working women – combines all of the astounding things they are hearing from the GOP. That the Republican position on abortion has such a strong recall reflects what they are in fact doing and underscores the GOP’s fight against women’s and equal rights; talking about opposition to gun regulations enlists the emotions around the senseless, uncontrolled gun violence.

This information also immediately consolidated the potential Democratic vote down-ballot. It moved three-quarters of the Clinton voters who were not yet supporting the Democrat in the race for Senate; it shifted half of the Rising American Electorate not yet voting for the Democrat, including half of the millennials and unmarried women. It is clearly giving Democratically-inclined voters a reason to vote straight-ticket.


The focus on their opposition to abortion, sensible gun limits, and equality for the LGBT community and women, both in Congress and in our state legislature, is emotional, real, motivating and allows Democrats to consolidate their broad base in a potentially big election.

We will be testing other parts of conservative agenda, including their support for tax cuts for the richest, in future surveys and focus groups to measure the emotive power of this approach to the election.

In the meantime, we hope this contributes to the strategic conversation among progressives.    

[1]Democracy Corps conducted a poll of 900 likely voters across the nation from June 23rd – 28th.  Sixty-six percent of the surveys were completed among cell phone respondents. The margin of error is +/- 3.27 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups.

[2]On behalf of Women’s Voice. Women’s Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps conducted a nine-state battleground survey of 2700 likely voters from June 11th – 20th.  Three hundred cases were completed in each state: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of error for the entire survey is +/- 1.89 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error within each state is +/-5.66 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups. 

[3]In the Senate-race states surveyed, this question was asked of those who did not select the Democratic candidate for Senate. In Michigan, this question was asked of those not identifying as Democrats.  

9 State Battleground Poll: Trump's Rustbelt play bound to disappoint, Clinton stronger than Obama in diverse states
Thursday, June 30 2016
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Donald Trump’s unpopularity, beliefs, values and leadership qualities are forging a new 2016 battleground for the election of the President and U.S. Senate. Trump and Clinton no longer face symmetric image problems. With 60 percent viewing Trump unfavorably and half of presidential year voters saying they will never vote for him, he is losing Republican support to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and college educated voters to Clinton and the Democrats. Trump is helping Clinton consolidate Democrats, unmarried women, and minority voters.


As a result, Trump’s Rustbelt strategy is faltering badly. He is losing to  Clinton by 8 points across the Rustbelt battleground states and runs no better than Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. But more important, Clinton is beating  Trump by 8 points in the more demographically diverse battleground states, outperforming Obama in Florida by 10 points, North Carolina by 13 points, and Arizona by 4 points. That grows the Electoral College map for Democrats and produces an Electoral College earthquake.


These results understate what is possible for Clinton because the Bernie Sanders and Millennial vote is not yet fully consolidated behind her. Johnson is winning 22 percent of the millennial vote,  though the building Democratic unity and endorsements may erode that.


The Libertarian Party will likely be a long-term factor in the race. Not surprisingly, Johnson is getting 24 percent of independents. But on the right, he is also winning 11 percent of Romney voters, 26 percent of Kasich supporters (and 21 percent of all non-Trump GOP primary supporters), and 23 percent of GOP-moderates. On the left, he is winning 17 percent of Sanders primary voters, 25 percent of white millennials, and 10 percent of unmarried women. But ask yourself: do you think the right or the left will be more successful uniting behind a candidate in the coming month?


The results also understate what is possible down-ballot. Trump is only winning 38 percent of the vote across the Senate battleground, and that creates a lot of uncertainty. The Republican brand is badly tarnished – nationally and in the states where the GOP has control. All the Republican Senate candidates are under 50 percent and North Carolina and Arizona incumbents may be in reach. Plus, one-quarter of those voting Republican in the U.S. Senate race in their state say they are certain to change their vote and support the Democrat when learning of the Republicans’ position on abortion, guns and gay marriage.[1] Because the 2016 pesidential battleground is so friendly, Democratic Senate candidates can target the one-in-ten voters who are now voting for Clinton, but not yet supporting the Democratic Senate candidates and other down-ballot Democrats.     


This survey on behalf of WVWVAF and VPC provides an unprecedented look at these dynamics because of the very large sample of 2,700 interviews – 300 presidential year voters from a voter file in 9 states – in the 5 Rustbelt states that Trump has targeted and 4 states with growing racial diversity and cosmopolitan populations that are increasingly open to Democrats.[2]




[1] In Michigan, this question was asked of those who did not identify as Democrats.

[2] On behalf of Women’s Voice. Women’s Vote Action Fund and the Voter Participation Center, Democracy Corps conducted a nine-state battleground survey of 2700 likely voters from June 11th – 20th.  Three hundred cases were completed in each state: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of error for the entire survey is +/- 1.89 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The margin of error within each state is +/-5.66 percentage points.  Margin of error is higher among subgroups.  

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