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Rewriting the Rules of the Economy
Ten Economic Lessons from President Obama’s State of the Union Address
Thursday, March 07 2013
Download this file (dcor sotu 10lessons 030613 FINAL.pdf)dcor sotu 10lessons 030613 FINAL.pdf[ ]1136 Kb70 Downloads


1.The economy is still very difficult for voters at the pocketbook level. This economy is still very painful for people. In focus groups with swing voters who watched the President’s speech with us, participants were very graphic about their personal financial situations and economic outlook.  They are very much on edge financially, which is their dominant context because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological, but tangible and painful for people.

You can’t survive on one income. You can’t buy gas.

I work 7 days a week to afford my house, my car.

Often times I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don’t understand the hardship.


2.  The President can highlight economic progress without taking credit. For the first time since 2009, the President was able to highlight good economic news without shutting voters down; these voters in Denver applauded it. In past exercises, we have found that when President Obama takes credit for progress on the economy in these times, voters react badly and view him as out of touch. The President thread a very careful needle in this speech and it worked. These voters are open to the President’s celebration of good economic news, as long as the President does not take credit for it.  The way President Obama framed current economic growth was through business, not government – businesses hiring again and jobs coming back to America was news these voters were willing to celebrate. We should not underestimate voters’ responses—this was a major turning point.


3.   Voters are aware of, and concerned about, the decline of the middle class. One of the biggest shifts came when President Obama talked about a decade of stagnation, and the need to reignite the middle class and restore the basic middle class bargain. All respondents (including Republican-leaning participants) responded to this. But the President lost the Republicans in our audience when he said that the government works on behalf of the many, not just the few. They came back, however, when he returned to the values of free enterprise.

4.  Voters support a growth agenda rather than an austerity agenda.Voters showed strong support for growth and jobs when the President asserted that “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.” The electorate is ready for a growth agenda that creates good, middle class jobs, and this was clear in their responses to specific policy items. Every time the President mentioned investment, our swing voters in Denver were very receptive—investment in manufacturing, science, and infrastructure all got positive support. One of the strongest responses came when the President talked about not cutting funding for education, job training, Medicare, and Social Security benefits. On that point, independents and unmarried women responded most sharply, climbing above the Democrats’ line. The only group to respond negatively were the Republicans in our audience, who proved outliers on many of these issues.



5.   Voters are looking for a balanced approach.Taken in the context of the sequester, there is significant support for President Obama’s balanced approach rather than the Republicans’ cuts-only approach to deficit reduction. Voters, especially unmarried women, responded with deep concern to the potential budget cuts. And the President got broad support when he talked about replacing reckless cuts with smart savings. He also won the voters in our audience when he talked about getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected. This balanced approach was met with a great deal of approval from our audience, who fully grasped the contrast between closing loopholes for the wealthiest versus cutting retirement benefits for those who cannot afford it.

6.   There is strong support for further and more progressive tax reform.There is strong support for reform, including closing loopholes and instituting the Buffett rule, to make sure the wealthiest pay their share. At the end of the speech we saw big shifts in support for the President in supporting the middle class and handling the economy.



7.   Raising the minimum wage is a good start.Given the on-going stagnation and difficulties at the middle and bottom of the income spectrum, voters are looking for policies that will grow the economy from the bottom up. Raising the minimum wage produced a strong result among all groups except Republicans. Democrats reacted very favorably, as did independents and unmarried women. When the President proposed linking the minimum wage to the cost of living all groups, including Republicans, spiked.



8.   Unmarried women are more engaged and are the most engaged on economic issues affecting them. When we have conducted similar exercises in the past among unmarried women, their movement on the dials presaged their level of engagement and openness to voting for Democrats. During the 2012 campaign, they were more tentative and more closely aligned with independents. In sharp contrast, unmarried women in our group in Denver moved in close concert with the Democrats, and climbed even higher than the Democratic line at several key moments—including when the President talked about his growth and investment agenda, not allowing the painful sequester cuts to hit programs like education and job training, not cutting entitlement benefits for those who need it most, and closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected.



9.   Republicans are on a path different from all others on economic and budget choices.The President’s call to raise taxes on the wealthiest instead of making reckless cuts to education received strongly positive responses from all groups except the Republicans in our audience. On these measures, all of the dials rose while the Republican line dropped. In several key places in the speech, Republican lines moved in the opposite direction of all other lines: “consumers, patients and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before”; “this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few”; “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan”; “by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans”; “the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs”; “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty -- and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.” The point is not that Republicans were less receptive to the President’s speech than those who voted for him. We expected that. The striking observation is that these Republicans were unquestionably moving in the opposite direction as everyone else in the room. There is a difference between the points at which the Republican lines moved in unison with, just several octaves below, Democrats and independents, and the points at which all lines moved up while Republican lines dropped.

10.   Voters are receptive to smarter government that invests in broad-based growth.This is not 2010, when voters looked to punish the President for a lagging economy, the health care law, or high spending. While their trust in government has eroded, voters seem very open to the President’s call for smarter government that tackles big issues. For now, voters seem ready to support both his short-term plan and his long-term vision for restoring the economy.





Public looking for investment and balanced approach in face of sequester
Wednesday, February 27 2013
Download this file (dcor wv sotu graphs FINAL.pdf)Graphs[ ]1905 Kb61 Downloads
Download this file (dcor.wv.sotu.memo.FINAL.pdf)Memo[ ]1470 Kb68 Downloads

As the country approaches the next self-imposed crisis deadline of the prolonged budget battle, politicians in Washington and state capitals across the country would do well to take note: swing voters have no appetite for the severe cuts that will result from the sequester, and they have little patience for the crisis-to-crisis approach to fiscal governance that has defined the last two years. And now, as they are poised to experience painful austerity measures induced by Washington, these voters give clear signals about what the policy priorities should be moving forward. They are also very clear about who should be the priority in any budget deal—the middle class, seniors, and working families, rather than the wealthiest and elites with access to the halls of power.

Read more... [Public looking for investment and balanced approach in face of sequester]
Obama makes gains among swing voters on critical issues
Wednesday, February 13 2013
Download this file (SOTU.initial.memo.021313.FINAL.pdf)Memo[ ]701 Kb76 Downloads

Dial testing and follow-up focus groups with 44 swing voters in Denver, Colorado show that President Obama’s second term agenda—expressed through new policies for energy, pay equity, jobs, and education—was well-received by voters.[1] The President made impressive gains on his personal favorability and trust to move the country in a direction that reflects voters’ values. Following the speech, voters gave him high marks on women’s issues, looking out for the middle class, and plans for the economy. Even Republicans in our audience responded positively to Obama’s plan for tax reform and his call for bipartisan cooperation to break the gridlock in Washington. As one participant put it, “I liked his speech. I wanted to clap; I got misty-eyed.”

Read more... [Obama makes gains among swing voters on critical issues]
Messaging and policies at the edge of the fiscal cliff
Thursday, January 17 2013
Download this file (dcor graphs 011713 econ v8.pdf)Graphs[ ]1656 Kb78 Downloads
Download this file (dcor130114fq_FINAL.pdf)Frequency Questionnaire[ ]257 Kb72 Downloads

We are releasing today Democracy Corps' results for addressing the fiscal cliff and policies and messages that get the country to the best short and long-term result.  Because voters do not trust the Republicans' priorities and judgment and see them as so extreme in protecting millionaires at the expense of the middle class and poor, our messages and policies get more than a fair hearing.

Read more... [Messaging and policies at the edge of the fiscal cliff]
Engaging the Big Economic Issues Ahead
Friday, November 16 2012
Download this file (dcor.ecnpe.fq.110812.pdf)Frequency Questionnaire[ ]175 Kb69 Downloads
Download this file (dcor.ecnpe.graphs.111612.v14.pdf)Graphs[ ]1113 Kb62 Downloads
Download this file (dcor.econpe.memo.111512.v4.pdf)Memo[ ]569 Kb58 Downloads

The public mood on the macro economy and job market ticked up just before people were voting on Election Day, driven by increased optimism, but not necessarily pocketbook-level experiences.  Basic indicators of personal finances have not improved and remain tough for people and even as voters’ optimism about the direction of the economy improved, more also reported personal economic struggles—with health insurance, declining wages, keeping up with the grocery bill, and making mortgage payments.  Remember, real income did go down in October -- and the future of the middle class remains a very real issue going forward. 

This election was a battle for the future of the middle class and Obama won that war.  Both candidates made the middle class the center of their closing arguments.  But to voters, Romney was totally defined by his inability to grasp or believably advocate for middle and working class people.  By 51 to 42 percent, the voters said Obama would do better with restoring the middle class.[1]

If the agenda before us is the future of the middle class, as the president said in his press conference this week, voters have three clear priorities, as shown in our survey: creating jobs and getting the economy going, securing Medicare and Social Security, and investing in education.  Addressing the deficit is important, but mostly ranked below these priorities for Obama voters, the swing voters Obama won, and the new progressive base of young people, unmarried women, and minority voters (who now comprise almost half of all voters).

Read more... [Engaging the Big Economic Issues Ahead]
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