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National Surveys
Evolving Strategy for Progressives
Thursday, February 12 2015
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This report makes recommendations based on three distinct research projects executed by Democracy Corps for WVWVAF over the last month, including a national survey of 950 likely voters, focus groups with white working class voters in Tidewater, Virginia, and dial testing and on-line focus groups conducted during the 2015 State of the Union Address.  

This multi-pronged wave of research makes very clear that the Democratic presidential majority is back. The Obama coalition arrived intact and Hillary Clinton begins this election cycle with a 6 point lead over Romney - who had not yet withdrawn and was the GOP's strongest candidate - and 12 points over Bush.

However, that presidential majority is not deep or broad enough to break the Republican hold on Congress and key states.  It is not producing wave elections. There are three inter-related reasons for the shortfall:

  • Some parts of the RAE could be giving Democrats bigger margins and turning out in bigger numbers, including unmarried women;
  • Democratic presidential candidates (including Clinton) are only getting about a third of white working class voters;
  • Those who are living with the restructured, new economy are struggling and turned off by elite (and presidential) talk about the great macro economy. 

The goal of progressives now is to get more support and engagement from the RAE, including white unmarried women and Millennials, and to broaden support with struggling white working class voters, both men and women: RAE+.

  1. Understand and identify with the economic challenges that a majority of people are experiencing – even as the elites and perhaps Democratic leaders celebrate  the macro economy.
  2. Target both parts of the Rising American Electorate, especially unmarried women but perhaps also millennials, and parts of the swing electorate, including white working class voters.  We know from this research they share a lot.
  3. The economic agenda must be led by government reform.  Target groups are disgusted with politics and government because of the role of big money, perceptions of waste and special interest spending. A reform agenda opens up these targets.
  4. Champion a middle class economic narrative that seeks rising incomes for all and opportunities  for all that make the effort. That narrative is 20 points stronger than the conservative, small government narrative. 
  5. Champion a middle class economic agenda that starts with protecting Social Security and Medicare, reforming government, long term infrastructure investment that creates jobs, help for working mothers, equal pay for women, and making college affordable
  6. Recognize that white unmarried women and non-college women and men share common feelings about what is happening and what needs to change. They want to protect the existing social safety net of Social Security and Medicare, reform government and help working families. 
  7. Recognize that specific references to helping “working women” or gender-directed issues such as pay equity do not alienate white working class men. 

Read the full memo here.

State of the Union 2015: Playing offense, President Obama makes gains on critical issues
Wednesday, January 21 2015
Download this file (DCorps SOTU OvernightMemo v5.pdf)Memo[ ]721 Kb67 Downloads

Online dial testing with 61 white swing voters across the United States and  two follow-up online focus groups – one with white non-college educated men and women and one with unmarried women – show that President Obama’s agenda to bring America closer together as a “tight knit family” scored big.  The President’s speech generated strong, positive reactions to policies ranging from investment in infrastructure and college education to a populist agenda that takes on special interest and the wealthy in order to make sure the middle class gets its fair share.  


 “Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.”  

His proposals resulted not only in major gains on crucial traits and issues, but bolstered the President’s standing as well.  President Obama’s personal favorability improved from a neutral rating (44 percent warm, 44 percent cool) to a net +33 (66 percent warm, 33 percent cool), the largest post-State of the Union shift seen for the President in recent years.  Tonight’s speech clearly inspired our audience of swing voters.

The President comes away from this address with much to celebrate.  In focus groups, voters note that the President was stronger, more confident, and more relaxed than they have seen him recently, and that they liked his positive vision, with one participant concluding that the president was “almost the guy that was elected 6 years ago, that [was] going to do a lot for the country.”

The President was also successful in crafting an agenda that reached across partisan lines.  Despite a deep partisan divide in the November elections and in various issue debates, there was little polarization between Democrats and Republicans throughout the speech, with the Republican dials near or above 50 for most of the President’s address.

The President successfully communicated a strong sense of advocacy for middle class Americans, reflected in big gains on impressions of him as a leader, someone who is on voters’ side, and someone who understands the challenges facing Americans.  Voters also express greater confidence in the President than in Republicans on key issues Obama highlighted in the speech—including growing American industries, jobs and trade, handling issues facing working women and families, finding new ways to get better jobs that pay more, and having good plans for the economy. 

Importantly, the President also appealed to key voters he and Democrats need to win—particularly unmarried women and working class voters.  However, there is more work to do to convince these swing voters that the President and Congress can come together on issues and actually make progress on this ambitious agenda. 

The Democrats' Turn: Good News for Hillary & How to Reach the White Working Class
Friday, January 16 2015
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Download this file (Dcor_WV_Jan poll_Long Memo_1 16 15 v8.pdf)Memo[ ]853 Kb76 Downloads

The 2014 election was a devastating defeat for the Democratic Party, with consequences that may be felt for many years to come. Even so, we wrote in the aftermath of the 2014 election, “Despite the deep losses of 2014, the partisan predispositions of the Democratic coalition remain very much intact. There just is not any reason to think the compositional changes will not continue their long-term trends – and the Rising American Electorate will be key.” This prediction certainly holds true in this survey, as the Obama coalition asserts itself in dramatic fashion. But it is also shocking how quickly other changes produce a profoundly different America than the one that showed up last November.[1]

On almost all measures, Democratic numbers improve on this survey, beginning with voters’ overall mood. Right direction numbers jump nearly 10 points since the election and are likely to improve further with the growing economy and falling price of gasoline. Numbers also rebound for President and the Democratic Party. Democratic messages and Democratic policies outmuscle Republican messages and Republican policy, suggesting room for further advances. Meanwhile, the honeymoon for Boehner and McConnell barely lasted through the wedding reception as negatives for both, and the Republican Party as a whole, grow sharply. Most striking, the Tea Party Republican is back, defining the Republican brand. 

These changes and the emergence of the Obama presidential year electorate leave the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead of Mitt Romney (49 to 43 percent) and well ahead of Jeb Bush (52 to 40 percent). Voters’ hostility to George Bush’s brother is one of the more notable outcomes of this survey.

Given her support among white college educated women and strong support among most RAE voters, Clinton can win a national election without competing among white non-college voters; but this outcome would likely leave most of the Republican 2014 gains intact. Obviously, a lot can change over the next 22 months, but questions at this point are whether the Democratic presidential candidate can grow and protect her lead, and whether 2016 can build a big enough win to recover congressional and down-ballot losses from the 2014 cycle. 

The answers to those questions depend in large measure on two overlapping dynamics: Democrats’ ability to build on and consolidate their support among RAE voters and Democrats’ ability to improve on their dismal performance among white working class voters. On the combined measure, Clinton opens strong among RAE voters—unmarried women, people of color, youth--winning 64 percent of RAE voters overall and 62 percent of unmarried women. Obama won 67 percent of unmarried women in 2012, however, and Clinton’s margin among white unmarried women (just 1 percent) is unimpressive. The news here is less edifying for Democrats among white working class voters.  

President Obama won 40 percent of these voters in 2008 and 36 percent in 2012, and Democratic Congressional candidates won only 34 percent of the white working class vote last year. Clinton fares no better, winning just 35 percent of white non-college voters and 37 percent of non-college white women on the combined measure. 

Critically, the goals of maximizing support among unmarried women and minimizing Republican support among white non-college voters overlap. Nearly a quarter of white non-college voters are unmarried women. The key to both groups is about getting the economy right. Overall, Democrats lead the Republicans on every issue tested in this survey, except the economy, which is the most important one. White non-college voters and white unmarried women are much more pessimistic about the direction of the country (76 percent wrong track among white non-college voters); both believe the road to the middle class is blocked for them.  Progressives need to understand what they once understood--rising tides do not lift all boats and gains at the macro-economic level do not necessarily improve the economic prospects of these voters. 

Both unmarried white women and white non-college voters prioritize jobs that pay; both focus on protecting Social Security and Medicare and college affordability. Critically, there is no evidence in this survey that the Democratic focus on the “women’s economic agenda” undermines support among white working class voters or white working class men. In fact, some of the gender-specific messages and proposals—equal pay, paid-sick time, help for working mothers—test as well or better among white working class voters as the non-gender-specific proposal. For both groups, this election needs to be about helping working men and women. 

It also needs to be about reform. These are people who pay a lot in taxes, but do not believe the government works in the interests of middle families. They see special interests dominating government, often at their expense. They also see waste and inefficiency and are convinced they do not get their money’s worth out of Washington. Reform messages do as well for Democrats as broader economic messages and work particularly well among white working class voters.  Reform policies constitute the most popular Republican policy proposal tested, and one of the most popular Democratic policies tested among unmarried women. 

In one of the most important and interesting findings in this survey, a reform message opens votes up to a progressive economic narrative. Voters who heard the reform message before hearing the Democratic economic messages were more than 10-points more likely to describe the Democratic framing as “very convincing” as voters who heard the Democratic framing first (43 percent very convincing and 32 percent very convincing, respectively).  


For Democrats, this represents an incredibly optimistic study. The road back may not be as long as many in the Party feared.  But this road requires some improvement among white working class voters and some consolidation among base voters like white unmarried women. This means speaking directly to the economic experience of these voters, not the experience of Wall Street, focusing on the plight of the middle class and forwarding a set of policy options that directly improve the economic lives of these still-struggling families. And this road will likely be made much easier if Democrats make a serious effort on a government and campaign reform agenda.  

Read the Full Memo Here

[1] The survey of 950 likely 2016 voters was conducted from January 7-11, 2015. Voters 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 in 2016. Data shown in this deck is among all 2016 likely voters unless otherwise noted. Unless otherwise noted, margin of error for the full sample= +/-3.2 percentage points at 95% confidence. Margin of error will be higher among subgroups. 50 percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and trying to accurately sample the full American electorate.

Voters Say Wealthy Interests Real Election Winners, Ready to Act Against Status Quo
Monday, November 10 2014
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Download this file (EV_PostElect_for web_110514_FQ.pdf)Frequency Questionnaire[ ]255 Kb69 Downloads
The 2014 midterm election demonstrated voters’ dissatisfaction with the current state of campaigns and campaign spending. More and more money is being spent each cycle, voters feel bombarded by advertisements from opaque outside groups, and they have no doubt that Congress is bought and sold by special interests and campaign donors. Voters are acutely aware that wealthy interests have an increasing influence on the political process and they now have a strong appetite for change.
A nationwide survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner during and immediately after election day, on behalf of Democracy Corps and commissioned by Every Voice, sampled both 2014 voters and those likely to participate in 2016, allowing for analysis of this issue’s impact this year and its relevance moving forward.[1] The survey shows the extent to which candidates’ positions on campaign spending had a clear electoral impact in 2014 and how much more important the issue will become in the next presidential campaign.
There is no doubt that voters find the status quo unacceptable – most find Super PACs disturbing and bitterly regret the amount of money spent on campaigns today. And as we have found numerous times before, voters across party lines strongly endorse Every Voice’s proposed solutions. But rather than seeing this as a long-term ‘pie in the sky’ policy goal, we find here important evidence that campaign spending mattered to voters’ choice in the ballot box and that they demand Congress make reform a priority.
Key findings:
  • Most voters are aware of Super PACs, and almost universally view them negatively.
  •  A majority say there has been more campaign spending than usual this cycle, with its effect being strongly negative on the political process.
  •  Voters believe the political system is broken, as their Congresspersons listen to special interests and contributors rather than the views of their constituents.
  • Democrats, at least, report that a candidate’s stance on money in politics was one of the top issues influencing their vote.
  •  In such an environment, there is broad support across party lines for a proposal to overhaul campaign spending, even when the proposal includes the use of taxpayer funds.
  • A specific Every Voice plan to reform spending wins 70 percent approval, with over two-thirds support from members of both parties.
  • Campaign spending projects to be an increasingly significant issue moving forward, with the 2016 electorate equally supportive of reform.
Reflecting on 2014
By any measure, voters expressed serious angst and frustration at the ballot box this past Tuesday, punishing the status quo in Washington for presiding over a government that they feel does not work for them. Among the main concerns voters have is that wealthy and special interests now control the political process, drowning out their voices.
Voters make it clear that their anger at the current way campaigns are run goes deeper than just complaints about the tone of negative advertising; 55 percent say the level of spending in this campaign was more than normal, and they rate that spending negatively by a 7:1 ratio, with the plurality saying they tuned it out and another 17 percent concluding that it is bad for our democracy.
Majorities of Republican and Democratic voters believe that special interest groups, lobbyists, and campaign contributors have the largest influence on members of Congress, displacing the views of constituents by a wide margin. In an era of hyper-partisanship, with candidates across the country accusing each other of sticking too closely to party lines, it is remarkable that twice as many voters say special interests and lobbyists hold sway over members of Congress than say Republican or Democratic party leaders do.  Entire campaigns were played out on the partisan issue (“He/she voted XX percent of the time with Obama,” or “He/she voted XX percent of the time with Tea Party leaders in Congress”) even though twice as many voters believe it is the big moneyed interests, not the party line, that influences Congressional votes.
For most voters, the economy and jobs were the top issues related to the Congressional vote; as we have reported in a previous memo on this survey, this was an “Economy Election.” But campaign spending and spending reform had an important part to play as well.
Previous Democracy Corps/Every Voice polling in contested Senate states[2] found that statewide candidates who advocated for a Constitutional Amendment to limit the electoral influence of wealthy special interests were handsomely rewarded, with two thirds of voters or more becoming more likely to support them. But this survey demonstrates the dangers of candidates being on the wrong side of the issue.
Among those who did not vote for a Republican candidate, one quarter of voters report that the candidate being beholden to billionaire special interest donors was a top reason why. Candidates’ special interest ties were more damaging than opposing raising the minimum wage, opposing equal pay for women, wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supporting cuts to education funding, or even wanting to increase Medicare costs. Campaign spending didn’t just equal these other core Democratic arguments; it bested them.
Campaign spending did not become a central campaign argument in some races this year, but voters displayed an increasing awareness of the issues at play and an increasing willingness to punish candidates on the wrong side of it. In the races where it was a factor, campaign spending played a pivotal role in drawing support for reform candidates.
Campaign Spending Reform in the Future
The influence of money in politics is not a one-time worry that will pass with time. So long as the current system holds, voters will become more outward in their desire for change, and it will become a higher and higher priority.
Already, we see that reducing the influence of spending in campaigns is a top priority for 60 percent of voters, including being the single top priority for 18 percent. Candidates who ignore these issues are missing out on a huge part of the electorate’s untapped desire for a government responsive to its citizens and not to big money. People really care, and will only engage more as their voices continue to be overshadowed by special interests.
This is not a problem without a solution. In fact, voters strongly endorse Every Voice’s proposals to drastically reduce the influence of money in politics. There is little opposition to a plan to overhaul campaign spending by getting rid of big donations and allowing only small donations to candidates, matched by taxpayer funds. The use of taxpayer funds does not detract from support; 48 percent of all voters rate the plan positively and just 20 percent rate it negatively. Even Republicans – who one might think would balk at the mention of taxpayer funds – support the plan by a nearly 2:1 ratio.
Our survey also tested the language of a specific proposal and found it to have broad support:
Some people propose addressing the role of money in politics with a new law that would provide qualified candidates with limited public matching funds for small contributions they raise from constituents. The law would also require disclosure for all political spending by outside groups, and strictly enforce election laws.
The specific proposal draws 70 percent support from 2014 voters, including 41 percent who strongly favor it. Only 20 percent oppose the proposal. Yet again, support is consistent across party lines. Seventy-seven (77) percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 65 percent of Republicans favor such a proposal, as do 73 percent of Millennials and 72 percent of white voters.
But even more encouraging for proponents of campaign finance reform is the proposal’s performance among the projected 2016 electorate, which is different than 2014’s in terms of demographics and partisanship. Presidential-year voters support the Every Voice proposal by an equally wide margin, 69 percent to 19 percent, with 37 percent strongly in favor, proving again that this is a winning issue that will endure until there is serious reform. 

[1] Results from September, 2014 Democracy Corps/Every Voice Senate Battleground survey

[2] The survey among 904 likely 2016 voters (1429 unweighted), including 588 2014 voters (1030 unweighted) was conducted from November 3-5, 2014, using a list of 2010 voters, 2012 voters, and new registrants. Unless otherwise noted, the margin of error for the full sample is +/-2.59 % at 95% confidence.

Tuesday and What It Tells Us About 2016
Friday, November 07 2014
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Download this file (WVWV_PostElect_110514_forweb_FQ.pdf)Frequency Questionnaire[ ]267 Kb71 Downloads

The main message of the election and take-away from this election-night poll[1] is surely a call to the Democrats’ national leaders to address this new economy where jobs do not pay enough to live on, working women and men are struggling without help, and good American jobs are not being created while the government is beholden to those with the most money. 


The voters want to vote for change, and this poll shows that the Democrats and their supportive coalition would rally to a message that understands people are struggling with the new economy; but that was not President’s economic narrative for this election and it showed. Tackling the new economy is a tremendous undertaking, but also one that will be received by a large audience of voters and that is the best path forward for Democrats.


But for all that and two consecutive off-year wave elections, there is no reason to think Republicans have raised their odds of electing a president in 2016.  Looking at this poll, one would rather be in the position of the Democrats than of the Republicans. 


In the presidential electorate that we surveyed, some of whom voted on Tuesday, Democrats have a 6-point advantage in party identification; the congressional vote is even; and Hillary Clinton defeats Mitt Romney by 6 points – well ahead of Obama’s margin in 2012.  Moreover, this does not reflect the projected growth in Millennials and Hispanics in the 2016 electorate.


The election was fundamentally important, but has not disrupted the national trends and coalitions – even on the day of electoral triumph for the Republicans.  

Read More

[1] Based on a unique survey of 1,429 likely 2016 voters across the country, including 1,030 2014 voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps and Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund. This survey was conducted from November 3-5, 2014 using a list of 2010 voters, 2012 voters, and new registrants. Unless otherwise noted, the margin of error for the full sample is = +/- 2.59% at 95% confidence. Results among 2014 voters are weighted to reflect election results and Exit Poll demographic results publicly posted by Edison Research. This also includes oversamples conducted for WVWVAF in Senate Battleground seats to allow more in-depth message testing in these states as well as an oversample of unmarried women that voted in 2014. Half of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and trying to accurately sample the full American electorate.

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