Senate Battleground: The Path to Retaking the Senate

A major new survey in four U.S. Senate battleground states shows that Democrats are within striking distance of the majority in 2016.  Democratic candidates are 6 points up in Colorado (Democratic hold), 5 points ahead of a Republican incumbent in Wisconsin (a Democratic pick up) and knotted in Ohio and Florida (both Democratic pick up states).  The Republican brand continues to sour with the numbers for Senate leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Congress, and the leading Republican presidential candidates all underwater. Demographically, the progressive Rising American Electorate (RAE) voters—unmarried women, people of color, and millennials—now claim a majority or near-majority of the vote share in each of these states.  And most important, a Democratic middle class reform money and government message and agenda like the one tested in this poll shifts the vote in Colorado and significantly increases the turnout of unmarried women and white working class women.[1]

Democrats’ ability to convert this opportunity into a Democratic majority is predicated, however, on candidates in these states accomplishing a number of key political goals over the next year.

Fix the enthusiasm gap, particularly among unmarried women and millennials.  This is a long-standing problem, reflected in Democracy Corps’ research and other surveys.  Voters within the RAE are significantly less enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than non-RAE voters. This survey shows how to raise engagement with unmarried women.  

Fix the margin among Democratic base voters, particularly unmarried women. There is still room to grow support among RAE voters, and the underperformance of unmarried women in these Republican-held Senate seats could not be more dramatic. To cite one example, Obama won 63 percent of unmarried women in 2012 in Florida, but the Democrats’ Senate candidate reaches just 48 percent in this survey.

Fix the margin with unmarried women voters and improve the margin with white working class women. Unmarried women are holding back the Democratic Senate candidates across these key states and more progress can be made with white working class women who are increasingly open to voting for Democrats. The Democratic message and agenda tested in this poll—particularly protecting Social Security from benefit cuts, policies to help working families like equal pay, and reforming government so it works for the middle class—get their attention.

Brand a tarnished Republican Party that is too partisan for these times.

Run unambiguously on a middle class agenda that includes economic policies for working families and fundamentally reforms money and politics and reforms government for the middle class.  It is important to recognize how addressing the first two of these issues is predicated on effectively addressing the last.  In this survey, we field tested the money and government reform policies that WVWVAF and the Voter Participation Center developed this year.  The result?   Democratic candidates make major gains among unmarried women and help equalize the enthusiasm gap for unmarried women and white working class women.

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[1] This survey took place October 24-28. Respondents who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016. Data shown in this deck is among all 2016 likely voters 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. Respondents were divided equally among states (n=400) of Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. Margin of error for each state sample= +/-4.9 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups. Forty percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full American electorate. Although the field is not settled in all of these states, we used republican Scott Tipton against Democratic incumbent Michael Bennett in Colorado, Democrat Patrick Murphy against Republican David Jolly in Florida, Democrat Ted Strickland against Republican incumbent Rob Portman in Ohio, and Democrat Russ Feingold against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

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