Democratic Turnout a '16 Risk Factor, Poll Finds

Democratic Turnout a '16 Risk Factor, Poll Finds
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Democratic voters are skeptics this summer.

They doubt presidential contenders can deliver favored reforms from Washington, no matter how enticing the policy agendas sound. Those doubts depress enthusiasm about next year’s White House contest and could impact turnout for the eventual Democratic nominee.

Those were among early warnings in a survey released Monday of likely 2016 voters, sponsored by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices, Women Vote Action Fund.

Americans want change and reforms, but “people don’t think any of this is going to happen,” Stan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said during a reporter roundtable organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

Their skepticism doesn’t turn on the idea of a Democratic nominee who would follow a two-term Democrat, President Obama. “It’s because the old political system is uniquely corrupted” in their eyes, Greenberg said. “What matters is how deep the critique people have about what’s happening in the country, both politically and economically.”

Voters define corruption as money in politics and Washington power brokers who are self-serving and disconnected from everyday Americans and their concerns. This is why Clinton’s wealth, the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising, her decades lived as a VIP, and her missing emails discourage some voters from accepting the leading Democratic candidate as trustworthy, even if they favor the economic and social policies she stakes out.

Overall, the survey found that voters are evenly divided when asked if Democrats or Republicans would do a better job “cleaning up the mess in government” (31 percent each).

In the survey, respondents expressed more favorable feelings about Obama than about Clinton (by eight percentage points), but Clinton is basically matching Obama’s 2012 support among the key elements of the party’s base, and she’s outpacing his support among white unmarried women. Obama did better in 2012 among minority voters, but according to the survey, Clinton does better among white millennial voters. Clinton fell far behind against a generic Republican ticket among working-class white voters without college degrees. 

To succeed Obama, a Democratic candidate has to animate secular voters and what Greenberg calls the rising American electorate (unmarried women, people of color, and younger voters). These slices of the population will make up a majority of the total electorate for the first time in 2016, according to the pollster.

Greenberg insisted Clinton’s progressive campaign agenda is not a mirror image of Obama’s governing platform. “I would dispute that Obama was on this agenda” of equal pay, preserving Medicare and Social Security, promoting infrastructure spending, helping working women and reducing college debt burdens, he said, pointing to questions posed to respondents as part of the survey.

“The country doesn’t think he was dealing with this agenda. The first time he really talked about this is this year’s State of the Union” address, Greenberg said firmly.

“This is not his agenda. I actually think Hillary has a big opportunity.”

Asked what Clinton is not talking about that voters want to hear from a candidate, Greenberg said he was struck by how closely the former first lady’s launch speech this month at Roosevelt Island in New York tracked what voters tell pollsters.

“I thought, `Wow, she saw a draft of the questionnaire!’”

Greenberg served as an outside political adviser to President Clinton in the 1990s and calls Hillary Clinton a friend, although he said he is not working for her campaign. Women’s Voices, Women Vote Action Fund, the sponsor of the poll, works to increase the number of progressive Democrats, especially unmarried women, who register to vote and participate in elections.

The Democratic Party’s strategy to hold control of the White House and win congressional seats next year relies on America’s shifting demographics and on voter turnout. But “if the disparity in enthusiasm is not addressed, that strategy is at risk,” Democracy Corps wrote in a synopsis of the findings that began, “Democrats need to give voters a reason to participate.”

The threat comes down to an enthusiasm gap of 19 points between the Democrats who say they are “extremely interested” in the congressional and local races in 2016, and the much more energized GOP voters.

The pollsters surveyed 950 likely voters June 13-17, of which 60 percent were contacted through their cellphones. Focus group interviews May 19 and June 4, both in Florida, supported the findings. The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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