Voter Study Group Releases New Longitudinal Poll and Reports on the American Electorate

Harold Reid and Lauren Strayer, Voter Study Group, June 13, 2017

The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a new research collaboration comprised of nearly two dozen analysts and scholars from across the political spectrum, today released its first trove of new data and analysis exploring voter perceptions before and after the 2016 election.

During the intense political division of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Voter Study Group began collaborating across ideological lines to examine the underlying values and opinions that influence voter decision-making. The expert group commissioned the VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) of 8,000 adults who had participated in similar surveys in mid-2016, 2011, and 2012. This unique longitudinal data set provides the basis for four new reports analyzing many of the most hotly-debated subjects of the presidential election, including economic stress, trade, race, immigration, and the evolution of the parties.

“Voters who experienced increased or continued economic stress were inclined to have become more negative about immigration and terrorism, demonstrating how economic pressures coincided with cultural concerns to produce an outcome that surprised most of us,” said Henry Olsen, senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center and project director for the Voter Study Group. “However, not all Trump voters shared these sentiments, many of whom were simply partisan Republicans backing a candidate who echoed their longstanding concerns.”

“Our research follows the same set of voters from one election to the next, and looks at voters’ beliefs and affinities, to better understand what’s behind voter behavior and analyze what political polling typically misses,” said John Sides, associate professor at George Washington University and research director for Voter Study Group. “These data are helping us study what the rise of new movements and political figures mean for the future of our democracy.”

Key findings from the initial reports include:

  1. Most Voters Supported Their Traditional Party in 2016: Eighty-three percent of 2016 voters backed the candidate of the same party whose candidate they had supported in 2012.
  2. Views on Trade Not Highly Correlated with Party Switching: A voter’s views on free trade did not significantly impact their willingness to deviate from their prior partisan voting habits.
  3. Views on Immigration, Muslims, and Black People Were Key Drivers of White Voters’ Decision to Switch: Before the 2016 campaign, there was an increasing alignment between race and partisanship. Feelings toward immigration, black people, and Muslims became more strongly related to voter decision-making in 2016 compared to 2012. Those who opposed a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants and believed that undocumented immigrants detract from American society were more likely to switch their support from President Obama to Trump.
  4. Long-term Economic Stress Also Contributed to Trump’s Rise: Voters who experienced negative attitudes about the economy in 2012 were more likely to express key negative cultural attitudes in 2016 even taking into account their earlier answers to the same questions.
  5. Trump General Election Voters Divided into Five Large Groups: The data shows that Trump voters generally share some common values but have different views on many key issues such as immigration, taxes, race, American identity, and size of the government. One analysis categorized Trump voters into five different groups: Staunch Conservatives (31 percent), Free Marketeers (25 percent), American Preservationists (20 percent), Anti-Elites (19 percent), and Disengaged (5 percent).
  6. Trump Voters Disagree Significantly on Economic Issues: Voters who switched from Obama to Trump are much more likely to hold liberal views regarding economic inequality and government intervention than Trump voters who supported Mitt Romney in 2012. Donald Trump’s strongest supporters also tended to express more support for Social Security and Medicare than did any other cohort of Republican voters.
  7. Democratic Partisans Agree on Most Issues: Nearly 45 percent of all voters could be classified as holding traditional liberal views on economics, social issues, and issues respecting national identity. Clinton received 83 percent of these votes, and nearly 78 percent of her total support came from these voters.

The four initial reports, along with an executive summary, provide in-depth analysis of key data from the VOTER Survey and are available are available online. (Author affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.)

The VOTER Survey and reports were made possible by a grant from Democracy Fund to the Ethics and Public Policy Center to conduct new research about the changing trends among the American electorate.

“The unprecedented tenor and direction of the 2016 election and the ensuing political debate are not the result of one campaign or even one candidate, but instead of deeper trends in how American voters view their democracy and their political system,” said Joe Goldman, Democracy Fund president. “The wide-range of political perspectives represented in the Voter Study Group reflects an urgent need—one that goes beyond party—to better listen and respond to the needs of Americans across the country.”

Toplines and crosstabs from the VOTER Survey can be accessed online. Throughout this year, the Voter Study Group will release the full data set as well as additional reports on this and future surveys online.

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