Working Class and Elite Democrats Were Divided on 2016 Priorities and 13 Percent of Partisans Have Changed Their Party in the Last Five Years
Democracy Fund Voter Study Group analyses suggest that Trump won swing voters who cared most about economic issues and that the majority of Obama-to-Trump voters now identify as Republicans
Washington, D.C. – December 14, 2017
The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a research collaboration of leading analysts and scholars from across the political spectrum, has released two new papers about the 2016 election and its ongoing impact on the parties: Both papers are based on the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group’s unique longitudinal data set, which began measuring voters’ opinions and affinities in 2011 and continued through, most recently, July 2017. In Party Hoppers: Understanding Voters Who Switched Partisan Affiliation, Robert Griffin, Associate Director of Research at PRRI, explored partisan switching — individuals leaving their party to become independents or join the opposite party. Griffin found that, while the overall numbers of Democrats and Republicans appear stable, a significant number (13 percent) of partisans have changed their affiliation in the last five years. Other key findings include:
“While party identification is typically seen as pretty stable, a significant number of partisans have switched their affiliation in the last five years,” said Griffin, Associate Director of Research at PRRI, “These changes reflect shifts we observed in 2016 and suggest that the election will have a long-term impact on the electorate.”
- Party Hoppers: Understanding Voters Who Switched Partisan Affiliation by Robert Griffin, a member of the Voter Study Group and Associate Director of Research at PRRI
- Placing Priority: How Issues Mattered More than Demographics in the 2016 Election by David Winston, a member of the Voter Study Group and President of The Winston Group
- Democratic non-college whites and Republican people of color were likeliest to leave their party. People of color and those under 45 were among the likeliest to switch from the Republican Party, while Democrats have lost non-college white voters and those over 45.
- A majority of Obama-to-Trump voters now identify as Republicans. While most Obama-Trump voters once identified as Democrats, a majority now identify as Republicans. Since 2011, there has been a 28 percent decline in Democratic identification and a 43 percent increase in Republican identification among these voters.
- Obama-to-third-party voters are likely to identify as Independents. Among those who voted for Obama in 2012 and then a third-party candidate in 2016, Democratic identification has dropped 35 percent while independent identification has risen 37 percent.
- Immigration attitudes, ideological self-identification, and economic views were the most influential issues in party-switching. Switching from the Republican Party was most strongly associated with positive attitudes about immigration, self-identification as more ideologically liberal, and more liberal economic views. Leaving the Democratic Party was most strongly associated with negative attitudes about immigration, unfavorable attitudes towards Muslims, self-identification as more ideologically conservative, more conservative economic views, and lower levels of economic anxiety.
In Placing Priority: How Issues Mattered More than Demographics in the 2016 Election, David Winston used a cluster analysis of 23 different issues to group voters into meaningful segments with clear priorities and belief systems that translate into party preference, ideological choice, and voting decisions. Key findings include:
“This research shows that issues can be used to cluster voters into meaningful segments with clear belief systems that translate into voting decisions,” said David Winston, President of The Winston Group. “In the future, both political parties need to recognize that the electorate has a clear set of priorities. Issues matter – and going forward, they may matter more than demographics.”
- Democratic/Independent Liberal Elites and the Democrat-Leaning Working Class had different priorities. The “Democrat/Independent Liberal Elites” cluster prioritized issues popular in the media coverage of the election, including gender and racial injustice, but not issues that were “very important” to the other Democratic cluster and the country as a whole, such as the economy and jobs.
- Donald Trump won more of the top ten prioritized issues, including the economy, jobs, crime, and terrorism, while Clinton won the majority of the 23 issues included in the survey. However, the issues she won were lower prioritized, and they included five of the bottom six issues.
- Swing voters were not satisfied with the status quo when it came to the economy. The contrast of change versus status quo moved swing voters closer to Republicans, based on issue priorities centered around economic issues. This was particularly true in the Rust Belt, where the election was decided.
“Rob’s and David’s analyses help us better understand what ideas and information influenced and motivated voters’ choices when they went to the polls in 2016,” said Henry Olsen, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Project Director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. “Clear data about what moved voters in 2016 can help us better understand the dynamics shaping voter opinions in upcoming elections.”
In the coming months, the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group will be releasing a number of in-depth reports and data sets exploring public opinion on trade, immigration, democracy, and millennials, among other topics. Most recently, the group of experts commissioned the July 2017 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) of 5,000 adults who had participated in similar surveys in 2016, 2011, and 2012. The Voter Study Group will put a third survey into the field in early 2018.
Please sign up for email alerts here. The 2016 and 2017 VOTER Surveys and reports were made possible by a grant from Democracy Fund to the Ethics and Public Policy Center to conduct new research about changing trends among the American electorate.
VOTER Survey Methodology Summary
In partnership with the survey firm YouGov, the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group commissioned the 2016 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) of 8,000 adults who had participated in similar surveys in 2011 and 2012. The Voter Study Group then interviewed 5,000 of the same respondents between July 13-24, 2017 to explore how voters’ opinions may have changed—or how they did not change at all. A complete 2017 survey methodology is available here.
About the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC)
Founded in 1976 by Dr. Ernest W. Lefever, the Ethics and Public Policy Center is Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy. From the Cold War to the war on terrorism, from disputes over the role of religion in public life to battles over the nature of the family, EPPC and its scholars have consistently sought to defend and promote our nation’s founding principles—respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, individual freedom and responsibility, justice, the rule of law, and limited government.
About the Democracy Fund
The Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $70 million in support of a healthy democracy, including modern elections, effective governance, and a vibrant public square.