Recap of Survey on Non-College Whites in Key 2016 States

ABOUT THE RESEARCH

From May through October 2017, Chism Strategies conducted a series of nine in-depth surveys to an audience of non-college voters across 15 states. The exodus of non-college educated whites that began in the 1980s reached an alarming level in 2016 — a 39% net advantage for Trump among non-college whites that was up 14% from the Romney margin over President Obama. And while some maintain that a path to the White House is possible without substantial support from non-college whites, no one disputes the importance of this demographic in key midterm races. Click here for more details.

Ten Democratic senators are up for re-election in 2018 in states where Trump won in 2016 and control of the House of Representatives could be decided in districts with large non-college white voter populations. Additionally, there are at least fteen states with potentially competitive gubernatorial elections.

MORAL FOUNDATIONS THEORY AND MESSAGING ABOUT DEMOCRATIC POLICIES 

In searching for ways to better message core Democratic beliefs to non-college whites, we chose to test Moral Foundations Theory, a relatively new construct in American politics. We measured whether framing traditional Democratic policies with specic appeals using the concepts of group loyalty, respect for authority to sanctity could increase support among non-college whites. 

According to Moral Foundations Theory, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to deal with problems within their groups as well as with competing groups. Over the centuries a basic set of moral principles emerged that were common to prospering groups. 

There are at least five moral foundations that functioning societies share. The are as listed below with their antithesis. CARE / HARM  ■ FAIRNESS / CHEATING  ■ LOYALTY / BETRAYAL  ■ AUTHORITY / SUBVERSION  ■ SANCTITY / DEGRADATION

Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations bind groups together for conict with other tribes. Care and Fairness foundations help with concerns for individuals within the tribe. Research suggests that liberals in the USA emphasize Care and Fairness more when making choices in politics, while conservatives are more likely to value In Group Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity foundations than liberals. 

LESSONS LEARNED

1. First, it is important to note that on a host of issues, regardless of the framing we used, non-college whites expressed support for the Democratic policy agenda, including pluralities of Republicans on issues like protecting health care and gun safety. While Republican messaging may be effective in twisting voters’ perception of these issues, the actual policies themselves are supported by these non-college educated white voters.

2. The more politically liberal the audience, the more effective the Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating message was on framing policy issues. This holds with what we would expect from Moral Foundations Theory.

3. In general, the conservative language message framing works better with non-college whites than does the liberal framing. There is little downside to using message framing that stresses one or more of the Loyalty/ Authority/Sanc- tity themes. Surprisingly, this language was most consis- tently effective in moving the needle among those with the strongest disapprovals of President Trump. There is little potential for backlash among liberal non-college whites who hear these Democratic messages wrapped in these Loyalty/Authority/Sanctity primers.

4. Those non-college whites with a strong allegiance to President Trump are extremely difficult to move on core Democratic policy issues, regardless of the framing. Mes- saging to this subset is fruitless.

5. In critiquing President Trump, we found that the modest gains among independents and soft Republicans produced by strong criticisms of the President were offset by a visceral reaction in the opposite direction among his strongest sup- porters. Almost nothing can move a strong Trump supporter to concur in a serious critique of the President.

6. Simpler messages were often the most effective. Among strong Republicans, one of our most effective messages was on the topic of gun control. We asked voters whether Congress should pass laws to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill in the wake of the shooting of Con- gressman Steve Scalise. While strong Republicans already said they would support such a measure by a large margin, by simply adding an introduction to the question stating that law enforcement groups (i.e., respected authority figures) supported these laws, we saw a 22-point swing in favor of such regulations. Similarly, we saw a16-point shift in opposition to the Republican health care plan in May simply by pointing out that it was opposed by the American Medical Association.

7. Asking the non-college whites to process multiple, interconnected arguments is difficult. In wave 6 of our surveys, we asked voters about climate change and compared two messages—a “care” message focused on climate change’s effect on the world’s poorest cit- izens and a “loyalty” message which emphasized how climate change could lead to greater political instability, putting the U.S. at greater risk of a terrorist attack. We found that the former message worked better than the latter with Republicans, we believe, because the mes- sage on terrorism was too complicated. Rather than an “If A, then B” message, it was an “If A, then B, and there- fore C, which leads to D” message, which seemed to have turned off many of these voters.

8. One must take care in criticizing the President. Many non-college whites are invested in the Trump Myth. Simple, concise criticisms of his actions work better than indictments of his character.

9. It helps to remember the world view of non-college whites. Most are wary of NAFTA and TPP and some are even isolationists. Even messages adorned with conservative framing on issues like trade will often fall on deaf ears.

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