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May 22, 2014| WAMC

By Jim Levulis

A recent national poll looked at how young people will affect the midterm elections.

Pollster Harstad Strategic Research used a diverse sampling of more than 2,000 registered and nonregistered voters 18 to 30 years old. They represent 38 million registered voters of that age. Paul Harstad is a lead pollster for the research group that has polled for President Barack Obama since 2002, when the Democrat was an Illinois state senator considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

“We asked about the 2016 election for President…55 percent of all millenials say ‘I am definitely going to vote’.” Harstad explained. “But if you look at 2014, only 28 percent say ‘I’m definitely going to vote for Congress.’ That points out what is admittedly a real challenge for Democrats this election year, but also what is a real opportunity.”

Of those polled, 56 percent said they supported President Obama in the previous election compared to 29 percent for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, even if they didn’t vote. Also, when asked how they would vote in November’s midterm elections for Congress, 42 percent said Democrat, 27 percent Republican. Participants were also asked their stance on 20 issues ranging from global warming to gay marriage. The numbers show young voters lean to the left on the issues, but Democrats do not enjoy the corresponding voter support, according to Harstad.

“Democrats are underperforming two ways,” Harstad said. “If 72 percent of voters think government should be more involved and 71 percent on average take a progressive stand on these issues and Democrats are at 44 or 46 percent vote and ID, they’re underperforming. They’re underperforming in terms of their potential on a substantive level and they are underperforming in midterm elections in terms of turnout.”

Alexandra Acker-Lyons is the director of the Youth Engagement Fund. She says millenials are key as they will represent one-third of the electorate in 2020, but as a voter population cannot be placed in a single category.

“I think a lot of people tend to associate young voters with a young person who is attending college full-time at a four-year university,” Acker-Lyons said. “Essentially that’s only 25 percent of 18-24 year-olds and a much lower percent of 18-30 year-olds overall. So we are really looking at full time students, part-time students who are attending community college and working multiple jobs, young people with families and young people with incredibly varied economic situations.”

The pollsters found young people remain relatively optimistic about their futures and ability to make an impact, but only 70 percent are registered to vote. Of those not registered, 25 percent said it’s because they are disengaged while one-third are skeptical about the voting process. Jill Hanauer is president of Project New America. Because people tend to become more politically active as they age, she says those not yet 18 represent a key electorate population.

“Looking at the next generation of voters, those who are 16 and 17 who vote for the first time either in 2014 or 2016 and making sure that they develop voting habits that they’re going to carry through their life,” Hanauer said. “It’s really critical because they are more disillusioned and a little less confident in what’s going to be available to them economically and education-wise. So if we don’t understand that group versus the older group it’s really not to a party’s peril, but to the democratic process’ peril.”

May 22, 2014| Huffington Post

Jill Hanauer

Co-authored by Paul Harstad and Michael Kulisheck of Harstad Strategic Research and Alexandra Acker-Lyons of the Youth Engagement Fund.

Every generation experiences fundamental shifts, culturally, politically and socially from its predecessors. But we believe the Millennial generation (18-31 year-olds for the purposes of this post) has been especially marked by upheaval and the pace of change.

Think for a moment about what has happened as this generation has grown up. One of their earliest memories of significance beyond the safety and familiarity of their own backyards was 9/11. Younger Millennials, often described as "digital natives," think of landlines the way baby boomers think of telephone party lines. Their technological sophistication and expectations of technology are changing by the month if not quicker. Culturally they are color-blind when it comes to ethnicity and sexual orientation is an equally irrelevant distinction. In fact, it is shocking to them that laws would discriminate against anyone due to race, sexual orientation, or gender. Their view of government is somewhat conflicted, and two of their most urgent issues of concern are climate change and gun violence, both in which they feel personally invested and not just from an abstract policy perspective.

Beltway elites simply don't understand Millennials. They nurture a dismissive conventional wisdom that suggests conservatives can ignore their well-documented problems with young voters because they vote less frequently than the GOP's older, whiter, more conservative base. However, according to new data released last week by Harstad Strategic Research on behalf of the Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America, Millennial voters may dramatically shape the 2014 election -- just as they did in 2008 and 2012. The key contrast is with the 2010 conservative landslide, where only 24 percent of all registered Millennials cast a ballot. In the four years since, the number of Millennials registered to vote has nearly doubled to more than 37 million, with millions more on track to register by November.

According to the very same research, 28 percent of all young people are likely to vote in November. Looking just at Millennials who supported President Obama in 2012, 30 percent will likely vote and another 20 percent will be turnout targets. Those percentages may seem small, but when you consider the number of registered young voters -- some 40 million -- will be nearly double that of registered young voters in 2010, it is no exaggeration to suggest Millennials will be the deciding factor in dozens of hotly contested races this fall.

Our survey has given us a deeper understanding of Millennials' values, the issues they care most about in American political life, how they consume media, and who they trust. This body of work allowed us to look at different age cohorts, socio-economic factors and geographic differences. Our goal was two-fold: first, to understand Millennials in order to design strategies that will engage them in the electoral process which is imperative to keep our democracy healthy and second, to guide progressive institutions and candidates in their understanding of this critical community.

In short, we find that Democrats have great potential among Millennials this November and in the 2016 election for president. Our survey of more than two thousand Millennials finds overwhelming support for a host of progressive policy prescriptions as well as significant commitment to core progressive values. In the right campaign, there is broad issue and values synergy between Democrats and Millennials that can be converted into votes.

The challenge facing Democrats in 2014 is how to use these shared issue stands and values to communicate and motivate Millennials. To turnout Millennials, Democrats must sharpen the contrast between candidates and clarify the policy consequences facing young Americans at the ballot box this November when they choose between Democrats and Republicans.

Yes, Millennials share progressive values and are more likely to support Democratic candidates. But what good are such truths if these critical young voters stay home on Election Day?

Progressive Values

Millennials say that progressive values are important given the challenges we face as a country. In fact, a lopsided 69 percent of Millennials say that the progressive values of equality, opportunity, and fairness are important values these days. At the same time, only 43 percent of Millennials say more conservative values like personal responsibility and accountability are most important for America now.

Democratic plans and explanations for moving America forward naturally build on values like equality, fairness, and opportunity. Whether talking about education, jobs, or fiscal issues, Democrats naturally weave talk of these values through their public narratives. Even on issues such as outsourcing jobs, untapped industrial carbon pollution, and excessive tax loopholes for the rich and big corporations, Democrats can easily embed responsibility and accountability into their messages.

The preference of Millennials for progressive values put Republicans at a substantial disadvantage when it comes to reaching these young Americans. If honestly appraised, even the most conservative message guru would admit the Republican agenda is not easily - or convincingly - explained in terms of equality, fairness, or even broad-based opportunity. Indeed, on most policies, the GOP priorities are at odds with all five of these top values.

Progressive Issues

On issue after issue, Millennials are decidedly progressive. This issues-based advantage extends across party identification to include Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents. For Democrats to capitalize on these lopsided issue advantages among Millennials, they must first explain the differences between the parties and educate young people about the detrimental real-world implications of Republican policy stands:   

  • Millennials overwhelmingly favor Democratic stands on economic issues like equal pay for women, student loan debt rates, tax fairness, and raising the minimum wage. Republicans have voted time and again against these issues, and in the process they have put themselves at odds with large swaths of Millennials.
  • On forward looking and future-oriented issues like public education, climate change, and corporate money in campaigns, Millennials also exhibit clear preferences for Democratic stands. Republicans across the country are clearly out-of-step with Millennials on these issues. Whereas Millennials want to see action on the issues that will define our times, Republicans largely deny the scientific reality of climate change, actively promote the involvement of big corporations in elections, and undermine our public schools.
  • Millennials are out front leading the nation on social issues like gun safety, marriage equality, and reproductive freedom. Their progressive stands on these issues sets them apart from Republicans who are unabashed advocates for reactionary -- and in some cases hurtful -- policy positions on these issues.

In fact, a stunning 93 percent of Millennials favor at least one of these three progressive social issues (gun background checks, marriage equality, and reproductive freedom), 75 percent favor at least two, and a 51 percent majority of Millennials favor all three. While Democrats are standing with Millennials on these social issues, the official Republican position is to oppose all three -- a position held by only 7 percent of Millennials.

The reality is that many Millennials don't know their issue preferences and priorities actually align closely with Democrats. With the right messaging and outreach, Democrats can convert Millennials from passive supporters into active voters.

Millennials Lean Decidedly Democratic

Not surprisingly given their values and issue preferences, Millennials start off much more open to supporting Democrats than Republicans. This Democratic advantage emerges in terms of 2012 support for President Obama, the 2014 generic vote for Congress, and in party identification. In each of these cases, Millennials prefer the Democrat to the Republican by high double digits.

In 2012, when they had a clear choice between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, Millennials backed President Obama by 27 points (56 percent to 29 percent).
The choice in 2014 is not as clear as it was two years ago. Nonetheless, the Democratic lead over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot among Millennials is still 15 points (42 percent to 27 percent).

Overall, Democrats have an 18-point party identification advantage over Republicans among Millennials (44 percent to 26 percent). Importantly, the 19 percent of Millennials who say they are Independent or have no party are not conservative or easily swayed by Republicans. In fact, 71 percent of Independent Millennials say progressive values are important for the country and 85 percent say they are moderate or liberal/progressive.

2014 and Beyond

Countering much conventional wisdom and beltway pontificating, findings from our Millennials survey reveal the degree to which many young voters continue to offer significant electoral opportunities for Democrats and for policy advocates on a host of progressive issues if they are engaged in a sustainable way. That said, Millennials should not be taken for granted. They will not turnout this year in the numbers Democrats want (or need) without a serious investment in outreach programs. But given the natural convergence of interests between Millennials and Democrats, a strategic and data-driven messaging and get-out-the-vote plan has the potential to pay big dividends and make the difference for Democrats in November.

Such efforts to engage, motivate, and turn out Millennials in 2014 will profoundly impact the 2016 election and beyond. As the Millennial electorate swells in the years to come and progressive young adults choose the party that best shares their values and issue stands, these young Americans become more participatory in the democratic process and more loyal to the Democratic Party. Such forces will shape not only their generation but also America's agenda and future.


Harstad Strategic Research has polled for President Barack Obama since 2002 -- including his primary wins in Illinois in 2004 and in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and 8 battleground states. The firm has won 14 of its last 16 U.S. Senate races -- winning in both good and bad years for Democrats. Harstad has also been victorious in 15 of its last 16 statewide campaigns for ballot measures.

The Youth Engagement Fund is a collaborative effort of individual and institutional funders to build 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 capacity and infrastructure in the youth civic engagement sector. It works with a diverse network of more than 80 national, state, and local organizations and provides shared resources and direct funding to support the most impactful young voter mobilization efforts.

Project New America (PNA) is a private company that provides candidates, advocacy organizations, policy advocates, and civic engagement stakeholders with the cutting edge tools and strategies needed to understand and communicate with a rapidly changing America.

May 15, 2014| The Hill

One in 4 young adults definitely plans to vote in the midterm elections, according to a new survey that highlights the drop-off in the youth vote during non-presidential years.

Twenty-eight percent of people aged 18–31 said they would definitely vote in the 2014 midterm elections, according to a survey conducted by Democratic pollster Harstad Strategic Research for the groups Project New America and the Youth Engagement Fund.

Another 21 percent said they would probably vote, while 20 percent said it was 50-50. Twenty-four percent of young adults said they would likely not vote.

On the other hand, 55 percent said they would definitely vote in the 2016 presidential race, more than two years away, a difference of 17 percentage points.

The results reflect past exit polls and other recent surveys. While voters aged 18–29 made up 18–19 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 2012, they made up 11 percent of the total in the 2010 midterms.

The drop-off rate has the largest effect on Democrats, whom young people support overwhelmingly. Sixty percent voted for President Obama in 2012, according to exit polls. During fundraisers around the country, Obama has continuously lamented the drop-off in Democratic constituencies during midterm election years.

Young adults said they would most be persuaded to vote for a member of Congress if that candidate shared their views on student loans. The poll tested the question by asking people how persuadable certain positions would be in determining their vote on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being extremely persuasive.

Fifty-nine percent picked a number from seven to 10 when asked about the issue of student loans.

Others issues that ranked high on the list included background checks for gun owners, investment in jobs and creating economic opportunity.

The healthcare reform law and combating gridlock in Washington rated lowest on a list of 13 issues that could potentially persuade young voters.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they identify with the Democratic Party, while 26 percent identify more with the GOP. Nineteen percent identify with no party, while 11 named a third party.

Seventy percent said they were currently registered to vote.

Young people rate their biggest concern as finding a good job. Thirty-nine percent said they believe they will be better off than their parents, while 21 percent said they would be worse off. Four in 10 predicted they would be about the same.

While 87 percent agree with the statement "it's up to me if I succeed or fail," 71 percent also think the system is rigged in favor of the rich.

The poll surveyed 2,004 people aged 18–31 from March 30 to April 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Read more:

May 15, 2014| By:

New Poll Looks at Millennials, Where They Stand, Why They Vote, and Why They Won’t If Progressives Don’t Get Busy

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, during a briefing with national media, the Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America released results from an extensive national survey of Millennials conducted by respected pollster Harstad Strategic Research. The survey’s findings make one point abundantly clear: if progressives have any hope of stopping conservatives in 2014, they must engage, inspire, and turn out more Millennial voters. In other words, the fate of the U.S. Senate majority and dozens of hotly contested races up and down the ballot rests with Millennials.

"If progressives are going to win in November, they must increase turn out by Millennials. It doesn’t get any simpler than that," said Youth Engagement Fund director Alexandra Acker-Lyons. She continued, "On issue after issue, Millennials favor progressive solutions by wide margins – especially when it comes to economic opportunity and pocketbook security."

"The fate of the Senate majority and dozens of other close races could be in jeopardy if we fail to take the clear path this survey presents," said Project New America president Jill Hanauer. She continued, "Increased Millennial turnout can help progressives defy the odds in this difficult midterm environment when turnout drops across the board."

Dozens of organizations across the country are already putting the survey’s findings to work, helping to motivate Millennials and expand their influence in the pivotal midterm election. They have already begun targeting Millennials that are least likely to vote with messages that stress the importance of issues these young Americans care about most.

"It makes sense that Millennials care deeply about pocketbook issues like making student loans affordable and investing in good jobs," said Rock The Vote’s new president Ashley Spillane. "This poll underscores how important it is for both sides – Republicans and Democrats – to address the issues young people care about and inspire them to turn out and vote. Every time a Millennial votes, they are more and more likely to become lifetime participants in our democracy."

Harstad Strategic Research has polled for President Barack Obama since 2002 -- including his primary wins in Illinois in 2004 and in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and 8 battleground states. The firm has won 14 of its last 16 U.S. Senate races -- winning in both good and bad years for Democrats. Harstad has also been victorious in 15 of its last 16 statewide campaigns for ballot measures. Dr. Mike Kulisheck and Paul Harstad conducted this Millennials survey for Project New America and Youth Engagement Fund.

The Youth Engagement Fund is a collaborative effort of individual and institutional funders to build 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 capacity and infrastructure in the youth civic engagement sector. It works with a diverse network of over 80 national, state, and local organizations and provides shared resources and direct funding to support the most impactful young voter mobilization efforts.

Project New America (PNA) is a private company that provides candidates, advocacy organizations, policy advocates, Democratic Party committees, and civic engagement stakeholders with the cutting edge tools and strategies needed to understand and communicate with a rapidly changing America.

Polling Topline Survey – Click Here to Download PDF
Polling Presentation Deck – Click Here to Download PDF

If you’d like to discuss the survey and what organizations are doing to act on its findings, contact Karl Frisch at or 202-681-5275.

Mar 20, 2014| By:

Technology, Turnout and Trust: Understanding the 2012 Election

In 2012, Project New America worked with a broad range of clients to create successful strategies based on cutting-edge research technology. Here are a few highlights:

Technology:  Any successful strategy begins with a strong plan based on real world data. Our opinion research created new insights to understand the rapidly changing electorate. We made it a priority to include “cellphone-only” households in our surveys to properly represent young voters and communities of color, who made the difference for Obama in key battlegrounds. Republican pollsters have pointed to a shortage of cell phone interviews to explain some of their inaccurate polls in 2012.

Turnout:  Building off successful efforts in close races in 2010, PNA conducted in-depth research throughout the cycle to increase voter turnout using individual level targeting among key voters. Although communities of color are growing as a percentage of the population, the Romney campaign bet on these groups staying home in 2012. Their belief was based on an erroneous assumption that these voters would be unenthusiastic about voting for President Obama, but also by widespread efforts around the country to make voting more difficult. Voter turnout data and post-election anecdotes confirmed what PNA research had shown for months: voter suppression backfired on the GOP.

Trust:  In most elections, there is usually only a tiny universe of “swing voter” who may be persuadable. Our research helped SEIU and Priorities USA identify the most effective ways to communicate with persuadable Hispanic voters in Colorado, Florida and Nevada – helping boost Obama to record performance and turnout. Separately, prior to the first Presidential debate, PNA surveyed over 5,000 voters to understand the tiny segment who were undecided. This survey shattered several common myths about these “Undecideds” by identifying the cross-pressure between their disappointment with the economic situation and their distrust of Mitt Romney. This trend was confirmed in tracking polling that PNA conducted in battleground states through the final three weeks of the campaign. The clear theme is that Romney's personal background and political positions gave voters serious pause, which the Obama campaign and outside groups effectively exploited.

As the tactics of message delivery evolve with changing technologies and demographics, PNA will remain at the forefront of innovative political and issue-based research. We will continue to provide our clients with the strategic guidance to produce winning results.

Jan 29, 2014| Huffington Post

Activists will be pushing legalization ballot measures in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana and Nevada. Already, they are making an offer to political candidates: Embrace legalized pot and win over a chunk of the youth vote, or else. Some Democrats, meanwhile, are taking another lesson from Colorado and Washington: In 2012, marijuana got a greater percentage of the vote in both states than Obama.

Jun 25, 2013| The Atlantic

In 2000, a national Democratic consultant named Jill Hanauer moved to Colorado and decided the West was ripe for political change. After helping Democrats take the Colorado legislature in 2004, in 2007 she started a company called Project New West to help other Democrats in a region where demographic changes and the Republican Party's shift to the right had altered the political equation.

Since the days of Arizonan Barry Goldwater, the Southwest had been solidly Republican. But that changed in the last decade. Western Democrats like Brian Schweitzer and Harry Reid won by emphasizing quality-of-life issues like education and the environment, neutralizing the culture war (often by professing love for the Second Amendment), and mobilizing the growing Hispanic vote. Far-right Republicans like former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo helped Western Democrats make the case to moderate suburbanites that the GOP had gone off the ideological deep end. Now, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado have voted Democratic in two straight presidential elections, and the party has even managed to win statewide elections in Montana and Arizona.

Jun 10, 2013| By:

Last week, a handful of county elected officials went public with a plan to secede from the state of Colorado, citing concerns about several recent changes to state gun laws.

PNA is releasing data today that confirms these county commissioners are out of touch with the attitudes of rural voters on gun issues.

Voters across the state overwhelmingly support several new laws and policies that will keep guns away from criminals, domestic violence offenders, and the mentally ill – whether they are in CO’s 53 rural counties, in the four Front Range suburban/ex-urban counties, or in Denver metro.

Voters statewide in Florida and in key swing congressional districts are strongly supportive of immigration reform and are more likely to support a political candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship, findings from five new polls show.

Project New America partnered with Public Policy Polling to conduct a statewide survey in Florida from April 26-29 while simultaneously running the same survey in the districts of key Representatives: Daniel Webster FL-10, Gus Bilirakis FL-12, Dennis Ross FL-15 and Tom Rooney FL-17.

PNA President Jill Hanauer: "These polls make it clear that Florida voters want immigration reform to be passed in 2013 and that solid majorities favor a pathway to citizenship. There will be electoral consequences for politicians who vote the wrong way on an immigration deal."

Apr 17, 2013| By:

Voters in Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio are more likely to vote for their US Senator if their Senator votes in favor of requiring background checks at gun shows, according to comprehensive new polls from Project New America (PNA).

This data shows there is also a break between GOP voters and the party’s political leadership on this issue. In all seven states, majorities of GOP voters favor background checks. And background checks are supported by voters who view the NRA favorably in every state. “We’ve seen strong nationwide numbers on background checks for years. This data shows that in key Senate swing states, voters overwhelmingly support expanding background checks,” said PNA President Jill Hanauer. "We are seeing Washington DC finally catching up with the American public on the issue of background checks."

Between Thursday and Sunday, PNA interviewed over 5,000 Americans in some of the most conservative, rural states with high rates of gun ownership and US Senators from both parties that have strong ratings from the NRA. After recent announcements of support from Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kay Hagan (D-NC), this data suggests that voters in these states agree.

Working with noted pollster Anzalone Grove Liszt Research, PNA surveyed two of the key Democratic Senate seats up in 2014 – Arkansas and North Carolina.  PNA also surveyed five of the moderate Republican senate seats in Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Ohio with Public Policy Polling.

This set of polls represents the largest dataset of opinion research in these key Senate seats – and clear evidence that the new bipartisan agreement for background checks has strong public support.

Interesting State Datapoints - More Available In State Memos:

In North Carolina, 69% of Independent voters favor expanding checks. And 48% are more likely to vote for their US Senator if their Senator votes in favor, compared to only 25% less likely to support.

In Maine, 90% of women support background checks. And 76% are more likely to vote for their US Senator if their Senator votes in favor, compared to only 14% less likely.

In Arkansas, 62% of GOP voters favor background checks with even higher support from Democrats and Independents. And 45% of GOP voters say they would be more likely to vote for their US Senator if their Senator votes in favor while only 35% say less likely.

In Ohio, 85% of African Americans, 66% of Hispanics and 57% of white voters favor background checks. All three groups are 60% or more likely to support their US Senator if their Senator votes in favor.

David Winkler, PNA’s Research Director, said: “Looking to 2014 and beyond, the GOP leadership should note that key voters they need to win strongly support this measure – especially women, independents and even gun owners.”

“There is no grey area here. Voters in these states overwhelmingly support strengthening background checks at gun shows and want their senators to vote to expand them. Regardless of party, or whether they own a gun or not, these voters support expanding background checks,” said pollster John Anzalone.

State Poll Methodology is attached to each memo.
Project New America (PNA) is a private company that provides candidates, advocacy organizations, and civic engagement stakeholders the tools and strategies to understand and communicate with rapidly changing America.

Anzalone Liszt Grove Research is widely recognized as one of the premier survey research firms in the country. It polled in nine states for the Obama campaign, including the critical states of Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia. It also has had a depth of success electing Democrats in tough states and districts, winning more Republican-held seats at the federal level over the past four cycles than any other polling firm. And New York Times columnist and polling guru, Nate Silver, recently dubbed it one of the three most accurate pollsters in America.

Over the last 5 years, Public Policy Polling (PPP) has built a reputation as one of the most accurate polling companies in the country. In 2012 it was the only public polling company to correctly predict the winner of every swing state in the Presidential race, and a Fordham University study ranked it as having the most accurate national polling as well. In 2010 PPP was the first polling company to pick up on the shocking victories of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race and Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Republican Senate primary, and in 2008 the Wall Street Journal ranked PPP as one of the two most accurate swing state polling companies in the country.


Project New America