You are here: Home / News & Events / Archived News

Archived News

Commentary: Voters not showing much pride in Clinton, Trump

Oct 07, 2016

Originally Posted: July 30, 2016

With Hillary Clinton accepting the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia this week, we might expect that Americans, and especially women, are taking pride in her historic achievement as the first woman to lead a major party ticket. That is certainly what happened in 2008 when Americans of all stripes expressed pride that the nation had nominated its first African American candidate.

Even if they did not support Barack Obama, many Americans recognized the historic nature of the election. However, a recent Mood of the Nation Poll by Penn State's McCourtney Institute for Democracy shows that going into the Democratic convention, this was not the case.

The scientific poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans. It allowed ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds without restricting them to a small number of predetermined answers.

Some Clinton supporters tied the pride they have in their party directly to the historic nature of her campaign. "I am proud that we have a black president," said a 48-year-old woman from Illinois, "and I am proud that our next president will most likely be a woman." However, these and similar statements were somewhat unusual.

Our results show that a significant majority of Americans are not particularly proud of either candidate. Rather, many expressed disappointment in both of them. As one 77-year-old woman from California put it, there was "not much" that made her hopeful about politics, but she was ashamed that "we have to choose between Clinton and Trump." Overall, fewer than 5 percent of our sample took pride in either Donald Trump or Clinton.

We did find that Clinton is much less likely to be viewed negatively than Trump: He was more likely to be mentioned in reference to what makes people angry, ashamed, or worried than Clinton. As one 30-year-old African American man, who identifies as an independent, said when asked what he was ashamed of in American politics, "Donald Trump and his buffoonery."

However, given the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy, it is striking that not only are Americans not feeling pride in that milestone, but they are also far more likely to be hopeful about Trump than about her. One Trump supporter, a 39-year-old man who also identifies as an independent, referred to the candidate as "a true American stepping into the world of politics to save our nation from the corrupt politicians and Obama the Terrible!" This finding is evidence of the polarizing nature of Trump's candidacy - nobody is ambivalent about him. But where is the pride and hope around Clinton's history-making campaign?

We might expect that Clinton is at least generating positive emotions among women. But again, we see little evidence of this. More typical were the sentiments of a 41-year-old woman from California who, when asked what made her angry in American politics, responded, "I am angry that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. I get angry every time I hear him speak, and I can't believe he has gotten this far in the presidential race." Women are supporting Clinton because of their strong distaste for Trump, not their pride and hope in Clinton herself.

Certainly one goal of Democrats this week was to emphasize the historic nature of Clinton's nomination. Another goal will be to make sure that this message is conveyed to men and women, young and old. If they are successful, we should see it reflected in our next poll that more people - women in particular - are taking pride and seeing hope in Clinton's historic campaign.

Michael Berkman is a professor of political science at Penn State.

Christopher Beem is the managing director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy at Penn State.

Poll reveals 3 types of Independents

Oct 07, 2016

MID director Michael Berkman delves into McCourtney Poll data to describe three kinds of independents, and to outline the impact they are likely to make in the upcoming presidential election

Aug 29, 2016

Poll reveals 3 types of Independents


          Editor’s note: The Focus on Research column highlights different research projects and topics being explored at Penn State. Each column will feature the work of a different researcher from across all disciplines.

Political conventions focus attention on strong partisans. But not all Americans call themselves Democrats or Republicans, or for that matter Libertarians or Greens. Many prefer to think of themselves as Independents.

With the McCourtney “Mood of the Nation Poll,” we can look at these Independents in a unique way. The poll is a scientific survey that allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds, without being restricted to a small number of predetermined answers. It also includes standard polling questions such as party identification, allowing us to see who these independents are and what are they thinking about this campaign. The most recent poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15-22.

Determining who is an Independent is not straightforward. CNN, in its post-convention survey, reports that “28 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent described themselves as Republicans, and 48 percent described themselves as independents or members of another party.” This is not far from our survey. Our breakdown shows a greater number of Independents (35 percent) than Republicans or Democrats.

That’s a lot of Independents. But when we dig deeper, we find that they’re not all the same. There are actually three groups of independents: Those who lean Democratic, those who lean Republican and what we might call “pure” Independents.

Leaners tend to vote as a partisan but do not necessarily want to call themselves one. For example, in our poll, 10 percent of the population calls itself Independent, but support Hillary Clinton at roughly the same rate as Democrats (this is before the convention), while they are even less supportive of Donald Trump then those who call themselves Democrats. The same is true among Republican-leaning Independents. They support Trump in even greater numbers than pure Republicans, and Clinton even less so.

Once we remove the leaners there are actually fewer than 20 percent of the population who we can call true Independents. This group is still in play, and important for creating a winning majority. What do we know about them?

Based on our data we can conclude the following:

▪ Relative to partisans and partisan leaners, true Independents are more likely to call themselves moderate. As the parties have polarized and sorted themselves into ideological camps, pure Independents are likely uncomfortable in either party.

▪ They are younger than either party. Absent a long voting history, these younger voters have not yet found a partisan identity, and perhaps never will.

▪ They are less politically engaged: True Independents are less likely to be registered to vote (and therefore less likely to vote), and they acknowledge paying less attention to the news.

But our open-ended questions allow us to go deeper. In particular, we asked them what, if anything, made them hopeful about American politics, and what made them angry. Their answers suggest they are greatly hostile toward contemporary American politics, and they have little hope that this election will improve things.

When asked what they were angry about, pure Independents were most likely to answer simply “everything.” But after that, they go through a series of responses that suggest disillusionment with politics. Close to half of them (47 percent) gave an answer that suggested anger with politicians or the system.

They think the system is rigged, they consider politicians to be liars who break promises, and they are angry about what they see as bickering and fighting among politicians.

These quotes were typical of the Independents we surveyed:

▪ A 52 year-old woman and self-described “homekeeper” from Minnesota who pays little attention to politics and who is not registered to vote wrote: “Nobody really listens they say what they think you want to hear and make promises they can’t keep. They need to remember everyone has to work together to get things done and they can’t make a blanket statement to try to cover everything, they have to work ach (sic) problem out and know they are doing the best they can.”

▪ A 62 year-old retired man from California who pays attention to politics “some of the time,” calls himself liberal and who is registered to vote wrote: “I hate it when they reveal each other’s dirty laundry, especially when they all are guilty of lying, and not living up to their promises.”

Given Independents’ hostility to politics, they seem like they could be ripe for the picking by the Trump campaign. His is an “outsider” campaign that regularly disparages traditional politics, and Clinton is a long-standing practitioner. Our latest poll shows that Trump is leading in this group.

On the other hand, these pure Independents hold out very little hope for American politics. Unlike partisans — who can point with some hope to their party’s candidate winning — when we asked pure Independents what they were hopeful about, a whopping 61 percent said “nothing.” Given that fewer Independents are registered and many do not pay attention to politics, they are far from a sure bet.

As the election proceeds, we will continue to track this group, and see whether either campaign can address their concerns about a system that is corrupt and not working, and break through their prevailing sense of hopelessness.


Michael Berkman is director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and a professor of political science.

Reception and Lecture at the National Press Club in Washington DC

Sep 13, 2016

Penn State's McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Center for American Political Responsiveness will host a reception and lecture on Tuesday, September 20th at the National Press Club in Washington DC. The event will feature a presentation from Jennifer Lawless of American University. Her talk will reference her research—and latest book—on young people and their reluctance to run for office. Please RSVP to if you are interested in attending.

CAPR Professor Eric Plutzer in the News: Survey Shows Science Teachers Struggle to Teach Climate Change

Mar 10, 2016

CAPR Professor Eric Plutzer recently released his survey findings that science teachers are struggling to adequately cover the topic of climate change. He and his colleagues found that only about 30 percent of middle and high school teachers are teaching that climate change is happening and has mostly been caused by humans. This leaves students misinformed about the strong scientific consensus on climate change. "I think the message that students take away is that this is unsettled, that this is a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the details of evidence are not being presented in a way that is consistent with the scientific record,” Plutzer said.

These findings were highlighted in a number of newspaper outlets, including The New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and The Washington Post, as well as being featured on NPR's All Things Considered podcast.


Announcing the Fifth Annual CAPR Mini- Conference: Activism and American Political Parties

Jan 02, 2016

We are pleased to announce our fifth annual mini-conference centered on the theme Activism and American Political Parties.  With the 2016 Elections dominated by large personalities, it is easy to forget the context that the candidates campaign in, like the emergence of Black Lives Matters, increasing salience of immigration, and heightened rhetoric on issues like gun violence. The 2016 CAPR Conference focuses in on these issues and the ever-evolving role of political parties as they frame campaigns and elections. 

The conference will begin on February 26th at 4:00 p.m. with a public keynote address by Dr. David Karol, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.  He will speak on the current status of the 2016 presidential campaigns with his talk entitled "Parties, Activists and Presidential Nominations: 2016 in Perspective." This event will be held in Foster auditorium and is free and open to the public.

We will continue the discussion on activism and parties on Saturday starting at 8:45 a.m. in 302 Pond Laboratory. Speakers include; Dr. Michael Heaney (University of Michigan), Dr. Ricardo Ramirez (Notre Dame), Dr. Kristin Goss (Duke University), and Dr. Lee Ann Banaszak, Head of the Department of Political Science at Penn State.

To RSVP to Saturday's conference, please contact Amanda Parks at

CAPR to host special event in Washington D.C.

Oct 06, 2015

The Center for American Political Responsiveness invites you to a special presentation in Washington D.C at the University of California, Washington Center. Dr. Darrell West will present on "Wealth and Democracy in American Elections." Dr. West is the Douglas Dillon chair of governance studies at the Brookings Institute and author of Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust.

The event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by presentation and Q&A at 6:30 p.m.. Please RSVP by October 13th to Amanda Parks at

CAPR Professors publish in Washington Post: "Why Science Professors Sow Doubt about Evolution (even when they don't mean to)"

Feb 24, 2015

Dr. Michael Berkman, CAPR director, and Dr. Eric Plutzer wrote about their recent research on evolution in the classroom in the Washington Post's political blog, The Monkey Cage.

In surveys and a series of focus groups with future science teachers (college students) they address a series of crucial questions, including:

How is it possible that young people who major in a scientific field and desire to be science educators lack confidence in their understanding of a central principle of modern biology? Where do teachers develop their belief that they are obligated to be “fair” to nonscientific accounts of creation? And how critical is personal faith in the development of the pedagogical choices that they will make over many years in the classroom?

For more, read the entire article here.

Research by CAPR Professor featured on NPR's Morning Edition

Nov 03, 2014

Professor Peter Hatemi's article in the September 2014  edition of the American Journal of Political Science was featured on NPR's weekend edition.  Find the full story here.

CAPR Professor Will Give Live Election Updates on WPSU

Oct 31, 2014

Dr. Michael Berkmann will join the WPSU news team for live updates on Election Night. Listen to his expert analysis of the election results on 91.5 or go the WPSU homepage here to listen online.

CAPR sponsors Pre-Election Event in Washington D.C.

Oct 12, 2014

This year CAPR is sponsoring it's first pre-election event. Thomas Mann, the W. Averall Harriman Chair and Brookings Institution Fellow, will be giving a talk titled, "Why is Our Politics and Governance So Dysfunctional? Is There a Way Out of this Mess?" The event will be held at the University of California Washington Center (1608 Rhode Island Avenue, NW). Cocktails and light appetizers will be served at 6:30pm and the presentation and Q&A will start at 7:15pm.

Please RSVP to Amanda Parks by October 21st -

Find out more about Dr. Thomas Mann here.