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Mood of the Nation Poll

Traditional polling forces citizens to place themselves into set categories, even on issues in which they are uninformed and uninterested. The McCourtney Mood of the Nation poll gives citizens a series of open-ended questions, allowing them to answer in their own words—saying what is on their minds, what is important to them, and thereby providing a unique window on contemporary American politics. 

New poll: only 3% of Trump voters regret their vote

Apr 28, 2017

Exerpt from the Washington Post -

Within weeks of the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media posts expressing voters’ second thoughts began trending. While some Donald Trump voters felt he was backtracking on initial hard-line positions, the Huffington Post and other websites reported on hashtags such as #Trumpgrets — used by voters irked that his campaign persona was not simply an act to win votes. A subsequent wave of regretful Trump voters tweeted about executive orders they perceived as misguided and dangerous.

Even more nuanced mainstream news stories included such headlines as “These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed” or comments that “a significant segment of Trump’s coalition is not entirely enchanted with his actions or public persona.”

In contrast, polls seem to suggest that the 45th president enjoys historically high approval ratings among members of his party. Other journalists report continuing enthusiasm from the small towns that delivered his strongest electoral support.

Read the full story here.

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.