Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences National Center for Suburban Studies Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of American Presidency Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs Political Science Top Stories

New Poll: Suburban Swing Voters Critical in 2016 Race

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Eleven percent of suburban Americans would stay home or vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump if the presidential election were held today – about double the number that expressed similar sentiments about President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney in June 2012, a new National Suburban Poll has found.

In fact, the most popular candidate among suburbanites this year is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Forty-eight percent of suburban voters reported having a favorable opinion of Sanders, compared to 36 percent for Clinton and 38 percent for Trump, according to the ninth poll by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University®.

But in a reflection of the unsettled, polarizing nature of the 2016 presidential race, nearly as many suburban voters – 43 percent – reported an unfavorable opinion of Sanders, who remains in the race although Clinton has secured enough pledged delegates to win the nomination at next months’ Democratic convention.

Clinton and Trump, the presumptive nominees, are in a dead-heat among all registered voters, 46 percent to 45 percent, according to the poll. Trump has a clear edge among suburban voters, but Clinton’s advantage among urban voters is even larger.

Yet, while suburban Americans appear sharply split and dissatisfied about their choices for president, they are unambiguous in their increasing support for immigration reform, and in their optimism about a variety of economic indicators.

Thirty-one percent say they favor a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, up five percent from 2014. And nearly half – 47 percent – report that their personal finances are good or excellent, compared to 41 percent two years ago, the poll found.

Also, two-thirds say home prices have risen in their neighborhood over the past year, and 29 percent believe local unemployment is not a problem. That’s an increase of 23 percent and 11 percent over 2014, respectively.

“For years, suburbanites felt the sting of the recession, of unemployment and foreclosure, and wanted politicians to talk about jobs,” said Christopher Niedt, academic director of the suburban studies center and an associate professor of sociology. “This year, they’re feeling a bit more upbeat about the economy, and want their leaders to talk about immigration and education instead. But as optimistic as they are about the economy, they’re pessimistic and uncommitted in their choices for president.”

The poll is being released today at a conference on suburban politics and policy, organized by Hofstra University and George Mason University and held at Mason’s Arlington, Va., campus. The conference, “The Shifting Politics of U.S. Suburbs: Parties, Participation, and Public Opinion in 2016” features speakers and panels that will focus on issues of critical importance to suburban swing voters, and their preferenc

Said Craig Burnett, assistant professor of political science, who helped prepare and analyze the poll: “There are numerous echoes of unhappiness in the suburbs.  Many suburbanites are disappointed with their choices for president.  Many suburbanites are actively considering voting for a third party candidate or, more commonly, indicating they plan to stay home on Election Day.  The bulk of suburban voters will remain true to their party, however.  When the dust settles after this November’s election, our poll indicates we’re likely to see a mostly party-line vote, despite dissatisfaction with the choice at hand.”

This volatile combination of circumstances and candidates means suburban swing voters will play an even more critical role than they have in past election cycles, according to Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the NCSS.

“While this year has proved, big-time, that there are no sure bets in politics, the out-sized influence of suburban voters is the closest thing to it in presidential elections,” Levy said.

The Ninth National Suburban Poll, designed and executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI), is based on telephone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,508 adults, age 18 and older living in the continental US. The interviews, conducted between May 10-31, 2016. The poll oversampled adults living in suburban areas of the country. The margin of error for the total sample is 3.5 percent. The margin of error for suburbanites is 3.9 percent.

Among the other findings:

  • Three-quarters of all those polled support an increase in the federal minimum wage, 71 percent of suburban residents and 81 percent of city dwellers.
  • Two-thirds of suburban Americans says climate change is a problem, with 39% calling it a serious problem and 27% describing it as somewhat serious. Only 17% do not consider it to be a problem at all.
  • The country is divided when it comes to free trade agreements like NAFTA, and its impact on jobs. Forty percent of suburbanites think foreign trade is a good thing while an equal number have a negative view. Another 17% said they do not know enough to express an opinion.
  • While more suburbanites report their finances are good or excellent, 62 percent say they live paycheck-to-paycheck at least sometimes – about the same as 2008, when the suburban poll began.
  • Clinton leads 46%-45% among those suburbanites with a household income of $50,000 or less, but her faces a big deficit among white suburban voters in this income bracket, trailing Trump by almost 30 percent.

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