Poll: Some Differences among Democrats on Economics, US Global Role as Convention Opens

July 25, 2016

A new Chicago Council Survey finds that most Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents have coalesced around Hillary Clinton. Yet intraparty differences remain – mainly in degree rather than direction – on certain national security issues such as America’s role in the world and its economic quality of life. The survey was conducted June 10-27, 2016.

Democrats Support Clinton

  • Ninety-one percent of self-described Democrats and 87 percent of Democratic-leaning Independents have come around to support Clinton for president, even before Bernie Sanders’ endorsement.
  • But Clinton was not the top choice for many Democrats who had hoped that Sanders would win the party’s nomination. Core Sanders supporters (defined here as the 36 percent who said the Senator was their top choice) and core Clinton supporters (the 47 percent for whom the Secretary was top choice) differ on a number of policy areas.

Sanders Supporters Question Whether US is the Greatest Country

  • Core Sanders and Clinton supporters are equally likely to rate the United States as the most influential country in the world. On a ten-point scale, core Clinton supporters rate U.S. influence at 8.9, and Sanders backers rate the United States at an 8.5.
  • Yet core Clinton supporters are more likely than core Sanders backers to say the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world (61 percent vs. 39 percent Sanders supporters).
  • Core Sanders supporters are more likely to say that every country is unique, and the United States is no greater than other nations (61 percent vs. 37 percent core Clinton supporters).

Economic Pessimism among Sanders Supporters

The results suggest that core Sanders supporters think the way to make American great again is not by safeguarding its military and economic influence but by focusing on domestic problems like economic mobility and inequality.

  • Core Sanders supporters are even more convinced than Clinton supporters that economic strength is more important in determining a country’s overall power and influence in the world (89 percent vs. 74 percent).
  • Core Sanders supporters are much less likely to emphasize maintaining superior U.S. military power (29 percent vs. 54 percent among core Clinton supporters) or superior economic power (34 percent vs. 56 percent) as very important goals.
  • Fifty-seven percent of core Sanders and 41 percent of core Clinton supporters say that “the next generation of Americans who are children today” will be economically worse off than “the generation of adults who are working today.”

Sanders Supporters Prefer a More Circumscribed US Role

Given their downbeat view of U.S. economic promise for the next generation, it makes sense that Sanders’ supporters emphasize attention to economic mobility and inequality. In turn, they express a preference for a somewhat more circumscribed international role for the United States. They are even more likely than Clinton supporters to emphasize a shared leadership role and seem to want to avoid overreach or antagonizing other major powers.

  • Sanders’ supporters are far more likely than Clinton’s to be between the ages of 18 and 29 (36 percent Sanders vs. 16 percent Clinton). As is typical for younger Americans in Chicago Council Surveys reaching back to 1974, a smaller percentage of core Sanders supporters than core Clinton supporters – though still a solid majority – say the United States should play an active part in world affairs (66 percent Sanders vs. 75 percent Clinton).
  • Core Sanders supporters are also more inclined to favor the United States playing a shared leadership role in the world (83 percent vs. 64 percent among core Clinton supporters) rather than a dominant role (12 percent vs. 29 percent core Clinton supporters).
  • But only 5 percent of core Sanders and 7 percent of core Clinton supporters say the United States should not play any leadership role in the world.
  • Sanders supporters are less likely to sense a critical threat from international terrorism (64 percent vs. 75 percent core Clinton supporters), and they are less likely to support a series of military actions to combat terrorism (more details in a forthcoming report).
  • A larger majority of core Sanders supporters than Clinton supporters say that the United States should undertake friendly cooperation rather than actively work to limit the power of China (77 percent core Sanders vs. 66 percent Clinton) and Russia (68 percent Sanders vs. 58 percent Clinton).

Trade Differences: Much Ado about Nothing?

One repeated flash point in the debates between the two candidates was U.S. trade policy. Although core Sanders supporters are less likely than Clinton supporters to credit international trade with creating U.S. jobs, there are surprisingly small differences between the two groups on trade in general.

  • Core Sanders backers are less likely than core Clinton supporters to say that international trade is good for creating U.S. jobs (51 percent vs. 41 percent)
  • But otherwise core Sanders and Clinton supporters both say that international trade is good for the U.S. economy (71 percent Clinton, 67 percent Sanders) and their own standard of living (75 percent Clinton, 70 percent Sanders)
  • Core supporters of both Sanders and Clinton say that globalization is mostly good for the United States (76 percent Clinton, 75 percent Sanders).
  • Finally, fewer Sanders supporters – but still a majority – favor the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (56 percent, vs. 74 percent of Clinton supporters).


The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10-27, 2016 among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The overall margin of error ranges ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question. For the analysis among Republicans included here, the margin of error ranges from ±7.9 to ±11.2 percentage points, again varying depending on the specific question.

Unless specified otherwise, references to Republicans in this report refer to those who self-identified as Republican and those who self-identified as an Independent that is “closer to the Republican Party.”

Respondents were asked two separate questions about voting preferences. The first asked: “If the presidential election were being held today and the candidates were Hillary Clinton, the Democrat or Donald Trump, the Republican, for whom would you vote?” The response categories were randomized. The second question, which we used to calculate “core Trump voters,” asked: “Regardless of your voting preference in the previous question, who was your top choice for president among the following candidates – Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or other (specify)?” These response options were also randomized.

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.