Nonprofit organizations spend far too little time engaging with candidates for elected office. In doing so, they miss critical opportunities to educate their constituency, build relationships with future legislators, and raise the profile of issues that impact our missions. But nonprofits aren’t the only ones being hurt by this missed connection—new polling data reveals that the voting public would reward candidates who work with and work on behalf of nonprofit organizations.
Earlier this month, Independent Sector commissioned TargetPoint Consulting to poll 1,005 registered voters. The results—on a wide range of topics—provide valuable insight into the landscape of public opinion about our sector.
Smart Candidates Will Pay Attention to Nonprofit Organizations and Their Missions
We found that 62% of voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who promises to work more closely with charities and nonprofits and to include them in the policymaking process. This includes a near majority (49%) of Republicans and an overwhelming majority (74%) of Democrats.
Voters don’t just want a candidate who will listen to our sector, they want that candidate to be a champion for the sector. A majority (68%) would be more likely to support a candidate that advanced policies to help charities and nonprofits serve their communities, including 36% who would be much more likely.
Key cross-tab: Candidates who want to ride young voters to victory—and political parties that want to invest in their future—need to pay close attention to nonprofits. Voters aged 18-24 are the most supportive age group on nonprofit engagement; 79% would support a candidate who will work with nonprofits and a whopping 81% support a candidate advancing policies that will help nonprofits.
Voters Are Skeptical of Recent Tax Increases on Nonprofit Organizations
The unrelated business income tax (UBIT) can be a pretty dense issue, even for policymakers and their staff (and lobbyists too, but shhhh). Yet, even with only a brief introduction, 45% of voters say that they think these new changes in tax law are a bad thing, compared to 34% who say they are a good thing—an 11-point margin.
After responding to several messages, a majority (51%) of voters think that these tax changes are a bad thing. While all four tested messages were effective, the most effective message emphasized that these new taxes were justified as “leveling the playing field,” while in reality placing an undue burden on nonprofit organizations.
Voters Want Clearer Rules for Nonprofits and Political Activity
Over the past few years, the nonprofit sector has fought back tenaciously against efforts to eliminate the Johnson Amendment—a bedrock safeguard of our trust and independence. At the same time, we have acknowledged that unclear rules in this area create opportunity for bad actors and scare many nonprofit organizations to the sidelines. With that in mind, it is encouraging to see that 68% of voters would support new legislation to clarify laws around charities’ and nonprofits’ political involvement. This includes 41% who would strongly support such legislation.
Despite this high initial support, voters feel even more strongly about this issue once they have learned more. After responding to potential messages, nearly 3 out of 4 voters would be supportive of legislation that clarified the rules, while a mere 11% would oppose it. While all 3 messages on this issue tested well, the clear winning message focused on stopping politicians and political parties from abusing nonprofits to cheat the system.
Key cross-tab: Although support for greater clarity increases overall by 6 percentage points after messaging, low-income Americans are particularly receptive on this issue. In households earning less than $35,000 per year, the increase in support for clearer political rules is twice as high (12%) as in the general population.