Report from Purple America: Hillary Clinton Tops Values Meter In First Democratic Debate

There's a long way to go to the general election, and ample opportunity for candidates to up their chances by referring to the values. Whichever candidate ultimately wins, shared valuesplay a pivotal role.
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Co-authored by John Wilson and Patricia Frost-Brooks.

In the first Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton topped the Democratic field with 10 out of 12 values, according to the Purple America Values Meter, a tracking of candidates' references to 12 shared values that Americans across the nation widely share: Equality, Family, Faith, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-expression, Community, Giving Back, The Good Life, Opportunity, Success, and Doing the Right Thing.

Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley tied at 9 values. Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb tied at 7 values.

Purple America is a grass roots, education and training non-profit organization with no affiliation to any political party. Its mission is to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values.

In the first Republican debate, Jeb Bush and John Kasich topped the values list with 10 out of 12 values, and Marco Rubio and George Patacki tied with 7 values each. Ben Carson and Rick Santorum both registered 6 values.

The significance of this Values Meter is that the presidential winner in the last two elections was the candidate who referred to more of these shared values. This conclusion is based on Purple America's analysis of all the McCain-Obama (2008) and Obama-Romney (2012) debate transcripts.

The likelihood is that the next President will be the candidate who registers 9 or more on the Values Meter during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Some background. Just as in the Republican debate, when a candidate referred by word or implication to a specific value, we placed a check on a values grid. The Values Meter number is the total of all the individual values the candidate referred to. You can see both the Republican and Democratic values grids, the 2008 and 2012 presidential debate grids, and the videos that describe all the shared values at

Clinton not only referred to the most shared values, but she also repeatedly used the words "values" and "principles" in her language, indicating a strategic awareness to using values as part of her campaign. Both Bush and Kasich have used similar language in their campaigns, as did Obama, McCain and Romney in the prior elections.

Early in the debate, Clinton said that she has "always fought for the same values and principles" during her entire career. She closed the debate with the missive that, "We need to get back to the basic bargain I was raised with."

The predominant values the Democratic candidates referred to were traditional American ideals about equality and fairness, the idea that if you play by the rules and work hard, you can get ahead and have a good middle-class life. This attitude corresponds on the Purple America values grid with the values of The Good Life, Equality, Opportunity, Success and Doing the Right Thing.

The Republican candidates who scored highest on the Values Meter also referred to these values. However, Republican candidates generally believe that hard work and personal responsibility ultimately bring about an American Dream that is easily accessible to all.

By contrast, Democrats believe that the wealthy and corporate America have tilted the playing field to their advantage, making the wealthy wealthier, the poor poorer and the middle class struggling and diminished.

O'Malley summed it up: "There is a deep economic injustice that threatens to tear our country apart .... We are all in this together!" While all Democrats mirrored this sentiment, only Trump within the Republican field has been vocal about the disappearance of the American Dream.

Sanders mostly referred to the inequality of opportunity: that Wall Street, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the wealthy and oligarchs, who have invested soft money into PACs are taking away opportunity from ordinary Americans. "We must take back and create a vibrant democracy," he said.

Some additional stark contrasts between Democratic candidates: Every candidate mentioned their family except for Sanders. Hillary referred to her granddaughter. Webb referred to his wife and five daughters. O'Malley said that he had "... Four great kids and there's nothing I wouldn't do to give them better lives."

No Democratic candidate mentioned Faith, except for Hillary Clinton. She expressed the objective to "... give every child the opportunity to realize their God-given potential." Nearly every Republican candidate has mentioned Faith both during the campaign and in at least one of the two debates.

Only two Democratic candidates, Sanders and O'Malley, referred to Community, while nearly every Republican candidate has used the imagery of Community.

Only one Democrat -- Bernie Sanders -- referred to the value of Giving Back by saying, "I want a generous and compassionate America!" Several Republicans have used Giving Back in their statements.

By contrast, Republicans invoked the specter of a nuclear Iran, wrapped around the value of Freedom. Democrats were mum on Iran, but very vocal on guns. Interestingly, both guns and Iran are elements of the value of Freedom. Universally, we want to be free, but also want government to protect our freedom.

The general election will hinge on which values are most relevant to Americans and how candidates incorporate them in their messaging. Are they opportunity values: Equality, Opportunity, Success, and The Good Life? Are they faith-based, family and protection values: Family, Faith, Freedom and Community? Or are they moral values: Love and Respect, Self-Expression, Giving Back and Doing the Right Thing?

So far, based on the Purple America Values Meter, the candidates who are most electable in the general election are Jeb Bush and John Kasich as Republicans (both at 10 values) or Hillary Clinton as a Democrat (also at 10 values).

There's a long way to go to the general election, and ample opportunity for candidates to up their chances by referring to the values. Whichever candidate ultimately wins, shared values will play a pivotal role.


Frost-Brooks, Past President of the Ohio Education Association, is National Co-Chair of Purple America; Muszynski is Founder of Purple America and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation/Project Love; Wilson, former Executive Director of the National Education Association, is National Co-chair of Purple America.

Purple America is a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation in partnership with the National Education Association to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. In the past, the non-profit organization conducted interviews with one 1000 Americans in eight diverse communities as to two questions: "What are the values that connect Americans?" and "What do Americans stand for?" For more information, visit:;

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