As the midterm elections tighten, veteran pollster Stanley Greenberg has become Cassandra warning Democrats they need to push for economic populism or risk being ripped off by angry Voters drive out of the House and Senate. Greenberg, a close early adviser to President Bill Clinton, was not alone in making the argument. He is echoing debates from left-wing figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders and journalist David Sirota, a former Sanders adviser. But Greenberg, with his impeccable mainstream credentials, is more likely to be heard by partisan elites who habitually ignore criticism of Sanders or Sirota.
Greenberg’s analysis is best understood as a dissent against the electoral orthodoxy.This orthodoxy is succinctly expressed in a tweet Democratic strategist Greg Pinelo said: “This election is no longer about persuasion. It’s about the makeup of voters. If there’s a Kansas effect (it doesn’t have to be that big), Dems will shock the world. If women vote Rates are within historical standards, and white women vote Republican at typical rates, and we lose.”
Pinelo’s brisk statement is worth reading, and its underlying assumptions are made clear. What he means is that there aren’t a large number of conflicting swing voters (e.g. voters who may support choice but also worry about inflation, and therefore be so responsive to Republican messages), or voters who may prioritize the economy’s primary focus and by default Who will be attracted to the Republicans (as the Democrats provide weak information on the current state of the economy). By Pinello’s logic, it would be an abortion election, with Democrats winning or losing depending on voters’ priorities on the issue.
Some analysts have gone further, warning that even talking about the economy is risky.write on guardianDePauw University political scientist Cass Mudd asserts, “Democrats are right not to focus on the economy.” Mudd admits “This the vast majority of americans Said they personally felt the pain of inflation and believed the U.S. economy was getting worse, not better. But, he insisted, “focusing on the economy will make those feelings more prominent, while centering on Joe Biden, his popularity near the lowest level of his presidency, while the GOP remains in more trustworthy Economically more important than Democrats. ”
Abortion, especially after Dobbs stripped him of his constitutional right to reproductive autonomy, is certainly a major issue in 2022. To the extent that Democrats have done well in special elections and remain significantly competitive in the polls (much better than the parties that control the White House, usually in the midterms), this is because tens of millions of Americans do see it as a make-or-break issue.
But elections rarely touch on a single issue. The main problem is not the same as the only problem. A successful political coalition usually consists of voting blocs with various concerns. The economic news was mixed. As Mulder acknowledged, most voters are concerned about the state of the economy. While job growth does remain strong, concerns about inflation and falling real wages are persistent and widespread.
Given this unstable and worrying economy, not offering voters an aggressive plan to address their anxieties is a major political mistake. Instead, Democrats have identified a message that celebrates Joe Biden’s past accomplishments — while true, it doesn’t allay worries about the future. “Our economy is very strong — its internal structure,” Biden told a news conference in Portland on Oct. 15. “Inflation is global. Everything else is worse than the U.S.,” he added. “So the problem is the lack of economic growth and sound policies in other countries, not ours…it’s global inflation and it’s consequential,” he said.
In an interview with Politico, Greenberg scolded the bragging. “This is our worst-performing message,” Greenberg said. “I’ve tested it. I’ve done Biden’s words, his words. That’s the test of us losing all our leads… It’s saying to voters that this election is about my accomplishments as a leader. Not about the challenges you’re going through. Greenberg added that the GOP is “fighting our crime, our borders, our inflation … that has tremendous power.” Instead of focusing on what’s going on with people, we have self-satisfying information about how much we’ve achieved. “
October 21 at American Prospects, Greenberg released a memo he wrote in collaboration with veteran Democratic strategists Patrick Gaspard, Celindale Lake and Mike Lux. The memo reiterated that Democrats can’t just be outraged by Dobbs’ decision, but need to bolster their support with a strong economic wrap-up message. Analysts provided three points of information.
The most important information is the first: “Rich companies with monopoly power raise prices and profits skyrocket. Big oil, food, shipping, healthcare and real estate companies have made record profits over the past two years. I will fight price gouging, but to be clear: my opponent takes the opposite stance. This antitrust populism can be bolstered by an aggressive plan that promises future government programs to lower health care costs and fight for child tax credits, they added.
The entire memo is worth reading because it’s a logical way for Democrats to deal with economically fearful voters.But as David Sirota notes exist Leverage, “The kind of populism Greenberg refers to is a distaste for two constituencies that still call the shots in democratic politics.” One proponent is the policy elite (experts and think tanks) still committed to neoliberalism. Another group is wealthy donors allergic to anti-corporate language.
Like Cassandra, Greenberg may be overlooked. If that happens, it will be because party elites would rather be defeated on a complacent status quo message than win on a populist message.