A new Democracy Corps strategy and research paper, based on a poll of LV’s conducted 8/30-9/2 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, spotlights a promising opportunity for Democratic candidates. From the analysis:
This will be a tough election, but fortunately, the unfolding tax issue can work strongly to help Democrats and define the choice in the election…Democrats are strongly aligned with public thinking and priorities. Only 38 percent [of all respondents] favor extending the Bush tax cuts for those over $250,000 – the official position of Republican leaders and candidates. Clearly messaging around this choice – with Democrats voting for middle class tax cuts, while starting to address the deficit and protecting Social Security, contrasted with Republican candidates who still believe trickle-down economics and worsening the deficit – works for progressives.
The survey analysis notes that the tax cut debate “…noticeably moves the congressional vote to the Democrats…” Further,
Frankly, they do not have many issues where:
…There is a 17-point margin in favor of the Democratic position, 55 to 38 percent.
…The strong messages gives a disproportionate lift to the Democratic candidates – scored 13 points better than named Democratic candidates while Republican messages performed half as well.
…There is an opportunity to show seriousness on the deficit, while undermining Republicans on the issue.
…The choice re-enforces Democrats’ core values and strongest framework for the election (for the middle class versus Wall Street).
The payoff from this debate comes in a 2-point narrowing of the Republican lead in the congressional vote after hearing the debate. And for the most powerful Democratic messages, it narrows the vote by 5 points, to 45 to 47 percent.
The poll also finds “majority support for a variety of tax cut measures to protect the middle class,” including:
* Over half – 55 percent – support increasing taxes by letting some or all of the Bush-era tax cuts expire. Specifically, 42 percent say the cuts should remain in place for the middle class, but expire for those making more than $250,000. Just 38 percent say all the tax cuts should remain in place. This is not a purely base issue – by a 17-point margin, independents favor raising taxes on the wealthy.
* This message is even more popular when it is contextualized by broader economic messages. By a 10-point margin, voters are persuaded and reassured by the idea of raising taxes on the wealthiest so that revenue can be used for deficit reduction and investment in jobs.
* Majorities clearly side with extending the cuts for the middle class, at least for some time. Voters favor extending the tax cuts for the middle class for two years, as some have proposed, while a similar majority favors extending these cuts permanently. The proposals receive intense popular support from Democrats, with all proposals advocating expiration of tax cuts getting more than six-in-ten support.
Despite the Dems’ 7 points deficit in the named congressional ballot late in the campaign, the survey strongly suggests that Dems can leverage the tax debate to shift the race in a favorable direction. As the DCORPS analysis explains:
We tested eight messages – four Democratic and four Republican. The messages performed comparably – but two of the Democratic messages had a clear impact on the vote choice – enough to move the results in November.
These messages have more pull than the best Republican ones, which perform 5 points better than the vote margin for a named Republican candidate in our congressional ballot test. By contrast, the two strongest progressive arguments perform at least 10 points better than Democrats perform on the named congressional vote.
Voters are receptive to a progressive position on the economy and are willing to support a tax increase for the wealthy. These messages also help consolidate Democrats, who are eager to mobilize on behalf of strong progressive candidates. Equally important – these messages move independents. The tax frame signals Democrats’ fiscal responsibility on the deficit and creates a clearly defined choice between Republicans (who are for the wealthy, big corporations, and Wall Street) and Democrats (who are unwilling to sacrifice the already suffering middle class for the benefit of the wealthiest.)
The progressive tax frames work best among groups that Democrats should already be targeting. The Rising American Electorate, including unmarried women, minorities, and voters under the age of 30, are particularly receptive to progressive tax messages. Two-thirds of the RAE find the “economic boost” message most appealing. About six-in-ten of the RAE felt the same about investment and deficit language. The “economic boost” message also wins majority support among ideological moderates (67 percent). Democrats can gain traction among base voters with these messages, and possibly grow support among those who have not yet determined their votes.
In terms of changing voter choices in November,
…These messages have a clear impact on vote choice. We re-asked the congressional ballot and found that those who only heard the top two Democratic messages moved toward Democrats, reducing the initial 7-point deficit to just a 2-point gap, at 45 to 47 percent. Meanwhile, those who heard the less strong Democratic arguments did not shift their vote choice, as Republicans maintained a 6-point lead.
Concerning the the debate over extending middle class tax cuts while allowing a tax hike for the wealthy, the anlaysis concludes, “…It reflects good policy during these tumultuous economic times, and could prove to be good politics for those facing an uphill battle this November.”
UPDATE: Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line post in the Washington Post features highlights from his interview with Stan Greenberg regarding the DCORPS survey analysis on leveraging the tax cuts issue. Greenberg strongly urges Democrats to bring the issue to a floor vote:
“A vote will make this issue real, and bring out the clarity of the Democrats’ position,” Greenberg told me. “This is an election that’s being profoundly shaped by who’s engaged. Republicans are engaged. They are turning out in large numbers.”
“You have got to give Democrats reasons to vote,” Greenberg continued. “Things have to be at stake for Democrats to vote. This is an opportunity to make politics relevant to these voters.”
Some Dem leaders have suggested that if Republicans block such a vote in the Senate a clear enough contrast between the parties will have been drawn, making a House vote unnecessary. But Greenberg dismissed this argument, saying that Dems should hold the vote to prevent the issue from fading from the headlines.
“If this gets blocked in the Senate without a visible filibuster, and if the House does not vote, this issue goes away,” Greenberg said. “This issue is only real if you hold a vote.”
Greenberg added that a vote would convince the base that “finally, Democrats are really fighting.” He added: “Taking this to a vote sends a very clear signal that we’re serious about this issue, and that we’re taking it to the Repubicans.”