Nate Cohn has hit on a potent insight in his post “The Parent Agenda, the Emerging Democratic Focus” at The Upshot:
…In the months after last year’s midterm elections, a reinvigorated liberal agenda has started to emerge. Few of the pieces of this agenda were discussed in the 2012 presidential elections or last year’s midterms. But they have rapidly moved from various liberal intellectual publications into President Obama’s speeches and budget, as well as Hillary Clinton’s speeches.
The emerging Democratic agenda is meant to appeal to parents. The policies under discussion — paid family leave; universal preschool; an expanded earned-income tax credit and child tax credit; free community college and perhaps free four-year college in time — are intended both to alleviate the burdens on middle-class families and to expand educational opportunity for children. The result is a thematic platform addressing some of the biggest sources of anxiety about the future of the middle class.
Cohn is unsure whether the agenda will “resonate with voters,” but “it does have the potential to give the Democrats a more coherent message for the middle class than the party had in 2014 or even 2012.” I would say that agenda will certainly appeal to middle-class parents. What is less clear is whether it will be well-projected by Democratic leaders and whether the media will get distracted by GOP side-shows.
The agenda, as outlined by Cohn, is not only well-tailored to appeal to middle class parents. It also dovetails nicely with the experience and policy priorities of Hillary Clinton, should she win the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2016. Clinton, who was mentored by Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, should be able to articulate a middle-class family agenda with confidence and expertise no Republican could match.
As for the demographic appeal of a parents agenda, Cohn adds,
The parental agenda has the potential to resonate among the large group of voters with children under 18 at home, 36 percent of the electorate in 2012. It might also resonate among the already Democratic-leaning young voters of the Obama era, 18 to 29 years old in 2008, who are now entering prime childbearing years. The birthrate among millennials has dropped to near-record or record lows, depending on the age cohort, probably in part because of economic insecurity. Weekly earnings for full-time workers aged 25 to 34 are down 3.8 percent since 2000.
Cohn notes an added benefit: “This emerging Democratic agenda has already co-opted the message of so-called reform conservatives, who argue that the G.O.P. needs to come up with policies to help families.” Whatever hope the Republicans had for staking out a healthy share of the moderate vote would be shattered by a compelling parents’ agenda.
“Control of Congress has allowed the Republican Party to defer its public campaign against Mr. Obama’s initiatives, since they are dead on arrival,” notes Cohn. “But the G.O.P. will not have that luxury in 2016, when it will need to offer a more cogent and specific response than it has so far.”
It will be interesting to see how Republican presidential candidates address the Democratic parents agenda in the primaries, in which they will be pressed to pander to their right flanks. At the same time, however, they will alienate parents who like the ideas of tuition-free community colleges, paid family leave, child care assistance and other social programs which benefit families. They will surely try to distract voters from the core policies of concern to families. But it’s up to Democrats to hold them accountable and keep the media focused on the parents agenda.