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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Daniel Cox explores the question, “Why Are White Liberals So Pessimistic About Politics?” at FiveThirtyEight, and writes: “A new survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, which I lead, found that less than half the American public felt optimistic about the country’s future. But there is a fairly stark divide among Americans on this question, with white Americans expressing far more pessimism about our country’s direction than members of other racial groups….White evangelicals were the most pessimistic group we surveyed, but I found in follow-up analysis for FiveThirtyEight that there was a notable racial divide among Democrats as well.1 More than 6 in 10 Black Democrats (68 percent), and 62 percent of Hispanic Democrats said they were somewhat or very optimistic about the country’s future but white Democrats were much more divided — roughly as many said they felt optimistic (53 percent) as pessimistic (47 percent) about where the United States is headed.” Among the reasons this pessimism is politically consequential is “A greater share of Americans identify as liberals today than at any point in the past 30 years or so, according to polling from Gallup, even if they are still significantly outnumbered by self-identified moderates and conservatives.” It seems worth investigating, at what point does liberal pessimism turn into a decision not to vote?

Cox notes that “Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts University, argued in 2020 that college-educated white Americans — a group that has trended leftward in recent years — tend to engage in politics very differently from Black and Hispanic Americans. In his research, Hersh found that “white people reported spending more time reading, talking, and thinking about politics than black people and Latinos did, but black people and Latinos were twice as likely as white respondents to say that at least some of the time they dedicate to politics is spent volunteering in organizations.” There are reasons to be skeptical about ‘reading, talking and thinking’ data. But Cox notes a more consequential difference: “Hersh suggested that white, college-educated, left-leaning voters are much more likely to engage in “political hobbyism” than in building coalitions to address social problems. These efforts often require sustained energy and investments, which for many left-leaning hobbyists is likely a less attractive way of participating in politics, though it may prove more effective in the long run.” Cox adds that “a new study by the Knight Foundation shows that Democrats are already paying far less attention to national news today than they were just a few months earlier. Taking an interest in politics is an important part of being an engaged citizen, but for liberals, greater participation in local affairs and organizations may ultimately prove more personally rewarding.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walker writes “Democrats like NDN’s Simon Rosenberg urge the president to acknowledge the challenges the country has been through over the past couple of years and “to make the grit, resilience, ingenuity, can do spirit of the American people the hero our story in 2022.”….But, Rosenberg also wants to see Democrats selling their successes. “As the incumbent party, Democrats will be judged this fall largely on whether voters think we’ve done a good job, that things are better. Things are better, and we should spend the next 10 months relentlessly making the case that they are.”….In a slide deck released this week, the Democratic research organization, Navigator, made a similar argument. When voters are presented with the tangible economic gains made during the Biden era (such as “more than 6 million jobs created last year,”), the presentation shows, opinions about the state of the economy improve….”The story Dems have to show is that the economy is back up off the mat,” Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson (and adviser to Navigator Research) told me. “That doesn’t mean everything is fixed or everything is better, but just that it’s heading in the right direction. This can’t be mission accomplished, but it does need to be mission underway….But, former Obama White House senior advisor David Axelrod warns Biden not to overdo it on the happy talk. In a New York Times op-ed this week, Axelrod writes that “[Y]ou simply cannot jawbone Americans into believing that things are better than they feel.”

Walker continues, “All of this advice is coming up on a pretty hard economic reality. Americans’ views of the economy aren’t likely to get better until they see that inflation improves. I’ve yet to sit in a focus group where the issue of the rising costs of groceries, rent or gas didn’t come up. In fact, many of the participants can tell you, to the dollar, how much more they spent at the gas station or the grocery store this week than they did a year ago.”….The Brooking’s Institution Bill Galston pointed to a recent Economist/YouGov survey showing that inflation has become the dominant factor determining voters’ view of the economy. Asked to identify the “best measure” of how the economy is doing, 52 percent pointed to the cost of goods and services, compared to 17 percent for unemployment and jobs and just 6 percent for the stock market. As such, writes Galston, while “the Biden administration wants Americans to focus on rapid job creation and the sharp decline in unemployment, it seems that the people are more likely to emphasize rising prices until the pace of inflation abates.” Walker adds that Biden does not have Trump’s gift for bragging and getting away with it. Instead Biden’s strong card is his ability to convey real empathy for struggling Americans. That alone won’t inspire the needed uptick in his approval ratings that can help Democrats in the midterm elections. For that he’s going to need a downtick in Covid and inflation — or at least some credible executive action on both fronts.

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