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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Yglesias: Midterms Lessons, Bipartisan Prospects

In his slowboring.com newsletter, Matthew Yglesias shares observations about where he was wrong regarding some of the 2022 midterm campaigns. He reviews the history of the 2022 midterm campaigns, considers what he has learned from mistakes and looks toward the future with some hopes, including:

  • “I thought student loan relief was costing Democrats politically. This was dumb on my part. I thought this was a bad policy on the merits, and I let that cloud my judgment. I knew all along that the specific thresholds the White House picked in terms of means-testing and how much debt was forgiven were either heavily workshopped with pollsters or else by remarkable coincidence lined up with what pollsters told me was optimal for public opinion. I argued that the impact on inflation offset this kind of superficial read from the polls, but no loans have actually been forgiven yet, so it’s simply not possible that would happen. This was wrong, and I should have known it was wrong.
  • I also thought that Dobbs wasn’t hurting Republicans as much as it should have, because Democrats were refusing to give any ground to the popularity of restrictions on late-term abortions. I do stand by the idea that this is a political error, but Democrats’ television ads about abortion rights were extremely well-crafted and that let them really punish the GOP on this without moderating their stance.
  • This relates to my third error, which is that I’ve often accused Democrats of overrating what can be achieved with paid media versus through positioning in the free press. I continue to believe that earned media matters more than paid — see Jared Golden winning in a very tough seat despite being outspent because he got coverage for taking moderate stances — but paid media is more effective than I thought. Catherine Cortez Masto did basically nothing outside of her advertising to be anything other than a totally generic Democrat, and it worked out.”

Yglesias adds, “In life, it’s important to guard against overcorrection. I think a lot of people had exaggerated ideas about “firing up” young voters with student loan forgiveness or the ability to work miracles with pure campaign work. But that led me to tilt too far in the other direction. Democrats skated close to a real danger zone with this midterm, but in the end it worked out fine thanks to some very skillful political work and some good luck.”

Regarding prospects for bipartisan reform, Yglesias writes, “The left significantly underrated the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act rather than admitting they were wrong. And while the CHIPS and Science Act that ultimately emerged wasn’t as good as the original Endless Frontier proposal, it’s still a good law. I’m hopeful we can still get a bipartisan permitting reform bill done in the lame duck, there has been a lot of bipartisan legislating relating to Ukraine, and broadly speaking, it has been nice to see a functioning legislative process.”

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