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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Why isn’t Joe Biden getting credit for the economic recovery?” Christian Paz probes the possible answers at Vox, and writes: “President Joe Biden has a lot to be proud of. Riding off a State of the Union speech earlier this month that felt like a victory lap, he and his Cabinet have been blitzing across the country to sharpen his economic message. The Biden administration has sought to contrast Republican threats to Social Security and Medicare with its own legislative work to invest in infrastructure and manufacturing, and bring down the costs of education, health care, and energy….The image of the accelerating “Biden boom” that the White House has been trying to project is rooted in economic data: unemployment is now at its lowest level since 1969, January saw the seventh straight month of slowing inflation, the economy has continued to grow despite fears of a recession, and over 12 million jobs have been created since Biden took office two years ago….But why doesn’t it feel that way? The average American is still likely to say the economy is in relatively dire straits, according to Gallup polling data, and large numbers fear worsening inflation, higher interest rates and unemployment, and the possibility of a recession in 2023. Some 80 percent of American adults think the economy is either in poor or fair shape, according to January data from Pew Research Center….The short answer is, of course, inflation. Prices are still much higher at this point than they were two years ago, and news about expensive eggs and expensive housing are likely still putting a damper on our collective sense of an improving economy….“The bad news of the economy (rising inflation, declining real incomes) has outweighed the good news (mostly consistent growth in GDP, low unemployment),” John Sides, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, said. “Negative economic news is both more prevalent in news coverage and is also more salient to consumers, relative to positive economic news. So even in an economy with mixed signals, the bad news wins out.”

Paz adds, “Sides, who has studied the relationship between political prospects and economic news extensively, uses the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment to analyze how down people are on the economy. The index, which measures how people feel about the general economic climate from a monthly random survey of Americans, tells an unsurprising story: though consumer sentiment remains way below the historical average, it has been steadily rising for three consecutive months, and is significantly higher than it was a year ago, matching the trend of cooling inflation. That matches up pretty closely with how people feel about Joe Biden as a president….For most of the time that index has been collecting data, there was a straightforward correlation between presidential approval ratings and feelings about the economy: better economic news reliably translated into higher approval ratings. But Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s presidencies disrupted this relationship, Sides found. Higher consumer sentiment didn’t translate into a political advantage for either of them, despite the post-Great Recession recovery under Obama and the Trump economic boom…“Inflation is an everyone problem and unemployment is a some-people problem,” the economic columnist Annie Lowrey argued in the Atlantic last year. When things were bad during the Covid recession in 2020, everyone felt fear, but only some people lost their jobs. “The pain was uneven. In contrast, nobody escapes inflation, even if rising prices affect some people far more than others,” Lowrey wrote….Speaking to the New Yorker, Biden’s recently departed chief of staff, Ron Klain, alluded to a larger problem across the world….“We’re just at a place where, in democracies, we’re going to find that forty-three or forty-four [percent] will turn out to be a very high approval rating, just because people are polarized: the people on the other side are never going to say you’re doing a good job, and for the people in the middle it’s just easier to say, ‘Eh’,” he told the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos….The better measure of success is elections, Klain said. And Biden will have another chance to prove his messaging and agenda are working next year.”

In “Most Americans Think House Republicans Aren’t Investigating Real Problems,” Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes at FiveThirtyEight: “According to a Fox News/Beacon Research/Shaw & Company Research poll conducted in late January, more than two-thirds of registered voters said it’s at least somewhat important for Congress to investigate the origins of COVID-19, federal agencies’ potential bias against conservatives and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Republicans’ targets don’t really line up with the issues that registered voters are most concerned about, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in November. When voters were asked about their “top priority” for congressional investigations, fentanyl trafficking into the U.S., operations at the U.S.-Mexico border and the infant formula shortage of summer 2022 topped the list. This suggests that the Republicans’ border-security investigation could have some legs — but other issues, like the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impeachment of Mayorkas and Hunter Biden’s finances, were ranked lower….Other polls, meanwhile, suggest that Americans are concerned that Republican investigations will focus too much on digging up dirt on political rivals. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in January found that 65 percent of Americans were concerned that the GOP will focus too much on investigating the Biden administration, while only 32 percent were worried that the GOP wouldn’t focus enough on Biden. And when a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll asked about the GOP’s investigation into so-called targeting of conservatives by federal agencies, Americans were much likelier to say that the investigation is an attempt to score political points (56 percent) than a legitimate investigation (36 percent). Similarly, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in December found that a majority (51 percent) of registered voters agreed with a statement that impending House GOP investigations will be “mostly a political effort to embarrass the Biden administration,” while 38 percent called the investigations “an appropriate way to hold the Biden administration accountable.”

Thomason-DeVeaux notes further, “To be clear: Republicans’ investigations are going to happen whether Americans want them or not. Congressional investigations of presidents during periods of divided government are something of an American tradition. Two political scientists, Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler, looked at congressional-investigation data between 1969 and 2014, and found that the number of days the House spent investigating the executive branch spiked whenever the two were controlled by different parties….Kriner and Schickler found that, in the past, aggressive investigations were pretty effective for attacking a sitting president. According to their analysis, 20 days of investigations in a month caused a drop in the president’s approval of about 2.5 percentage points. But it’s also possible that congressional investigations don’t pack the punch they used to. After all, Trump’s first impeachment didn’t do much to change Americans’ perspectives on him. And if Americans are already skeptical about Republicans’ investigations, GOP House members will have an even higher bar for convincing the public to pay attention….When Democrats took control of the House in 2019, Americans were similarly suspicious that their investigations for Trump would be politically tinged. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted in December 2018 found that nearly half (49 percent) of registered voters thought Democrats would go too far in their investigations of Trump, while 36 percent thought that Democrats wouldn’t go far enough. And by the end of Democrats’ four-year stint in control of the House, one of their biggest investigations hadn’t made a huge impact on public opinion: According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll published this past October, 56 percent of Americans said that their views of Trump hadn’t changed because of the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol….So while some Republicans will no doubt cheer the House GOP’s investigative zeal, the inquiries will probably seem to most Americans like more political noise.”

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The DNC feels irrelevant, as usual. But more worryingly is the state of the New York State Committee, the place where the House of Representatives was lost.

    Both Congressional leaders come from New York, yet this is the place with the least amount and quality of leadership.


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