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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Dems’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Atlantic:

As we move into the endgame of the 2022 election, the Democrats face a familiar problem. America’s historical party of the working class keeps losing working-class support. And not just among white voters. Not only has the emerging Democratic majority I once predicted failed to materialize, but many of the nonwhite voters who were supposed to deliver it are instead voting for Republicans.

This year, Democrats have chosen to run a campaign focused on three things: abortion rights, gun control, and safeguarding democracy—issues with strong appeal to socially liberal, college-educated voters. But these issues have much less appeal to working-class voters. They are instead focused on the economy, inflation, and crime, and they are skeptical of the Democratic Party’s performance in all three realms.

This inattentiveness to working-class concerns is not peculiar to the present election. The roots of the Democrats’ struggles go back at least as far as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, and, as important, to the way in which many Democrats chose to interpret her defeat. Those mistakes, compounded over subsequent election cycles and amplified by vocal activists, now threaten to deliver another stinging disappointment for the Democratic Party. But until Democrats are prepared to grapple honestly with the sources of their electoral struggles, that streak is unlikely to end.

From 2012 to 2020, the Democrats not only saw their support among white working-class voters—those without college degrees—crater, they also saw their advantage among nonwhite working-class voters fall by 18 points. And between 2016 and 2020 alone, the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined by 16 points, overwhelmingly driven by the defection of working-class voters. In contrast, Democrats’ advantage among white college-educated voters improved by 16 points from 2012 to 2020, an edge that delivered Joe Biden the White House

Polling points to a continuation of these trends in 2022. Democrats are losing voters without college degrees while running up the score among college-educated voters. In the latest national New York Times/Siena poll, Democrats have a 15-point deficit among working-class voters but a 14-point advantage among college-educated voters. (The American Enterprise Institute’s demographic-group tracker averages poll results and confirms this yawning gap in Democratic support.)

In part, this results from further deterioration of Democratic support among white working-class voters. But nonwhite working-class voters—especially Hispanic voters—may be following suit. Democrats carried Hispanic voters by 35 points in 2018 and 25 points in 2020. Available data and reporting strongly suggest that this further decline is being driven by working-class voters, the overwhelming majority of this demographic.

In a proximate sense, it’s not hard to see how this might be happening, given America’s economic situation and Democrats’ campaigning choices. But these struggles tie back to the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton’s campaign made two fateful decisions that decisively undercut her ability to beat Donald Trump. During the primaries, facing a stiffer-than-expected challenge from Bernie Sanders, Clinton elected to counter his class-oriented populist economics by flanking him to the left on identity-politics issues. This built on the party’s attribution of Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012 to mobilizing the “rising American electorate,” which ignored his relatively strong performance among working-class voters in the Midwest. For Clinton, turning to identity politics was a way of making Sanders seem out of touch.

After Sanders unexpectedly came close to tying Clinton in the Iowa caucus, she went on the offensive, seeking to characterize Sanders’s class-oriented pitch as racist and sexist. As NBC News reported at the time:

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton said, kicking off a long, interactive riff with the crowd at a union hall this afternoon.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow—and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will—would that end racism?”

“No!” the audience yelled back.

Clinton continued to list scenarios, asking: ​“Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

She continued that line of attack until the moment she secured the nomination. And once that was accomplished and her campaign launched in earnest, she made her second fateful decision, choosing to concentrate on Trump’s character and all the ways he was out of step with the rising American electorate. Studies of her campaign-ad spending reveal that the overwhelming majority of these ads had nothing to say about policy or even policy orientation, instead attacking Trump’s character and his many divisive and offensive statements. Her campaign slogan, “Stronger together,” was an implicit rebuke of Trump on these grounds.

Teixeira: Tough Love for Democrats

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Bulwark:

Charlie Sykes wrote up some of our conversation on the Bulwark podcase. Nice job by Charlie.

“To even get in the door with many working class and rural voters and make their pitch,” writes Ruy Teixeira, “Democrats need to convince these voters that they are not looked down on, their concerns are taken seriously, and their views on culturally-freighted issues will not be summarily dismissed as unenlightened. With today’s Democratic party, unfortunately, that is difficult. Resistance is stiff to any compromise that might involve moving to the center on such issues.”

Resistance? You don’t know the half of it.

ICYMI: Ruy, who has spent decades as a progressive analyst, joined me on Wednesday’s podcast to talk about his recent articles about the Democrats’ challenges on crime, culture, immigration, economics, and patriotism.

Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

It’s great stuff, and it’s very much worth your time. (And also quite timely given today’s headlines: Democrats Worry as G.O.P. Attack Ads Take a Toll in Wisconsin.” And: “In key battlegrounds, GOP onslaught of crime ads tightens Senate races.”)

You can listen to our whole conversation here . . . or, if you are a Bulwark+ member, you can listen to the ad-free version here.

Not surprisingly, not everyone is in the mood for this kind of tough love right now. Here’s a comment from one Bulwark+ listener:

We are where we are now – it’s a month til the midterms. So:


2. Make the best of the situation with the candidates we have to defeat the lunatic GOP slate and save our democracy from these racist ass terrorists.

As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I’m afraid there will not be any shutting up anytime soon.

Some clarification also seems to be in order: It’s not our role to be cheerleaders or flacks; others can do that. Our job is to tell you the truth and give our best analysis, especially if we think we might be sailing at flank speed into an iceberg. With all due respect, if you want a safe space, or a rah-rah for our side site, you really ought to look elsewhere.

And here’s the thing about Ruy’s tough love: he’s saying these things because, unlike too many of his fellow Democrats, he actually does think we face an existential crisis . . . and he is trying to explain how not to lose to what our listener calls “these racist ass terrorists.”

That’s what makes Ruy’s warnings so important — and urgent. If you haven’t read his stuff, his latest piece is a good place to start. His advice: “Embrace patriotism and don’t apologize for it.”

That’s the creed of ordinary Americans even if many activist Democrats reject it. Illustrating this, a survey project by the More in Common group was able to separate out a group they termed “progressive activists” who were 8 percent of the population (but punch far above their weight in the Democratic party) and are described as “deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media”.

These progressive activists’ attitude toward their own country departs greatly from not just that of average Americans but from pretty much any other group you might care to name, including average nonwhite Americans. Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans, in fact, are highly likely to be proud to be Americans and highly likely to say they would still choose to live in America if they could choose to live anywhere in the world. In contrast, progressive activists are loathe to express these sentiments. For example, just 34 percent of progressive activists say they are “proud to be American” compared to 62 percent of Asians, 70 percent of blacks, and 76 percent of Hispanics.

Here’s some more tough love from Ruy:

Exit take: The tough love will continue until morale improves.

‘A Memo to Democrats’ by Democratic Strategists

Democratic strategists Patrick Gaspard, Sanley B. Greenberg, Celinda Lake and Mike Lux have co-written “A Memo to Democrats,” cross-posted here from The American Prospect:

The four of us have been around politics a long time. We have been a part of some of the Democratic Party’s biggest victories; we have seen some big losses. In the 2022 election, things are as close as we have ever seen them. But we are right on the edge of overcoming historical trends and other factors weighing us down, and winning a decisive victory.

What we have to do, though, is end on a strong economic argument. Democrats need to understand that we have a winning message on the economy and inflation. But rising costs will beat us if we avoid the issue.

Don’t get us wrong: we are all firmly convinced of the power and central importance of abortion. The Dobbs decision changed the trajectory of this election, and it is the most powerful issue we have in turning out Democratic base voters. No Democratic candidate should stop talking about abortion. But going down the stretch, we need to make sure our closing message also talks about the cost of living, inflation and the economy.

Even before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, when Joe Biden’s approval ratings were still in the 30s, what was striking in the focus groups we were watching was that people were not blaming Biden for inflation. They certainly wanted him to do something about rising prices and to be in touch with their lives, but their primary ire was directed at big corporations that have moved jobs overseas and created supply chain issues; and at the near-monopoly power these wealthy corporations have over prices, allowing them to price-gouge consumers.

Voters want politicians to solve these problems. Inflation and the cost of living is their number one concern right now, and they are thinking and talking about it all the time in part because they believe it is getting worse with no end in sight. They understand that the problems are complicated and tough to solve, but if they don’t think the Democrats are prioritizing their everyday costs, they will be put off. They want to know you understand what is going on in their lives. They want to know you are helping with their number one problem and have a plan.

They want to know the difference between Democrats and Republicans when they cast their votes.

If voters never hear ads from candidates mentioning rising costs; if the mail they receive never mentions it; if they only hear it touched on in stump speeches; if the answers to the inflation question in debates are mushy; voters are going to decide those Democratic candidates are not prioritizing the issue they are most focused on.

And our research shows that it’s important for voters to know that you are in touch with what they are facing economically, especially Gen Z and millennials, Blacks and Latinos, and blue-collar women, all of whom are the key swing voters in this campaign.

There is not a reason in the world Democrats need to be defensive or mushy about their plan for inflation. The American Rescue Plan included the enhanced Child Tax Credit, tax relief for poor, working and middle-class families. The Inflation Reduction Act will bring prices down for pharmaceutical drugs, health insurance premiums, and energy prices. The House passed an anti-price gouging bill that all Republicans voted against. A populist message on the issue has been tested repeatedly and it works.

That Republicans voted against or stopped many of these measures is a key reason to highlight the difference of what happens when you elect Democrats or Republicans. The GOP has also announced that they would reinstate the Trump tax cuts on the wealthy and wealthy corporations.

Rather than dwelling on Republicans stopping these measures, we should embrace those popular answers as key to the choice in the election.

Democrats defeated special interests— including big oil companies and big pharmaceutical companies—to make these happen. So, here’s the choice in the battle over the cost of living: Democrats fighting special interests to help working people with these high costs, or Republicans simply helping their big corporate donors.

This is time for a powerful close that shows Democrats embracing these messages:

1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof. Big oil, food, shipping, health care, and real estate companies have been making record profits over the last two years. I will crack down on price gouging, but to be clear: My opponent takes the opposite position.

2. I will fight hard to bring down health care costs, especially for prescription drugs.  Because we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats took a good first step. Pharma is going to have to negotiate with Medicare on prescription drug prices for the first time. it’s about time, and Medicare premiums as well as drug costs will be going down as a result. I want to do even more to lower costs, but the Republicans want to repeal negotiating prescription drug prices, the price caps on insulin, the lower health insurance premiums, and the cap on seniors’ out of pocket drug costs—all while having no plan of their own. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years, which will help them cope with inflation, but Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

3. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit and wants to give structural tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.

These three points make up a compelling, highly persuasive set of policies that help with the cost of living. Here’s what an ad might look like:

“The cost of living is hitting working families and senior citizens hard. They haven’t seen a pay raise in years, and now this obscene rise in global prices.  Elect me because my top priority will be tackling rising prices. We should crack down hard on corporate price gouging and start making things in America again, so that we have fewer supply chain problems. We should also help people cope with rising prices. Under the Biden administration, Social Security’s cost of living increase was the biggest in 40 years, and Medicare premiums went down for the first time in a long time. The Inflation Reduction Act lowers drug prices by forcing Big Pharma to negotiate with Medicare, but we need to build on that to keep health care costs declining. Republicans will undo all that if they regain power. For parents, we should bring back the expanded Child Tax Credit, which gives parents up to $600 a month to help with housing, groceries, and gas prices, paid for by finally making wealthy corporations pay what they owe.

“I will fight for you and your family, not just to survive, but for the freedom of every family to thrive. Because every American deserves a shot at the Dream.”

Yes, Democrats, also keep talking about the fundamental threat to the right to an abortion. That remains a priority we must deliver too. It’s really important in turning out the Democratic vote and persuading swing Independent and Republican women to vote for us.  But your path to victory is to also make sure voters know you will prioritize fighting rising costs and for an economy that works for working families.”

The American Prospect provides an audio version of the article. Author bio notes:

Patrick Gaspard is the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress.

Stanley B. Greenberg, a founding partner of Greenberg Research, Democracy Corps, and Climate Policy & Strategy, and Prospect board member, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-author of It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!

Celinda Lake, the president of Lake Research Partners, is a pollster and political strategist for Democrats and progressives.

Mike Lux, a senior staffer in the Clinton White House and a senior adviser to the DNC chair, has worked on seven presidential campaigns, and authored two books.


Teixeira: Democrats’ Working Class Problem Intensifies

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

These are hard times for America’s historic party of the working class—as in, they keep on bleeding support among these voters. The just-released New York Times/Siena poll provides the latest evidence for this trend. Among likely voters, Democrats’ generic Congressional ballot support among college-educated and working class (noncollege) voters are mirror images of each other. Democrats have a 15 point deficit among working class voters but a 14 point advantage among college voters—almost a 30 point gap. (The AEI demographic group tracker averages poll results and confirms an unusually large working class-college gap.)

The Times/Siena poll also asked a 2024 trial heat question pitting Biden against Trump. This showed the same pattern: college-educated voters favored Biden by 20 points, while working voters preferred Trump by 16 points. Keep in mind that working class voters are likely to far outnumber college voters in that election just as they did in 2020 and as they are likely to do this November.

Putting these results in context is instructive. In the 2012 election, the working class-college gap was a mere 4 points; Obama carried college-educated voters by 6 points, but also carried working class voters by 2 points. By 2020, Democrats were losing working class voters by 4 points and the gap had widened to 22 points. Lest anyone think that declining working class support was solely due to white working class voters moving away from the Democrats, it should be noted that nonwhite working class voters moved away from Democrats by 19 margin points over the time period.

However, it is true that the education gap is exceptionally large among whites. In the Times/Siena data, Democrats are losing white working class voters by 32 points while carrying white college voters by 7 points. And these white working class voters still loom very, very large in most states, including ones with key contests in November’s election. Echelon Insights, which anticipates another high turnout election, has released estimates of the demographic composition of voters this November. They expect that voters nationally will be 41 percent white noncollege and higher still in states like Wisconsin (56 percent), Ohio (53 percent), Pennsylvania (49 percent) and even Nevada (46 percent).

Echelon comments, correctly I think, on the implications of their turnout and voter composition analysis:

Which party will benefit from higher turnout or a more diverse electorate? The answer might surprise you. In the 2020 election, high turnout led to a surprisingly close election with a surge in support for Donald Trump among low-propensity Hispanic voters in particular. Rising turnout is being driven by a working class, non-college electorate that Republicans have been doing better with in recent elections, as well as an aging electorate, creating more high-turnout voters over the age of 65. When it comes to the conventional wisdom about high versus low voter turnout, all bets are off.

It is not hard to see what might be driving the current working class drift toward the Republicans. First, there is the economy. The recent upturn in inflation, still near a 40 year high, is squeezing already-squeezed working class budgets. It cannot be emphasized enough that in the last year real wages for workers have actually gone down because wage increases have not kept pace with inflation.

Not surprisingly, the economy and the cost of living are by far the top issues for working class voters. In the Times/Siena poll, 49 percent cited these issues, compared to 37 percent among college-educated voters. The closest other issue among working class voters was immigration at 7 percent.

But Democrats haven’t run a campaign aimed at these working class concerns. As a recent headline put it in the New York Times, “Democrats Spent $2 Trillion to Save the Economy. They Don’t Want to Talk About It.” Instead, they have elected to run a campaign focused on three things: abortion rights, gun control and safeguarding democracy. This appeared to be a strategy aimed at socially liberal, college-educated voters among whom these issues are highly salient. No doubt this has helped shore up their support among these voters and contributed to Democrats’ maintaining strong margins among the college-educated. But among working class voters, whose concerns are more mundane and economically-driven, these issues are far less salient.

It seems unlikely that the Democrats’ approach will work any better as we get closer to the election. Abortion rights, which has by far been the dominant issue in Democratic ad spending, may have reached the limits of its effectiveness. Many Republican candidates are softening their abortion positions and avoiding association with outright bans, which may help explain the apparent movement of independent womenback toward the GOP.

As for gun control, it is clearly being overshadowed by the crime issue where the Democrats are hugely vulnerable and Republicans have released a barrage of campaign advertising. In the just-released Politico/Morning Consult poll, more voters say crimewill be a major factor in their voting decision than say the same about abortion.

As for safeguarding democracy, which for Democrats means an unrelenting focus on Trump, the “Big Lie” and the January 6th hearings, this just has much less juice than Democrats like to think it does. Indeed when normie voters think about threats to democracy, they are just not thinking about it in the same way that Democrats do. As Nate Cohn notes in his analysis of the recent Times/Siena poll:

While 71 percent of registered voters agreed that democracy was “under threat,” only about 17 percent of voters described the threat in a way that squares with discussion in mainstream media and among experts — with a focus on Republicans, Donald J. Trump, political violence, election denial, authoritarianism, and so on.

Instead, most people described the threat to democracy in terms that would be very unfamiliar to someone concerned about election subversion or the Jan. 6 insurrection… When respondents were asked to volunteer one or two words to summarize the current threat to democracy, government corruption was brought up most often — more than Mr. Trump and Republicans combined….Instead, they point most frequently to a longstanding concern about the basic functioning of a democratic system: whether government works on behalf of the people.

That certainly sums up the overriding priority of working class voters: a government that works on behalf of the people. No amount of talk about abortion, gun control and January 6th is likely to convince them that Democrats are providing that when their “lived experience”, as it were, is quite different.

Kuttner: How Dems Can Talk About Inflation

The following article, “Can Democrats Talk About Inflation? Today on TAP: They’d better learn how. They won’t win the midterms just on reproductive rights” by Robert Kuttner, author of  “Going Big: FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy,” is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

How to talk about the economy when inflation remains stubbornly above 8 percent, and workers’ wages are rising at less than half that? The latest New York Times/Siena poll shows Republicans gaining ground based on increasing voter concerns about the economy, which is now the top issue for 44 percent of voters, up from 36 percent in July.

There is a fascinating and nuanced conversation on this subject among some of the smartest Democratic strategists. Pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg has argued at this site that even though Biden has lots to be proud of, it’s a strategic mistake to brag about how good the economy is at a time when so many voters are not feeling so good. Better to point out all the ways that Republicans and corporate elites have sandbagged ordinary people, and what Democrats could do if they had a working majority.

Celinda Lake, once a partner in Greenberg’s polling firm, contends that there are nonetheless a few things worth bragging about, such as the benefits to ordinary families contained in Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, notably the Child Tax Credit. This is broadly consistent with Greenberg’s view.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Mike Lux has circulated an important memo warning that Democrats can’t duck talking about inflation at a time when Republicans are using it as a campaign cudgel. It’s a point Greenberg has also made at the Prospect site when he wrote:

The NBC poll tests the message that Democrats are actually saying, and it starts with their advocacy for working people on the cost of living: “we need to keep delivering for working Americans by lowering costs, including health care and prescription drugs, and ensuring the corporations pay their fair share of taxes.” That message gives the Democrats a 7-point advantage compared to the Republican message.

Lux, urging Democrats to explicitly address inflation, adds that the five most important points for Democrats to make are these:

1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof.

2. Drug prices and health insurance premiums are going to go down because of the Inflation Reduction Act … Republicans have no plan of their own.

3. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years … Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

4. Manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States … and our infrastructure is being rebuilt. All of this will end our supply chain problems and create millions more good jobs.

5. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit.

Democrats should have plenty to say about inflation, connecting it to broader economic themes. By all means, let’s talk about Republicans’ appalling actions destroying reproductive rights and health—but don’t expect that to win the election alone.

Teixeira: A Three-Point Fix for the Democratic Coalition

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

The Republican Party, according to Democrats, has given rein to some of the darker impulses in the national psyche, has shown flagrant disregard for democratic norms and offers little to the American people in terms of effective policy. There is considerable truth to this indictment and Democrats have not been shy about making their case in uninhibited language (“semi-fascist”, “ultra-MAGA”, etc.)

Yet Democrats cannot decisively beat their opponents as this election seems likely to show once again. The party is uncompetitive among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America. This puts them  at a massive structural disadvantage given an American electoral system that gives disproportionate weight to these voters, especially in Senate and Presidential elections. To add to the problem, Democrats are now hemorrhaging nonwhite working class voters in many areas of country.

The facts must be faced. The Democratic coalition today is not fit for purpose. It cannot beat Republicans consistently in enough areas of the country to achieve dominance and implement its agenda at scale. The Democratic Party may be the party of blue America, especially deep blue metro America, but its bid to be the party of the ordinary American, the common man and woman, is falling short.

There is a simple—and painful—reason for this. The Democrats really are no longer the party of the common man and woman. The priorities and values that dominate the party today are instead those of educated, liberal America which only partially overlap—and sometimes not at all—with those of ordinary Americans.

This has to change. I offer here a three point plan to put the Democrats on a different path where they might reasonably hope to be once again the party of the common man and woman. I won’t pretend that will be easy but I think given political will it can be done. Perhaps the results of the 2022 election will help concentrate the mind as the prospect of the 2024 election looms (President Trump anyone?)

Here are the three parts of the plan, explicated in several of my recent posts and collected here in one convenient package.

1. Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

2. Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

3. Democrats Must Embrace Patriotism and Liberal Nationalism

Let’s take them each in turn.


Teixeira: Democrats Should Embrace Patriotism

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

Here is the uncomfortable fact Democrats need to face: whatever the outcome of the 2022 election, Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive disadvantage given the structure of the American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent slippage in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters. Without better performance among these voter groups, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to actually fix the problems they say they want to fix.

To address this problem, I suggest a three point plan for reform and renewal. I covered the first two parts of this plan in my last two posts:

Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

This week I will discuss the third and final part of the plan.

Democrats Must Embrace Patriotism and Liberal Nationalism

Let’s face it: today’s Democrats have a bit of a problem with patriotism. It’s kind of hard to strike up the band on patriotism when you’ve been endorsing the view that America was born in slavery, marinated in racism and remains a white supremacist society, shot through with multiple, intersecting levels of injustice that make everybody either oppressed or oppressor on a daily basis. Of course, America today may be a racist, dystopian hellhole, but Democrats assure us that it could get even worse if the Republicans get elected. Then it’ll be a fascist, racist, dystopian hellhole.

Hmm. This doesn’t seem like a very inspirational approach.


Nobody Knows How Well Political Ads Work

From “Do Political Ads Even Work? 2022 is set to be the most expensive midterm election in history. But the political science research is murky on how much that matters” by Walter Shapiro at The New Republic:

For anyone living in a media market featuring contested political races—especially places such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta—these are the jackhammer months. Never in an off-year election have so many campaign spots been aired. TV spending will more than double from 2018 levels, according to estimates by the analytical firm AdImpact. The Wesleyan Media Project, which studies campaign commercials, calculated that more than two million ads had aired on broadcast television by early August—long before campaigns began their fall offensive….No candidate will willingly stop spending on TV ads to test whether they are really effective.

Is all this spending justified? Convincing data on the cost/benefit ratio is scarce, according to political scientists.

….But as the political science professors John Sides, Lynn Vavreck, and Christopher Warshaw concede in an article in the May issue of the American Political Science Review, “There are significant limitations to what we know about the effects of televised campaign advertising on election outcomes.”….There are so many ads that it is impossible to find evidence that any single spot—no matter how emotionally powerful—made a measurable difference in voter sentiment. When it comes to campaign spots, volume, not artistry, is what makes a difference.

And the effectiveness of political ads varies according to the offices being sought:

Many academic studies of TV ads have focused on presidential races. But the effects of ads, while still small, are significantly larger in races that are not at the top of the ticket, such as a House election. Vavreck and her two co-authors used polling and other data to assess the potency of TV ads from 2000 to 2018. Their conclusion: “Despite increasing partisanship in the electorate, there are still persuadable voters that respond to television advertising—especially in down-ballot elections, where voters have less information about candidates.” As Vavreck summarized when we spoke, “The effects of advertising are small and go away quickly. But small does not mean inconsequential, especially in a close race.”

Regarding the ways political attitudes and behavior are shaped by ads vs. other campaign investments, Shapiro writes:

The study also came to the surprising conclusion, partly based on an analysis of voter files, that the limited power of TV ads lies mostly in the realm of changing perceptions of candidates rather than in motivating people to turn out. John Sides, who teaches at Vanderbilt and is a co-author of the study, told me, “If you want to mobilize voters, it’s much better to do it with personal contact than TV ads.”

On the impact of positive vs. negative political ads:

….Travis Ridout, a professor of political science at Washington State University and a co-director of the Wesleyan Advertising Project, said, “According to the best studies, negative ads are not more effective than positive ads.” Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock, who studies persuasion, is also dubious. “I have a low opinion of the focus-group approach,” he told me. “You don’t have to remember or like an ad for it to be effective. It can still work if you hate it.”

How much is enough?

….A prime example of uncertainty is whether in free-spending races there is a saturation point when an additional commercial fails to have any effect. It seems logical, but proving it is akin to finding the great white whale. “We didn’t find a point of diminishing returns,” Sides said, but he theorized that it probably exists. In the context of a campaign, there is always pressure to put more money on TV. Part of it is a competitive instinct and part of it, frankly, is that many consultants are paid on the basis of the size of the media buy. “Clearly, this is an industry where nobody knows what’s effective,” Coppock said. “And everyone involved says, ‘You have to do more.’”

Looking at one of the marquee U.S. Senate races, Shapiro notes,

….But what is intriguing is the situation in Ohio where Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan dominated the airwaves over the summer while his GOP rival, J.D. Vance, did not air a single spot until August after winning a bruising May primary. Over a four-week period before Labor Day, Ryan aired 5,503 TV ads, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, dwarfing Vance’s modest buy. But will Ryan’s early advertising advantage matter in November? “I’m inclined to think that Ryan’s early advantage isn’t worth nothing,” Sides said, “but it’s not worth very much.” Ridout, however, makes the point, “We know from psychology that early impressions stick. And if you get the impression that Tim Ryan is a good guy fighting for the working class, it will take more negative ads to dislodge it.”

Shapiro concludes, “And most of all, don’t assume that campaign ad decisions are based on impeccable research. In truth, campaigns are flying blind just like the rest of us.” Here’s another take on the effectiveness of political ads from one of our recent articles. And it looks like there is a lot of room for quality research into how different ads work with particular constituencies.

Teixeira: The Median Voter Doesn’t Want a Green New Deal – Try an Abundance Agenda Instead

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

Last week I argued that, whatever the outcome of the 2022 election:

Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive disadvantage given the structure of the American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters….[T]he current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swathes of American voters who might potentially be their allies. And those swathes are very, very important. Without better performance there, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to implement their agenda at scale.

To fix this problem, I suggest a three point plan for reform and renewal. I covered the first part of that plan last week:

Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

This week I will discuss the second part of the plan (the third part will follow next week):

Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

Voters do not think much of Democratic management of the economy. Despite considerable legislative activity that impacts the economy and a very tight labor market, Republicans are consistently preferred to Democrats on handling the economy. In the most recent NBC poll, Republicans have a 19 point lead over Democrats on dealing with the economy, the largest lead for the GOP ever recorded by this poll.

Obviously this has a lot to do with high inflation and energy prices, along with lingering supply chain problems. In the last year, real wages for workers have actually gone down, because wage increases have not kept pace with inflation.

Democrats can argue that these are merely episodic problems along the road to something much better. But voters are not convinced and they can be forgiven for their skepticism. The truth of the matter is that Democrats’ theory of the case on the economy leans heavily on the idea that a dramatic expansion of the social safety net and a rapid move to a clean energy economy will—eventually–result in strong growth, a burgeoning supply of good jobs and a rising standard of living for all. So far the results have not been impressive.

This theory reflects the priorities of Democratic elites who are primarily interested in redistribution and action on climate change. But voters, especially working class voters, are interested in abundance: more stuff, more growth, more opportunity, cheaper prices, nicer, more comfortable lives.

Thus to reach and hold these voters, the Democrats need an abundance agenda. Right now, they don’t have one. Sure, they have a climate agenda. But the two things are not the same.

Start with the fact that climate change, while having very, very high salience for Democratic elites, has low salience for ordinary voters, particularly working class voters. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate this. In a Gallup “most important problem” poll this year, climate change came in at  a very modest 2 percent (open-ended response). A Pew survey asked the public about a lengthy series of policy priorities and whether they should be a “top priority” to address in the coming year. Dealiing with climate change came in 14th overall and among working class (noncollege) voters.

Surveys have repeatedly showed that, while the public mostly acknowledges climate change is ongoing and they are at least somewhat concerned about it, the issue is not so salient that they are willing to sacrifice much to combat it. In a an AP-NORC survey testing this, less than half of working class respondents said they would be willing to pay an extra dollar on their electricity bills to combat climate change and just 23 percent would be willing to pony up $10 a month.

No wonder Democratic messaging around a Green New Deal tends to rate poorly. Testing by Blue Rose Research for Data For Progress found this message on a Green New Deal ranking in the bottom third of possible Democratic messages to voters:

The Green New Deal decarbonizes our economy while ensuring we leave no community behind, including job transitions for miners, labor rights, healthcare and wages. We are running out of time to act on climate. We need a Green New Deal now.

Maybe the median voter isn’t terribly interested in a Green New Deal, which is predicated on getting rid of fossil fuels entirely and fast and replacing them with renewables. The median voter’s view is more an “all of the above” approach as captured by a recent Pew question. Pew asked the public which energy supply approach it preferred “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only” or “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources”. The all of the above approach was favored by an overwhelming 67 percent to 31 percent margin.

Maybe instead of a Green New Deal, they’d rather have abundance. It has been a huge mistake for the left to lose sight of the need for faster growth. Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes easier the achievement of Democrats’ other goals. Hard economic times typically generate pessimism about the future and fear of change, not broad support for more democracy and social justice. In contrast, when times are good, when the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most of the population, people see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward social generosity, tolerance, and collective advance.

Yet many Democrats still regard the goal of more and faster economic growth with suspicion, preferring to focus on the fairness of how current growth is distributed and its potential effect on climate change. This reflects not just laudable progressive goals, but also a general feeling that the fruits of growth are poisoned, encouraging unhealthy consumerist lifestyles and, worse, driving the climate crisis that is hurtling humanity toward doom.

Democrats should set their sights instead on a generally more productive, higher growth, and less regionally unequal American capitalism. That will take some time and require more robust and far-reaching industrial policy and regulatory reform than Democrats are currently comfortable with. What they are comfortable with is collapsing industrial policy to climate policy and collapsing climate policy to renewables. This is highly inadequate and will not produce the desired results.

This is true even with a narrow focus on the energy sector. If there is to be an abundant clean energy future, it will depend on our ability to develop the requisite energy technologies which must necessarily go beyond wind and solar to include nuclear, geothermal, CCS and other possibilities. This will require a considerably streamlined regulatory process plus a lengthy period of backup by fossil fuels. The rush to renewables has attempted to skip these steps with predictably negative effectson the price and reliability of energy.

The same needs for societal investment and patience apply to a wide range of other technological challenges that could underpin a future of abundance: AI and machine learning; CRISPR and mRNA biotechnology; advanced robotics and the internet of things. These technologies, just like clean energy technologies, need to be developed aggressively and over a lengthy period to unleash their potential.

That’s why it’s inadequate for Democrats to focus narrowly on a clean energy, Green New Deal-type future. Not only is there an excessive focus on wind and solar, but the challenges for an abundant future cannot be reduced to the need for a clean energy transition. And make no mistake: what Americans want is an abundant future not just a green one that, they are told, is mostly necessary to stave off planetary disaster.

In short, what Americans want and need is an abundant economy, of which a clean energy economy (and even more, renewables) are merely subsets or components. That can be a winning vision of where Democrats want to take the economy in ways a Green New Deal simply can’t.

As British science journalist Leigh Phillips has observed:

Once upon a time, the Left . . . promised more innovation, faster progress, greater abundance. One of the reasons . . . that the historically fringe ideology of libertarianism is today so surprisingly popular in Silicon Valley and with tech-savvy young people more broadly . . . is that libertarianism is the only extant ideology that so substantially promises a significantly materially better future.

That should be the Democrats’ mantra: more innovation, faster progress, greater abundance. Without that, simply being fairer and greener will fail as a unifying economic offer.