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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Media Should Do More to Publicize Voter Registration Deadlines

Writing at The Journalist’s Resource, Thomas E. Patterson, author of  “Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?,”notes that “In most Western democracies, voter registration takes place automatically through the government. France is one of the few that, like the United States, require citizens to initiate their registration. But France has one thing the United States does not have, and it helps tardy citizens to remember to register in time — a uniform national registration date. News outlets throughout France highlight the pending closing of the registration rolls.”

In addition, “Registration deadlines in the U.S. are a patchwork of state deadlines. They come and go with little fanfare from election officials and not much more from the news media. Not surprisingly, research has found that few Americans know their state’s registration deadline, although the number jumps up in the states where it’s easiest to remember — those that allow residents to register at the polls on Election Day.”

Patterson provides this list of voter registration deadlines in the U.S.:

Oct. 9  
Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas

Oct. 10  
Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Florida

Oct. 11   

Oct. 12
Illinois, Missouri

Oct. 14  
North Carolina, Oklahoma

Oct. 15

Oct. 17

Oct. 18
District of Columbia, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia

Oct. 19  

Oct. 24  
Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota

Nov. 1 

Nov. 8  — Election Day      
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Patterson concludes, “The news media have a role to play in ensuring that Americans get a chance to vote. They could do more to tell citizens when and how to register. Research indicates that large numbers of the unregistered are unaware of where to go to register, when registration offices reopen, or what they need to bring with them as proof of eligibility. If there’s space in the news for yet another poll on the midterms, space can be found to alert Americans to registration deadlines.”

There are exceptions. But generally, big media all across America, including newspapers, television news programs, radio and social media, do a poor job of informing the public about voter registration deadlines and other important information related to voting. Voter registration deadlines and relevant information about how, when and where to register to vote should be posted every day at least during the last six weeks leading up to elections in newspapers, television news and websites, as a public service.

Tomasky: Dems Must Connect Economics, Democracy and Freedom

Eric Alterman’s ‘Altercation’ at The American Prospect features an interview with Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic and Democracy and author of The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity, on the topic of “How the Democrats’ Economics Changed.” Among Tomasky’s observations:

How can liberalism win the economic argument against the right? People need to wrap their heads around four propositions:

1. Even when the economy today is “good,” it’s not really good. That is, even when unemployment is low and the market is doing well and so on, the fact is—a fact mostly unremarked in the daily media—we are still in the midst of an economy whose main feature is that millions of dollars every year are being transferred from the poor and the middle class to the top. So even when the working class (the 50th percentile, say) is doing better, the super-rich (the 1 percent and even the .1 percent) are doing way better.

2. Economics has finally recognized the existence of politics. For decades, or centuries even, economics gave no thought to politics. Wages, for example, were determined by a set of market forces, and politics had nothing to do with it. That’s how academics thought, but it’s not how the world works. In the world, workers make what they have the political power to make. That seems obvious to you and me, but economists were (and many still are) deeply resistant to acknowledging this. The book tells the story of how this change came about, through the work of people like Joseph Stiglitz and groups like the Economic Policy Institute. It’s a really important change because it rejects the assumption of classical economics that left alone, the market will find equilibrium. No—the state has to play an evening-out role.

3. Economics has changed profoundly in this century. In sum, much of economics has moved from being based on theoretical modeling to being based on empirical data. And as this change has happened, economics has moved left, not because economists are leftists, but because the empirical data showed, for example, that r > g, in Thomas Piketty’s famous formulation. That is, the data show that the system is rigged for the rich in a way theoretical modeling did not. There are still, of course, plenty of conservative economists, but a younger and more diverse generation of economists is changing the profession, and those changes are seeping their way into politics.

4. Finally, here’s how the Democrats should explain all this to people. Republicans and the right are not, of course, just going to lie down and stop arguing economics. We’re in for a long battle. I think the best way for Democrats to win it is this: They need to attach their economic ideas to the ideals that Americans are taught to cherish from an early age—democracy and freedom. They should say something like: Yes, our economic policies will put more money in your pocket. But they’ll do more. They are good for democracy, because as the founders knew, a healthy democracy depends on a strong middle class. Too much economic and political power in the hands of the rich leads to oligarchy, and that’s where we’re headed if the trend of the last few decades isn’t arrested.

In addition, our economic plans will advance freedom. The right has sold people one definition of freedom: The free market means freedom. Well, there are a lot of small towns across this country where people are “free” to work at the dollar store or sell a little Oxy. That’s not freedom. There’s another definition of freedom: making people free to live up to their fullest potential. That’s a kind of freedom that dates to Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” and the definition of rights advanced in his 1944 State of the Union; it even goes back to some founders, as Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath show in an important recent book. When that single mom who works at the dollar store can go to free community college and has a safe and affordable place to park her toddler while she takes those night classes, she is doing exactly that: fulfilling her potential, and in addition, contributing more to the economy. That’s freedom, too. I think the Democrats need to say that—especially after the Dobbs decision. When the right has taken away a half-century-old freedom from women, the door is open to repossess that word and radically redefine it.

Long-standing neoliberal economic assumptions are finally being successfully challenged. If we can save our democracy in these next couple of years, we can win this fight. And I think we’re more likely to win it when we make people understand that economics, democracy, and freedom are not separate things. It’s all one argument.

Teixeira: Does the Abortion Issue Mean Democrats Have Won the Culture War? Not Even Close

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

Some Democrats may believe that they have now fixed what’s wrong with their party. They just passed some key legislation and are set to do better than expected in the 2022 election. Republicans are on the defensive about abortion. Democrats are unified, particularly in their depiction of their opponents as an ultra-MAGA party controlled by semi-fascists. Perhaps their problems are now solved.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is that, when the smoke clears and the dust settles this November, Democrats will likely control just the Senate (if that) of the two houses of Congress and still face the same daunting obstacles that were looming before their fortunes improved in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. The same geographic and educational polarization that undercuts the power of the Democratic coalition will remain. Indeed that polarization is likely to increase as the party relies more and more on white college-educated voters in affluent metropolitan areas.

This has profound implications for Democrats in the Electoral College and in Congress, especially in the Senate. Put simply, Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive structural disadvantage given the structure of American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters.

Nothing that has happened in the last several months changes this underlying and uncomfortable fact: Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the 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.

So, what to do? I have a modest three point plan for reform and renewal. The Democrats, of course, will continue to win some elections and dominate their favored areas of the country, even without reform. But if they are serious about moving the country away from its current partisan stalemate toward robust political and economic health, they must follow a new path. Here is the first part of that path (I will cover the other two in subsequent posts):


Meyerson: Dems Should Stress Economic Reforms to Win Young Voters

From “How to Turn Out Young Voters in November” by Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect:

By the evidence of every known survey, today’s young Americans are the leftmost generation in many decades, perhaps in our entire history. But will they vote in sufficient numbers this fall to block a Republican takeover of the Senate and the House?

….A new poll by Hart Research of nine states with closely competitive Senate contests, which oversampled voters under 40 (it polled more than 800 of them), shows, however, that the Democrats can still campaign profitably on the economy, inflation notwithstanding.

Even though Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the poll’s overall sample, young voters in those states favored the Democratic Senate candidates by a 57 percent to 29 percent margin. The top three most important issues to those voters were “prices and inflation,” with 55 percent highlighting that concern; “wages and salaries that keep up with the cost of living,” with 47 percent; and “abortion,” with 43 percent.

The poll then teased out themes from that “wages and salaries” issue. Asked whether companies or workers had too much power today over the other, or whether their power was roughly balanced, 79 percent of young voters said it was the companies that had too much power, versus the 7 percent who said it was workers and the 14 percent who said the relationship was balanced. Seventy-seven percent of young voters said they’d prefer a pro-union candidate, while 23 percent preferred an anti-union candidate. After hearing a description of the PRO Act, which is the latest iteration of congressional legislation making it easier to join or form unions, 64 percent of young voters said they’d back a Democrat who supports the act, while just 22 percent said they’d back a Republican PRO Act opponent.

Singling out swing voters among the young, the way to their hearts, and to get them to the polls, Hart Research concludes, is to emphasize such messages as raising wages and salaries (which 63 percent of those young swing voters say is an “extremely strong reason to support a Democratic candidate”), and making sure that workers are not “punished or even fired” for speaking out about problems on the job (68 percent).

“In other words,” Meyerson concludes, “abortion is still a crucial issue for Democrats to stress, but there’s also some economic messaging, despite inflation, that will help turn out the young.”

Teixeira: Dems Still Lack ‘Normie’ Cred

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

“Democrats are congratulating themselves that they are now the “normie voter” party. The logic runs like this.

They have recovered from a deficit in the generic Congressional ballot and no longer appear to be headed for a complete drubbing in the November election. They could plausibly hold the Senate and keep their losses in the House relatively modest (though are still highly likely to lose control of that body).

The Democrats can point to several issues on which Republicans are out of step with the country and have contributed to their recovery. Chief among them is abortion, where the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade has allowed them to cast the Republicans as intransigent advocates of abortion bans. The public on the other hand is clearly on the side of moderate abortion rights.

Another helpful development is the increased prominence of Donald Trump in the political dialogue and in various specific races. Republicans have a great deal of trouble dissociating themselves from Trump and his endless relitigation of the 2020 election. Some are true disciples of Trump and some just find it too politically difficult, whatever their personal opinions, to put real distance between themselves and the former President. But the end result is being out of step with the public which sees the 2020 election as settled and generally disapproves of Trump’s role in the January 6th events, his inflammatory rhetoric and his disregard of democratic norms.

Finally, Democrats have succeeded in passing stripped down versions of key leglislative priorities, the CHIPS and Science Act and the cheekily name Inflation Reduction Act, both of which are fairly popular with the public and strengthen the Democrats’ argument that they are delivering on their promises. (Of course, the recent decline in gas prices has little to do with Democrats’ priorities and actions and that decline certainly does more for Democrats’ immediate prospects that these pieces of legislation.)

So Democrats are on the right side of public opinion on these issues and are seeing their fortunes improve as a result. Does that make them the normie voter party now?

Not so fast. It may be fair to say that Republicans, by virtue of being associated with abortion bans and with Trump and Trumpism, are not the normie voter party. But that does not mean that Democrats, by virtue of not being those things, are now the normie voter party. Normie voters want more than that—a lot more than that.

Start with the very issue that is currently doing the Democrats the most good: abortion. Democrats are taking advantage of the Dobbs decision and the intent of many pro-life Republican forces to leverage that decision into draconian state abortion laws. This is not what normie voters want (see: Kansas). But on the other hand, neither do normie voters want completely unrestricted access to abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, the default position of much of the Democratic party.

By about 2:1 the public favors at least some restrictions on abortion. Looked at by trimesters, the framework used in Roe v. Wade, Gallup found that 60 percent think abortion should be generally legal in the first three months of pregnancy. But that falls to 28 percent for the second three months and just 13 percent for the final trimester.

This and other data strongly indicate that the median voter position is that abortion should be available without restrictions for the first trimester and then available only with restrictions, such as for rape, incest and the health of the mother, thereafter. This approximates the legal situation in most Western countries and would cover close to 90 percent of the abortions that currently take place.


Messaging Tips for Freedom-Loving Democrats

A few tips from, “Is This When Democrats Finally Learn How to Message? Republicans have been running circles around Democrats for decades. But finally the right has handed them a potent weapon. Will they recognize it and use it?” by Michael Sokolove at The New Republic:

“Sell the brownie, not the recipe,” is the top-line advice that [progressive candidate strategist Anat] Shenker-Osorio gives to her clients. She has consulted for various candidates and organizations, both overseas and in the United States, including the Senate Democratic Caucus. She tries to coax progressives out of their long-windedness—their instinct to aim messages at the head rather than the heart—and their tragic inability to get to the point.

“I want them to say fewer things and say them more often,” she said. “But Democrats get bored with that. They’re not good at it. I say this with so much sadness, but Elizabeth Warren spent an entire campaign selling the recipe rather than the brownie. I tell people: Don’t take your policy out in public. It’s not seemly. Your policy is not your message. The message is the outcome of your policy. For example, ‘We’re going to give you family leave so you’re going to be there the first time your baby smiles. We’ll raise the minimum wage so you can put food on your table, and you’ll be home to eat dinner with your family.’”

Drawing a contrast between the messaging style of the two major parties, Sokolove notes,

….The two major parties “do not operate as simple mirror images,” the political scientists Matt Grossman and David Hopkins observe in their 2016 book, Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. They write that even as Democrats have moved to the left on certain social issues, the party’s governing style can be described as “technocratic incrementalism over one guided by a comprehensive value system.” Democratic voters largely expect their elected officials to compromise—both among themselves, and, where possible, with the opposing party.

Is there an important distinction to be made between messaging by Democratic candidates on the one hand and progressive groups on the other?

….Steven Greene is a professor of political science at North Carolina State University with an expertise in public opinion and elections. When I told him the questions I was exploring, he responded by highlighting the divisions in the Dem tribe: “Are Democrats horrible at messaging? No. Liberal advocacy groups, who are not trying to win elections, are horrible at it. They’re the ones talking about ‘chest feeding,’ the ones arguing for Lia Thomas and other trans athletes to compete against women.” Establishment Democrats, he continued, “did not argue for defunding the police or use that phrase. But the left and its organized groups do. These are deeply unpopular opinions.” The party, he said, is currently engaged in “generational warfare. They’re eating themselves from the inside.”

Regarding the allegation that people who vote for Republicans do so against their self-interest,

There’s a raft of political science research that voters, and maybe especially Republican voters, are led by emotion as much as rationality. They go with the team they feel is pulling for them. Is it really voting against their self-interest when they cast ballots to put people in office who speak their language and make them feel better?….“When it’s said that people are voting against their self-interest, it’s a mistake to define self-interest in purely economic terms,” said Laurel Elder, a political science professor at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and the co-author, with Steven Greene, of The Politics of Parenthood. “They vote on emotion, on what gives meaning to their lives.”

Sokolove also taps the insights of a top Republican wordsmith, and writes:

Freedom is one of the big words that Republicans have owned. “Democrats don’t want to talk about religion, faith, and freedom,” [Republican strategist Frank] Luntz told me. “That comes off the Republican tongue like butter. Democrats choke on it.”….Freedom, though, is the winning word for Democrats. It is the beacon that brought immigrants pouring into this country. In its fullest form, it is what the descendants of enslaved Africans have fought for over the whole of the nation’s 246-year history. It’s the through line for the nation’s proudest accomplishments and purest ambitions.

Freedom for women to have control over their own choices and bodies. Freedom to vote. Freedom to love who you want. Freedom to read what you want. Freedom to earn a living wage. Freedom to send your children off to school without fear they’ll be riddled with bullets from an AR-15. Freedom for your kids and grandkids to dwell on a livable planet.

As Sokolove concludes, “Sell the brownie, not the recipe—and see how that works.”

Brownstein: Dems Can Break GOP Control of Key States

Some observations from Ronald Brownstein’s “Can Democrats break the GOP stranglehold on the states?” at CNN Politics:

Now, a new analysis has found that over the next decade, Democrats will face an uphill challenge to dislodge the GOP state house advantage that has allowed conservatives to advance this agenda so broadly and so quickly. In the battle for control of state legislatures, “Democrats face a defensive outlook over the decade ahead,” the Democratic group Forward Majority concludes in a report released Monday. “Good years for Democrats are ones in which power will come down to razor-thin margins; in contrast, good years for Republicans will be total routs.”
The study is based on an exhaustive effort by the group to model how the electoral competition between the two parties will evolve through 2030.
At the national level, the study forecasts another grueling decade of trench warfare in presidential elections between two closely matched coalitions, with Democrats positioned to improve across Sunbelt states adding more racial minorities and white-collar workers, and Republicans likely to gain ground across preponderantly White and heavily blue-collar states in the upper Midwest and potentially parts of the Northeast.
“At the state level,” Brownstein continues, “the study says Democrats face a very narrow path toward breaking the GOP’s current dominance. The study concludes that Democrats have a realistic chance of flipping Republican-held legislative chambers in just six states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona in the near term, and North Carolina, Georgia and, most strikingly, Texas, later in the decade.”
The larger picture presents a tough challenge for Dems:
Democrats begin this competition for state power in a steep hole. Today Republicans control 61 state legislative chambers and Democrats just 37. (The final state, Nebraska, has a unicameral nonpartisan legislature effectively controlled by Republicans). Republicans hold both legislative chambers in 30 states and Democrats in just 17. (In two other states, Minnesota and Virginia, control of the two legislative chambers is split between the parties.) Adding in governors, Republicans hold unified control in 23 state governments and Democrats just 14.
This imbalance gives the GOP tremendous leverage in their efforts to suppress voting by pro-Democratic constituencies. Further, “To increase the party’s odds of winning these battlegrounds, Forward Majority argues that Democrats must increase their organizational investments today in suburban and exurban areas where the party has not typically focused.” Brownstein Adds, “The key for Democrats is to exploit opportunities at the district level that have not been systematically pursued, which can build advantage and shape the electorate of these districts over time,” the report concludes. Most important, the group notes there are “2.2 million unregistered likely Democratic voters in these districts.” In addition,

The study is relatively more optimistic about Democratic prospects in the battle for the White House. Since 2020, an array of Democratic commentators and strategists, such as demographic analyst Ruy Teixeira and data scientist David Shor, have raised alarms that Democrats in the years ahead could be locked out of the White House by increasing educational polarization — the tendency of more well-educated voters to back Democrats and more voters without college education (including potentially more Latinos) to vote Republican. That could benefit Republicans both because most voters do not hold four-year college degrees and also because those who do tend to be concentrated in relatively fewer states that already lean blue.

But Forward Majority’s extensive modeling show the two parties remaining highly competitive for the White House and Democrats even enjoying a slight advantage in conditions that replicate the most common outcomes of the past three decades. The pattern of educational polarization, if it persists, will slightly improve the Republican position through 2030 across the key Midwest battlegrounds (including not only Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but also Minnesota and some Northeastern states), the simulations project.

But, the analysis forecasts, educational polarization, along with growing racial diversity and more in-migration of white-collar workers from other states, will simultaneously improve the Democratic position across four giant Sunbelt battlegrounds: North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Texas. An electorate in which Democrats gain among well-educated voters and Republicans grow stronger among those without college degrees, “is not the fight I would necessarily choose. This is the fight that Republicans have chosen for us,” says Roeder. “But those are trade-offs we can absorb in a state like Texas or a state like Pennsylvania.”

Looking toward the future, Brownstein concludes, “emocrats have a realistic opportunity to win at least one chamber and break the complete Republican control of the state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona, all states whose district lines were drawn by an independent commission. If Democrats can flip at least a single chamber in all three states, Hausman notes, it would ensure that there are states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes where Republicans do not fully control the legislature. Not long ago, Democrats might never have imagined they would need such an insurance policy to ensure a fair outcome of a presidential election, but that may be the new reality they now confront.”

Teixeira: Tell Me More About This Neither Party Party

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

John Halpin at The Liberal Patriot investigates the large swath of voters who don’t like either party. They are not happy campers!
“On the eve of the Senate passage of the Democrats’ big reconciliation bill, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), an ABC News/Ipsos tracking poll found that pluralities of Americans trusted neither party to do a better job handling taxes, inflation, and climate change—three of the major components of the IRA. Pluralities of Americans also distrusted both parties on key issues like crime and gas prices. Among unaffiliated voters, the results were even starker: Ipsos reports that nearly half of self-identified Independents say they trust neither party to do a better job handling every issue examined in the poll.”

Kamarck: Trump May Help Create ‘Large and Sustainable Democratic Majority’

Some observations from “Lessons from the 2022 Primaries – what do they tell us about America’s political parties and the midterm elections?” by Elaine Kamarck at Brookings:

The leftward movement on the Democratic side is far less dramatic than the movement to the right on the Republican side, a trend our colleagues Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein have been writing about for much of the 21stcentury….there are still a large number of Mainstream Democrats running in the Democratic primaries, and they do fairly well. In addition, there are a large number of candidates who call themselves progressives and they too do fairly well. In a finding sure to make Republican ad makers unhappy, there are very few Democratic Socialists running in Democratic primaries and they lose more than half their races. Of the 13 candidates using that label only five won, and all of those races were in very Democratic districts where the Cook Political Report rates them above D+20. The revolution appears to be losing steam.

….Conclusion. In the past decade each major political party has found itself embroiled in factional wars. But the impact on the parties has been very different. On the Republican side candidates have embraced Trump – even when he has not embraced them – and done very well in the primaries because of it.  On the Democratic side, the impact of Bernie Sanders’ revolution has been smaller, more muted, and less successful in primaries. These facts are often overlooked for two reasons. First, the Republican Party works hard to paint all Democrats as socialists who would wreck our economy, defund the police, and open our borders to everyone. Second is the inclination in the press towards what our colleague and distinguished journalist Marvin Kalb has called the “journalistic curse called bothsideism.”[4] The way this has worked in recent years is to assume symmetry – if the Republican Party is being jerked to the far right; the Democratic Party must be being jerked to the far left. As we’ve seen, there’s not much evidence to support that trend among the Democrats but plenty of evidence to support it among the Republicans.”

Some years ago, political scientists Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann popularized the notion of “asymmetric polarization” and argued that it was worse among elites such as lawmakers on the Republican side than it was among lawmakers on the Democratic side.[5] The ongoing work in the Primaries Project offers evidence that polarization is worse on the Republican side than on the Democratic side, and that moving far right is received more enthusiastically among Republican voters than moving far left is among Democratic voters.

The question this poses for the elections of 2022 and beyond is whether the Republican Party’s enthusiastic embrace of Trumpism will, at some point, go so far as to backfire and create a large and sustainable Democratic majority. Early indications are that abortion politics may be the cutting edge of this kind of overreach.

There is reason to hope we are seeing the first stirrings of such a stable congressional Democratic majority, moving into the home stretch of the 2022 midterm campaigns. Experience teaches that personality cults and extremism don’t have a long shelf life. It’s more a matter of when, than “if.”

Drew Westen: Dems Must ‘Go for the Gut” to Do Well in Midterms

Drew Westen explains “How Democrats can persuade voters to turn out at the polls” in an August 15th column at CNN Opinion:

How do you weigh a carton of eggs against a carton of freedoms? Both are on the ballot this November, and how Americans vote will be as much a function of psychology as politics.

That’s because our conscious mind is a limited tool for decision-making, in large part because it has limited “space.” Try remembering nine items you need at the store: Voters can’t possibly keep in mind every issue they care about as they cast their ballots for multiple candidates and propositions.

And how do you weigh what you feel every time you reach for a gallon of milk against what you feel about the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade after a half-century, or how safe you feel sending your kids back to school this month?

As in most decision-making, much of what drives us is unconscious and emotional. Voters form associations between what they feel and what is happening around them. They “calculate” the costs and benefits of what matters to them — their interests and values — largely outside of their awareness, often in the form of “gut feelings” toward a candidate or party.

Westen, author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” and Emory University professor of psychology and psychiatry, adds that, despite Biden’s achievements “the sum of policies with approval numbers in the 60s or 70s, yields presidential ratings in the 30s. Why? Because voters aren’t consciously weighing the costs and benefits of Biden. They are associating him with the skyrocketing cost of living….Perhaps July’s downtick in inflation and the drop in gas prices will register before the midterm elections, or perhaps not. Associations change much more slowly than conscious beliefs.”

Westen warns, further, if Democrats “offer voters a laundry list of accomplishments rather than an emotionally compelling story about where the two parties plan to take the country, Republicans will take them to the cleaners in the House of Representatives, where the Democratic majority is razor thin, and in statewide races.” In addition,

Democrats can use their accomplishments to blunt voters’ economic anxiety and begin to restore hope — two of the most important emotions that drive voting. Aside from its popular provisions, the Inflation Reduction Act — if Democrats can restrain themselves from calling it “the reconciliation bill,” or a resorting to a “catchy” acronym like “IRA22” — is an emotionally evocative name that connects the dots to voters’ primary source of anxiety.

It also allows Democrats to put their opponents on the defensive by simply asking, “So why are you against reducing inflation? Most of the people we represent are pretty concerned about it.”

Westen argues that Democrats must “retain the emotional intensity” that energized the Kansas vote on abortion rights and turn up the heat on election deniers and Trump worshippers, because voters’ “polarized feelings about Trump will undoubtedly enter voters’ unconscious calculus as well.”

Westen concludes that “Voters can’t consciously report what they are unconsciously thinking and feeling. But if Democrats want to break the historical curse of first-term presidents in the midterms and the equally powerful curse of inflation, they will need to go for the gut.”