From Mike Lux’s Executive Summary of “A Strategy for Factory Towns,” a report by American Family Values:
Hard times, effective right-wing messaging, the demise of local news, and sometimes the Democratic Party itself have led to big changes in the voting and opinions of people living in small and midsized towns that have been most impacted by deindustrialization and increased Big Business power in the economy. But these Factory Towns voters are not lost causes to the Democratic Party, and we cannot afford to write them off. They comprise 48% of the voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, and if we continue to lose ground with them, the entire region will become more and more like Iowa and Missouri – tough states for the foreseeable future. However, if these counties start to move back toward the Democrats, that kind of progress could be the linchpin to building sustained Democratic majorities that can usher our country into a more progressive future.
This report is part of a continuing effort by American Family Voices to do on-the-ground research and data analysis to understand the thinking and motivation of working-class voters, and to recommend strategies that can begin to rebuild the Democratic Party’s and progressive movement’s historic connection to America’s working class.
The project focuses on voters in “Factory Town” counties in six key states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These states were Ground Zero in 2016, breaking down the “Blue Wall” critical to Democratic victories. Joe Biden did just enough better in 2020 to help win back Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, but these communities in all six states remain very tough for Democrats and will be among the most highly competitive counties for 2024.
Despite the challenges, this is a moment where Democrats have an opportunity to make more gains. Biden and the Democratic Congress have passed substantial legislation that can bring progressive change, all the way down to the community level, over the next two years. The president’s policies, background, and genuine affinity for these working-class communities make him an ideal leader for this effort.
This report combines data from our most recent polling, Facebook and digital analytics, and comparisons of county-by-county elections results in 2022 to the past decade of state election results. The report closes with recommendations on how Democrats and progressive issue advocates should move forward with Factory Towns voters and counties.
Here is the bottom line in our findings:
1. The presidential horse race numbers are very competitive in these counties, but Republicans are stronger in terms of the economic frame.
2. Voters have negative opinions of both parties: this presents both challenges and opportunities for Democrats. Voters in these counties tend to think Democrats lack an economic plan, but they see the GOP as the party of wealthy corporations and CEOs.
3. Populist economics and the Democratic economic policy agenda play very well in these counties. These voters respond best to an agenda focused on kitchen-table economic issues.
4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, populist economic messaging works much better than cultural war messaging. Our strongest Democratic message on the economy beats the Republican culture war message easily. The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us.
5. Community building needs to be at the heart of our organizing strategy.
6. I recommend that Democrats and progressives make major investments in local field organizing and door-to-door, special events that build community, online community building, existing local media and progressive media targeted to these counties, and progressive organizations that make sure voters know how to benefit directly from the Biden policy initiatives of the last two years.