Without an Economic Message, Democrats Will Never Close the Deal

With less than three weeks to the midterms, Republicans are gaining traction in many individual Senate elections and taking a small lead in general congressional polls. As The New York Times reported on Monday: “Republicans enter the final weeks of the struggle for control of Congress with a slim but clear advantage as the economy and inflation have surged as the dominant concerns, giving the party momentum to regain power from the Democrats in next month ‘s midterm elections , a New York Times/The Siena College survey found.”

The survey provided compelling evidence that the midterms will be decided by business. As the Times He added: “With inflation relentless and stock markets steadily falling, the proportion of likely voters who identified economic concerns as America’s top concern has risen from 36 percent to 44 percent since July — far higher than any other issue. And the voters most concerned about the economy overwhelmingly preferred Republicans, by more than two to one.” That Times Poll can be dismissed as just a poll, and maybe a flawed one (like mine nation colleague Joan Walsh argues). But we also have aggregates of surveys like the one provided by 538.com. These show a consistent history of dwindling democratic opportunity in the Senate and House of Representatives.

This latest poll comes at a time when Democrats are divided over whether their final election message should focus on the economy. In recent months, Democrats have seemed to have found success, emphasizing messages such as threats to reproductive freedom and MAGA Republican extremism. Those issues have kept Democrats competitive — but they weren’t enough to close the deal. In order to win over the decisive mass of wavering voters, an economic message is necessary.

Some leading Democrats are reluctant to even acknowledge that economic issues could be critical. said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Punchbowl News,

“Inflation is a problem, but it’s global. It’s global. what is [the Republicans’] to plan? you have nothing If you lower unemployment, inflation goes up. So definitely [President Joe Biden] brought unemployment [down], cut it in half. Inflation is there, but it’s global and not as bad as in some countries. We need to report it better in the next three weeks. I think we’re in great shape. Other people don’t want to believe that.”

While Pelosi urges Democrats to at least address inflation as an issue, the thrust of her comments suggests complacency: Other countries are worse off; unemployment has fallen; the GOP has no alternative; we are fine. It commemorates the misfortune “America is already great‘ message the Democrats continued in 2016.

As usual, Bernie Sanders has been more blunt and strident about the need for Democrats to make a core economic argument, one that talks about how the party will fight corporate powers that are benefiting from the economic crisis. In an essay for The guardSanders argued, “While the abortion issue must remain paramount, it would be political misconduct for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered.”

This point, that their opponents’ arguments cannot go unanswered, is crucial. We see an example in England, where Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister after a disastrous attempt to push through tax cuts. Content to see Truss ousted, the rival Labor Party has not attempted to appropriate the narrative of their political defeat. So the mainstream press is able to draw the lesson that Truss proved not to piss the bond market off – rather than the more accurate conclusion that neoliberalism offers no solution for the present moment.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Democrats are listening to Bernie Sanders. Like the Labor Party, the Democrats have given up on the economic debate and let their opponents win by default. registered mail The leverreport Andrew Perez and David Sirota,

Republican candidates and political groups have spent $44 million since Labor Day on television ads that focus on the economy and inflation, according to a tally by AdImpact, which tracks campaign spending across the country. During the same period, Democrats have highlighted these issues in just $12 million worth of ads, less than 7 percent of the party’s total ad spending during that period. The party has poured another $18 million into ads mentioning jobs and infrastructure — but overall Republicans are spending it significantly on messages about economic issues.

The ads that focus on jobs and infrastructure are likely to be ineffective because they point to past achievements instead of offering solutions to future problems. In other words, they conform to the standard “America is already great” message. As Perez and Sirota conclude, Republicans have “spent almost four times as much as Democrats on advertising about the economy and inflation.” The problem, Perez and Sirota contend, is that Democrats are unwilling to ruffle the feathers of big donors who would be offended by economic populism: “Caught between a bad economy and a desire not to offend big donors, Democrats have no unanimous populist message pounding on business and fueling inflation.”

This analysis rings true, although the authors note that individual Democratic candidates such as Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman and incumbent Colorado Senator Michael Bennet make economic arguments.

If the Democrats wanted to, as a party they could embrace the message Fetterman and Bennet are espousing: one that accuses corporations of profiting from and fueling inflation. They might also highlight GOP extremism on economic issues, including repeated calls from top-level Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare.

If Democrats are to win in November, they need multiple messages that address voter concerns about reproductive freedom, far-right extremism and economic hardship.

As former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer claimed in his newsletter,

The summer’s focus on abortion and MAGA extremism closed the initial gap and enabled Democrats to turn history and the political environment on their head. However, this is the moment in the election cycle when the campaigns agree on their closing arguments. I now believe that the Democrats’ final argument must include a strong, populist attack on extremist GOP economic policies.

To date, Democrats have managed to remain competitive by emphasizing the importance of reproductive rights and the threat posed by MAGA Republicans. But these arguments have only bloodied the GOP. They didn’t offer a knockout punch.

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