New Voter Survey Critiques Progressive Messaging

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Progresives are losing the election’s top topic: the economy. There’s no point in denying that fact. It is evident in polls repeatedly. Focus groups have shown that this is a point where Republicans are favored over Democrats, regardless how economic reality may be. Once a myth takes hold, it’s tough to manipulate.

But it doesn’t have to stay this way, according to an ambitious research project conducted for a coalition of progressive groups that recognize the problem. What’s the solution? Democrats just need to realize progressive Twitter isn’t real life.

In a report shared exclusively with TIME, The Winning Jobs Narrative project details how Democrats might be able to catch up to—if not overtake—the GOP on the issue of the economy. Survey results show that Democrats are capable of regaining ground with over 60,000. They can do this if they speak about respecting work and individual workers. Democratic messaging must be focused on daily life and not issues like civil rights or abortion. Making villains of corporations isn’t the winner that the left thinks it is. According to data, Democrats require a message framework that focuses on the needs of working-class voters. These are the voters who have been loyal supporters of Republicans for many years.

“Perception is something we can do something about, something we can change,” says Melissa Morales, a Democratic strategist working with the project. “There is reason for optimism. We still have the support of voters. We just have to show that we are with them.”

It’s no secret that Democrats are having a rough stretch this election season. They could suffer a humiliation in the midterms if their Senate and House majorities are not protected. The party in control of the White House typically has a poor showing in its first at-bat of a new President’s term, and Biden’s poll numbers are, frankly, abysmal. To find a President who has a lower approval rating for his job than Biden, you have to look back at Jimmy Carter. Progressives insist that the party’s focus is on civil rights and punishing corporate greed.

As instructive as it is foreboding, the strategy memo and slide deck are being sent to progressive groups. Research shows that Democrats don’t succeed at summoning the villains. Casting the super-rich as the guilty party doesn’t really inspire liberals as much as you’d think, but hyping the working class creates a space for persuasion. As an example, Workers should not have to pay higher taxes than billionairesIt is a powerful message. The billionaires have bad habits doesn’t have the same effect. However, It is all riggedIt is better to talk about than Record profits are being made by billionaires. It’s a tiny tweak, but one that the research suggests can make a difference.

In an echo of Bill Clinton’s campaigns in the 1990s, the research also shows dependency of government turns off voters in a big way. Voters will instead embrace personal responsibility. Despite the fact that progressives detest Clinton-era triangulation it resonates with many voters, particularly those from the middle-right. And talking about the value of a job—especially when described as “a good-paying job”—helps boost Democrats’ numbers, especially among persons of color. Finally, don’t discount the messaging around how both responsibility and employment can amplify the winning topic of family, most notably among women who make up the spine of the Democratic base.

“We’re delivering these opportunities that we promised to help you build a better life. But there’s a missing link between what is happening and the message that we’re getting out,” Morales says.

The researchers may have found that Democrats are in deficit when it comes to promoting the economic recovery. Voters simply aren’t buying the argument that this has been the fastest recovery in 40 years and aren’t giving Biden much credit for it; instead they’re looking at the worst inflation in the same period and record gas prices. Latino voters are particularly affected by the economic message. Voters overall told the survey that they favor Republican stewardship of the economy by two percentage points—seemingly small, but in an election due to be decided on the margins, it could be the entire ballgame.

These findings all boil down to the shocking admission that progressive bullhorns that have so much buzz may not win with most voters. While Kansas last week showed the electoral backlash against the end of federal abortion rights, it’s still secondary to the economy for most voters when they cast their midterm ballots. Democrats can benefit from health insurance if they frame it as an economic issue facing families and not as a right. It is not possible to make substantial gains with notions like justice, but having a job that allows families to get by makes a difference. It may not be a popular instinct on the progressive end of the political spectrum, but this trove of data can prove instructive—if Democrats will listen and tune out Twitter.

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