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NDN's Saliency Index 12/8/21 - COVID, The Economy Remain Most Important Issues for Dems

NDN’s Saliency Index 12/8/21 – COVID, the economy remain most important issues for voters Dems need to win in 2022

A few weeks back, NDN launched a new analytical product we are calling the Saliency Index.  It takes the data from Navigator Research’s “most important issue” question and models it for what a typical electorate in a swing state or district might be.  The Navigator question smartly asks people to provide 4 answers from a pre-set list, providing a great deal of granularity not available when respondents are only asked to name a single highest priority.  

You can learn more about the methodology behind the Index in this post, and you can find the raw data from the latest Navigator survey here.   We will be putting out a new Index each time Navigator releases its toplines, and will also begin to track changes in the Index over time. 

So here’s our Saliency Index from the just released 11/20/21 Navigator toplines, with Modeled D = (80%D, 15%I, 5%R) and Modeled R = (80%R, 15%I, 5%D):  

So the most obvious takeaway here is just how different the information universes are for Democrats and Republicans.  While we know this conceptually, this analysis really brings it out.  Two top tier Dem issues – climate/extreme weather and health are – are off the radar screen for Republican voters.  Three top tier GOP issues – immigration, inflation and national security – are second tier issues for Democrats.  

Other takeaways:

COVID remains a top issue for the Democratic electorate - As we’ve written elsewhere we think Democrats need to frame their agenda in the context of “defeating COVID, securing the recovery and…..” Democratic voters have not moved on from COVID, nor should we expect them to for a while.  Note here that COVID is almost twice as important for the Democratic electorate as it is for Rs – the gap here is huge, and critical to understand.  It’s why we think the President should go on a “war footing” on COVID – not just to keep asking people to do their part, but because Democratic voters want/expect him to lead on the issue. 

Climate/extreme weather is now consistently a top tier issue for the Democratic electorate – more work has to be done here, as this finding is new, and not showing up in other research projects.  May reflect the priorities of younger Americans, who make up a far bigger percentage of the Dem than GOP electorate.

Is the current Dem focus on inflation justified? For modeled Dem voters in this report inflation is a second tier issue right now.  A second question in this survey (q48) asks whether the inflation we are seeing is coming from COVID disruption or Biden economic policy, and for modeled Dem voters it is 70% COVID, 21% Biden. Using our methodology, inflation is just not a major concern for Dem voters right now, and the data suggests that the best way for Dems to address concerns about inflation, supply chains and worker shortages is keep challenging Americans to do their part in defeating COVID here at home. 

Finally, we understand that this is a crude analysis.  Every state and district will have their own specific issue hierarchies.  But it’s our belief that Democrats have to become more focused on what matters to voters, the salience of issues, not just their popularity.  As I explain in this essay, an issue can be popular but not important to voters.  What moves votes are issues which are popular and important.  Looking at the political landscape or a set of issues without first establishing saliency can produce distorted understandings of where voters are, and may help explain why it is possible that Democrats have done all this popular stuff this year and seen the President’s job approval decline so much. 

3 Times As Many Biden Jobs As Bushes, Trump Combined

Friday, December 3rd - So with our the new December jobs report posted, our monthly jobs tracker comes in at (you can also find all this in a new Twitter thread):

33.8m jobs - 16 years of Clinton, Obama

5.9m jobs - 10 months of Biden

1.9m jobs - 16 years of Bush, Bush and Trump

Biden's 5.9m jobs is already three times as many than were created in the 16 years of the last 3 Republican Presidencies, combined.  It is also millions more than were created in the entirety of any of their three individual Presidencies.  Many millions more.  Since 1989 and the end of the Cold War, the US has seen 42 million new jobs created.  Remarkably 40 million of those 42 million were created under Democratic Presidents, 95%. 

What this data tells us is that since this new age of globalization began in 1989, a modern and forward looking Democratic Party has repeatedly seen strong economic growth on its watch.  Republican Presidents, on the other hand, have overseen three consecutive recessions - the last two, severe. The contrast in performance here is very stark, it is not a stretch to state that the GOP’s economic track record over the past 30 years has been among the worst in the history of the United States.  

GDP growth tells a similar story:

And look at the jobs created per month over these Presidencies - Rs at just 10k per month over 16 years.  Biden is running at almost 60 times times that so far in 2021.  Yes 60x.  

The bottom line is that Democratic policies have repeatedly been able to make globalization work for the American people in this new and challenging age.  GOP policies have repeatedly failed to deliver, as a national party Republicans have repeatedly failed to do their part.  For those looking for reasons why America has not made more progress in this era, reactionary Republican policies appear to be a very good place to start.   

It is our firm belief here at NDN that the current radicalization of the GOP is intimately linked to its repeated failure to handle the challenges of the post-Cold War era.  The rigid ideological approach of the modern GOP has left it unable to govern in a time of rapid change; and those repeated failures have left many Republicans angry, reactionary and willing to do the unthinkable to stay in or regain power.  The modern GOP has no answers for many of the most important challenges America faces today, and rather than modernizing, adapting, as all institutions must in a time of change, the GOP has decided to fight the future by rigging the system to remain in power while the country and its people drift from their narrow grasp. 

It is why Democrats must fight so hard to prevent Republicans from once again cheating their way into power, and establishing a sustained period of minority rule.  It is not just a betrayal of the great American experiment, but it will guarantee, as the data here strongly argues, a period of extended decline as much needed progress on the big challenges we face will be further delayed. 

This argument – about the success Democrats have achieved through modernization, and the failures of the GOP for their refusal to do so – is at the very core of our presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better.  Our next presentation is Friday, December 10th.  You can learn more about these arguments, sign up to see the 12/10 With Dems, or see a recording of September 24th presentation here.  If you liked this analysis, you will love With Dems.  Join us!

Update - This research gets a nice shoutout in a new David Rothkopf essay in USA Today about Biden's economic agenda and success so far. Mike Tomasky also gives this work nice treatment in a Daily Beast essay, "Everyone Does Better When the President's a Democrat."

Supporting NDN This #GivingTuesday

As long time NDNers know we only come to you when we need a bit more support, and this is one of those times.  We need to raise $30,000 in the next few weeks to ensure we make our 2021 budget and enter another important political year all cylinders firing.  So please consider making a contribution to NDN today of any amount - $25, $50, more - as part of your Giving Tuesday plans, on this, our first solicitation of the year. 

Your financial support allows us to stay in the arena during these challenging times, continuing to help chart a modern and successful course for today’s center-left.  A few highlights from a very productive year: 

- We are thrilled that so many policies NDN has long championed, from “clean infrastructure” to expanding the number of school years for all Americans to critical investments in child care, have been embraced by President Biden and are advancing through Congress.  

- We’ve published a series of influential, big-picture strategy memos which have, we hope, helped guide our family through what has been an historic but far too rancorous summer and fall.  

-  We’ve launched two new regular analytical products – a monthly Jobs Report which contrasts the economic performance of the two parties over the past 30 years, and a new Saliency Index which tracks what issues matter most to the voters Democrats need to talk to in 2022.  

-  We’ve hosted many elected officials, innovators and thought leaders in our new Zoom discussion series, which has covered topics as wide-ranging as struggles in Democratic polling, resisting economic nostalgia, the need for a single national privacy standard to the ever worsening radicalization of the GOP.  

-  Our two feature presentations, With Democrats Things Get Better and our 2022 Election Briefing, are updated each month and continue to offer fresh insights and analysis.  

- Finally, we are very proud of how much we’ve broken through in the national media this year.   Our analysis has been regularly cited in the big national media outlets and in the emerging pod ecosystem - including the Atlantic, Axios, the New York Times, Politico, Politicology, That Trippi Show and the Washington Post - ensuring that our indepth analysis and modern approach continues to shape our collective understanding of this critical period in American history.  

So, as you decide where your #GivingTuesday contributions will go, we hope you will make NDN and its cutting edge work one of the places you support.  We don’t ask very often, and hope we can count on your support in this critical moment, so full of both promise, and peril.  

Defeating COVID Remains Job #1

Are We Ready for A Winter COVID Surge? A winter surge here in the US, along with the inevitable emergence of another concerning variant, are vivid reminders that until COVID is defeated here and everywhere our country and economy will struggle to return to something close to normal.  It’s why we’ve been advocating for months now for President Biden to return to a pandemic war footing, and make the defeating of COVID and securing a global economic recovery the central task of his Presidency.  

As part of this stepped up effort we think it would be wise for the President to address the nation in the coming days about COVID.  Do a Presidential check-in, let the American people know about the very real progress we’ve made, discuss the very real challenges ahead, lay out the plan and team which will defeat COVID here and everywhere in the months ahead. There is much good news to share – vaccines for 5-11 year olds, the booster, coming therapeutics, expansion of rapid at home testing options, more sophisticated global surveillance capacity.  The President can also remind voters that many of the challenges we face now in what’s been a very rapid economic recovery – inflation, supply chain, worker shortages – are due to COVID, and the harder we all work to defeat COVID, the faster we can put these challenges behind us.    

It is our belief that the main driver of the President’s job approval decline since the spring has been the public loss of faith in his management of COVID.  We fear what might happen to his standing if the US experiences a serious return of COVID this winter, as we are seeing in some European countries now and as the emergence of the new variant threatens.  It is why we strongly recommend that the President get out ahead of this rising uncertainty, step up his domestic and global efforts, address the nation and make it clear that defeating COVID will remain the #1 priority of his Administration until the pandemic is actually behind us.  

As Simon argues in the Washington Post today there is a clear domestic political imperative to the President re-grounding his Presidency in COVID/recovery: “To me the highest message priority for 2022 is to make sure we get credit for having defeated covid and secured the economic recovery,” said Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist. “If we can’t get credit with voters for big important things we’ve done, we are unlikely to get credit for things which largely haven’t happened yet. As the incumbent party, we will be judged by whether we’ve made people’s lives better, not on what legislation we’ve passed.”

This essay was originally posted on Tuesday, Nov 22nd and updated on Monday, November 29th. 

NDN Hails The Passage of the Build Back Better Act

"NDN applauds the Democratic House Leadership, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for rallying the Democratic Caucus behind the historic Build Back Better Act.  Getting here wasn’t easy, and the Speaker and her team deserve so much credit for taking the President’s bold vision and turning it into legislation that could pass the House. 

The three big Biden bills of 2021 – the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Bill and BBB – do big things.  They are defeating COVID and securing the recovery.  They will make America a global leader in the existential fight against climate change.  They will make extraordinary investments in our people.  Americans will be better educated, live healthier lives, have better access to the Internet and have far more modern transit options.  Millions of Americans will get good jobs from these three bills; tens of millions will have improved opportunities and more money for their families; we will better equipped to fight future pandemics; and our country will be stronger and every American – every single one of us - will be better off due to these three far-sighted bills.

It is up to the Senate now to do its part." - Simon Rosenberg

NDN released a statement praising the bi-partisan infrastructure bill earlier this week. 

NDN's Saliency Index - A New Public Opinion Measure

Over the last few weeks I've been playing around with something I'm calling our Saliency Index.  It is an exercise designed to try to determine which issues matter most to voters available to Democrats in 2022, and to also show just how different the concerns of those voters are from Republicans. 

So I start with the following question and results from the Nov 8th Navigator Research poll:

Look at how different the issue environment is:

Top 5 issues, all voters - jobs/economy, COVID, inflation, immigration, health care

Top 5 Dem issues - COVID, jobs/economy, climate/extreme weather, health care, social security/medicare

Top 5 Indie issues - jobs/economy, COVID, health care, corruption in govt, inflation

Top 5 GOP issues - jobs/economy, immigration, inflation, national security, corruption in goverment

What this shows is that the intensity of feeling by GOP voters about two issues - immigration and inflation - turn issues of lesser concern for Dems and Indies into top tier issues of all voters.  This intensity ends up distorting our understanding of what matters to voters, and is particularly distorting for Democrats.  For Democrats don't get elected by all voters, they get elected mostly by Democrats with a few independents and Republicans mixed in.  So these "all voters" priority lists are just not where Democratic candidates need to be, it is not the information universe they live in. 

In talking to some campaign friends we came up with a formula for what a Dem universe would be.  We estimated that the vote of a typical swing district Dem is about 80% Democratic, 15% Independent, and 5% Republican.  80/15/5.  Applying that formula to that data a Dem district comes out as:

COVID 59% Economy/Jobs 57% Health Care 42% Climate/Extreme Weather 34% Soc Sec/Medicare 33% Inflation 27% Govt Corruption 23% Immigration 21% Nat Security 19% Violent Crime 17% Afghanistan 11% Abortion 11%

As compared to for all voters:

Economy/Jobs 58% COVID 47% Inflation 34% Immigration 33% Health Care 33% Soc Sec/Medicare 31% Climate/Extreme Weather 29% Govt Corruption 28% Nat Security 28% Violent Crime 14% Afghanistan 14% Abortion 10%

A few things of note from this analysis:

- COVID remains the #1 issue for Dem voters.  It is not even a top 5 issue for Republicans right now. Extraordinary finding. The data of course suggests Dems should be spending most of their public messaging time talking about COVID and recovery.  

- Inflation is not a top tier issue for Dem voters right now, nor is immigration even though they are #3 and #4 for all voters.  On inflation, we also see from this same Navigator poll, that 70% of our voters think inflation is due to COVID, and only 20% say it is due to excess government spending.  For R voters, it ranks third as an issue of concern, at 45%, and 73% blame Biden/spending.  So it is pretty clear that the freak out over inflation is not being driven by voters Democrats are talking to right now, and Democrats would be wise to not overreact here. 

- Climate/extreme weather is a top tier issue for Democrats.  This is a new development, and something the center-left family needs to pay attention too. 

- Interested to see if Dems can make reproductive health more salient in the months ahead.  Feel like there is a big opportunity here

As good as this work is from Navigator, and it is very good work, I'm hoping they will debt/deficits as an option in the days ahead.  It's a significant omission. 

Is 80/15/5 the right ratio? As a rule of thumb it seems pretty good, but every competitive state and district will have their own formula.

This is our Saliency Index.  For Dems on Nov 8th, 2021 it is:


Economy/Jobs 57%

Health Care 42%

Climate/Extreme Weather 34%

Soc Sec/Medicare 33%

Inflation 27%

Govt Corruption 23%

Immigration 21%

Nat Security 19%

Violent Crime 17%

Afghanistan 11%

Abortion 11%

See this recent essay for a discussion about the limitations of using "popularity" in determining whether an issue can move votes and help candidates win. 

Infrastructure - an historic investment in our future, in the young people of America, in doing

The lives of Millennials, Gen Zers are going to get a lot better – As I was talking to one of my teenage kids last night I was struck by how much this new infrastructure bill is about her, her life, the life of her kids.  For the next twenty years she will see the impact these investments will make in just about everything she does.  She will be able to get to places faster and easier; things she makes and buys will be cheaper and easier to transport; water she drinks may be cleaner, healthier; and we will be taking enormous steps forward in creating a vibrant decarbonized economy, better for her, her children and their children in so many ways.  Her life, and the life of every young American, will just be better.  Their opportunities will be enhanced.  There will be, as the President likes to say, more “possibilities.”

Another powerful aspect of this new bill will be in how much more it will allow these young (and maybe not so young) Americans to do, to contribute, to understand how to make and build things.  I don’t think we have good language in America today to describe the importance of the collective capacity of our people, and how the knowledge they gain from education but also from doing/working/building is so essential to our collective prosperity.  The more understandings people have the more they can do, the more they can innovate, the more they can keep creating, adding to a virtuous cycle of knowledge and doing that moves our economy, our businesses, our society forward.  This infrastructure bill by putting so much money into working/doing, is going to create a big societal bang of more capable people, accelerating/expanding the churn of that virtuous cycle, making us all more prosperous and capable of winning the future.  This far-sighted bill, along with other investments we are going to make through BBB and USICA, is going to make these rising generations of Millennials, Gen Z and those that follow more capable of doing; and the long term benefit of that for America is simply impossible to put into dollar figures.  For the capacity to do really is the most important thing a nation can have; and doing, at a massive, distributed scale can only really happen in a democracy and through modern Western-style capitalism.   It is what America is really all about at its core – doing, and doing better than anyone else.  

So, what I am struck by this morning is how much we need to be talking to young Americans about what their leaders just did for them.  They did something dramatic, something that will do much to make their lives better.  They’ve invested in them, believed in them, given them more tools to make a better life and pass all this on to their children someday.  Investing forward is a powerful thing, a hopeful thing, something so central to healthy societies that I am a bit overwhelmed today.  For we have now - and no one can take it away - done something profound for our kids, our future, our nation and we need to take the time to sit with that, celebrate it and shout it from the rooftops.  As the President has repeatedly said passing this bill will show to all that our democracy and society can overcome the rancor and bickering and fighting and do something profoundly good for ourselves and our future.  While everything is not perfect today, this has been a very important week for America; and those of us who understand why need to be loud and proud about it all in the coming days, particularly with younger Americans who will derive far more benefit from these investments than those of us formally young. 

Press, Pods and Punditry

A roundup of our recent appearances in the media.....

Simon is given lots of airtime in new articles in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe about the struggle of President Biden to get credit for the strong economic recovery.  You can also catch him talking about the current political moment in a lively and fun Politicology podcast, The Sh*tshow Must Go On.  He was also cited in a recent Politico's playbook about the need for Dems to invest in building their own amplification networks to counter the power of right wing media, and in a Washington Examiner article about the President's agenda and the 2022 elections. 

Simon's analysis was featured in two other recent Washington Post articles - one about Virginia and the Democrats, the other about the struggles of getting the President’s agenda through Congress. Lots more insights about the election and politics in these two Ron Brownstein Atlantic essays (here, here); this David Rothkopf Daily Beast column; this Politico article by Christopher Cadelago and Laura Barron-Lopez; a Susan Milligan US News piece about the progressives’ disappointing election; and a Real Clear Politics articleanother in the Hill and this one in the Washington Examiner which explore the current contensious ideological debate inside the Democratic Party.  Finally, we offer some thoughts on what the President needs to do to bring Joe Manchin around in this NYTimes piece

Simon has been featured in three other recent podcasts -  a That Trippi Show episode called 3 Ways To Win In in 2022; a Background Briefing with Ian Masters show on the infighting in the Democratic Party; and a Politico Courage pod on Afghanistan and the Biden agenda. 


Our analysis also appears in a Washington Post piece on the lessons of Gavin Newsom's win in California; a Politico article about Biden and the impact of COVID’s return; a WaPo Greg Sargent column on the GOP’s radicalization around COVID; a USA Today essay on the success of the Biden economic agenda; a LA Times piece on the youth vote; and Mike Tomasky offers up a rave review of NDN’s With Dems presentation in this Daily Beast column.  

Some Initial Thoughts on the 2021 Elections

First, NDN remains optimistic that the 2022 elections can be far better for Democrats than 2021 proved to be.  We lay out the 3 reasons why in a new memo: real accomplishments to run on starting with defeating COVID, extreme/unfit GOP, bigger and better campaigns and turnout machine.  Despite everything, as we say in the memo, we’d rather be us than them heading into the mid-terms next year. 

Next, as we warned in a widely cited memo a month ago, the Democrats needed to come together in October, get a deal done and break the relentlessly negative public dynamic “for the good of the party, for Virginia, for his own Presidency” (WaPo).  That didn’t happen, and Joe Biden’s approval rating dropped from Biden 45.9-48.7 (-2.8) on Oct 1st to 43.3-51.1 (-7.8) yesterday – the lowest point of his Presidency (via 538).  Biden’s recent job approval slide:

July 1  52.8-43.1 (+9.7)

Aug 1  51.0-44.5 (+6.5)

Sept 1  46.4.-48.1 (-1.7)

Oct 1   45.9-48.7 (-2.8)

Nov 2 43.3-51.1 (-7.8)

With all three Virginia statewide races being decided by 2 points or less, it’s pretty clear that if Biden had been able to keep his approval where it was even in early October last night would have turned out just fine. But that didn’t happen, and Democrats paid a heavy price.  As we head into 2022, the Biden White House and his allies in Congress simply must do a better job in managing the President’s approval rating in order to give his party a fighting chance in the elections next year.  It is a central responsibility of the party leader, and far more should have been done to have prevented the fall we’ve seen.  

Lots of lessons to be learned from these losses, lots of changes/improvements to be made as we head into 2022.  Head down now, back to work all.  Let’s get this reconciliation deal done as soon as possible and spend the next few months finishing the job on COVID and securing what has become a bumpy recovery.  This time of debilitating debate has to end. 

NDN has scheduled two opportunities for you to dive into the election results with us and talk about next year:

Friday, Nov 5th 2pm ET – NDN Election Briefing – Join NDN for our monthly look at the national political landscape and the 2022 elections.   Will be a lively one this week.  RSVP here.  Feel free to invite friends and colleagues.

Friday, Nov 12th 2 pm ET - With Democrats Things Get Better – Join NDN for our signature presentation that looks at how much better the economy – and America – does when Democrats are in power.  Lots of important data in here for anyone in the daily scrum.  RSVP here

My Warning To Dems About MAGA and Schools This Fall

I sent this memo, and other versions of it, to leading Democrats across DC in late July.  Enjoy......

"Friends, a quick note on something that I’ve shared with others but starting in a few weeks the biggest national and local news story may be the struggles communities are having over reopening schools due to delta, and in some places CRT and other MAGA stuff.  The politics on this in many places could get very rough, and interfere with other messages we are trying to convey, including the most important of all – that we’ve successful managed the COVID challenge. 

As this will play out differently in every school district, I don’t know how much you can do other than to encourage parties/electeds to get ready and not be surprised by it when it comes.  We could be facing a period where local school politics is like the busing fights of the 70s – locally driven, but with a national overlay.  GOP Chairwoman already leaned in on twitter last night about masking kids under 12.  I think this is going to be hardest in those districts closer to a 50/50 Dem split. 

What kinds of things could happen? Protests over mask requirements.  Refusal to submit to regular testing.  Massive protests when schools shut down to exposure.  MAGA kids taunting kids who wear masks.  MAGA kids protesting teaching of race in classrooms.  Vaccine/mask refusniks.  My guess is there is organizing going on right now on the right to radicalize MAGA high school students themselves to carry out some of this work.  We could also see similar fights on college campuses, particularly in public universities.   And we could see the counter too – vaccinated parents demanding all kids get vaccinated to be in school.  We also already know some teachers are not willing to return to classrooms with unvaxxed kids.  Could go on……..

The bottom line is the ugly politics of COVID/MAGA are not behind us, and this could be a rough fall for many.

Happy to discuss more at your convenience."

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