NDN Blog

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:

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%

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. 

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."

Memo: 3 Reasons Why 2022 Won’t Be 2010

3 Reasons Why 2022 Won’t Be 2010 - In a recent sit down with Joe Trippi for his “That Trippi Show” pod, I talked about how when it came to the 2022 mid-terms, I’d rather be us than them.  Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Democrats Will Have So Much To Run On – With the passage of the infrastructure and reconciliation bill imminent, in 2022 Democrats will be able to argue, forcefully, that they have taken extraordinary steps to get America and the world through COVID, secured the recovery, tackled climate change and advanced a broad agenda which will make America better able to compete and win in a more challenging 21st century global economy. 

To us 2010’s big lesson is that it will not be enough for Democrats to enter next summer with COVID on the run and the economy in recovery.  Voters will have to understand that things are better because of things Democrats did (ARP + Infrastructure + reconciliation); and thus it would be wise for Democrats to focus for the next six months not on the promises of the two new bills, but on making sure the investments from the ARP in defeating COVID, securing the recovery and getting us back to normal – investments made with no GOP support – are understood to be the things responsible for returning our life to normal.  Democrats have to establish this firm link now or they may never get credit for it next year, just as Obama never really got credit for the recovery when it came. 

Using new Navigator Research polling, NDN created a model for what the voters who will vote Democratic in a typical swing district are most concerned about now (voters:

COVID 64%

Econ/Jobs 60%

Climate/Extreme Weather 40%

Health Care 39%

Social Sec/Medicare 32%

As you can see, for these voters by far and away the most important issues are COVID and the recovery.  It is where Democrats must be these next few months, where our focus must lie.  We thought the President did a good job speaking to this frame in this short clip from the G20 yesterday – defeating COVID, securing the recovery/Build Back Better, tackling climate. 

If by the spring the President and his party have been given credit for having gotten us through COVID and restarting the economy, the President’s approval rating should return to a place where the mid-terms are competitive next fall.  We agree with what Ron Brownstein argues in his new Atlantic piece – the election is much more likely to revolve around how people feel things are going in their lives, rather than be about rewarding Democrats for newly enacted legislation which will not yet have had time to make an impact. 

The power of the President’s complete agenda will only be unlocked in 2022 if we are seen as if having succeeded first on the two issues which matter most to voters, and the central reason Biden was elected – defeating COVID, securing the recovery, getting life back to normal.  If COVID is truly defeated by next fall, there is likely to be a far greater sense of "this is behind us" than there was at comparable point in 2010.  We are likely to be, and for people to feel, that we are further along.     

2. The GOP’s extremism will be easy for Dems to exploit – Many of us believed that if Trump was defeated in 2020 his brand of extremist politics would fade from the national scene.  But over the past year we’ve seen this extremism spread far beyond Trump, and become now the dominant ideology of GOP.  On issue after issue – COVID barbarism, climate denialism, refusing to support prudent investments in the future, eliminating Roe vs Wade and embracing vigilantism, attempting to crash the US economy, advancing measures to weaken our democracy and protecting white supremacists and insurrectionists – Republicans have made it very hard for those who may not to want Democratic in 2022 to choose them. 

There is data to back this up. Despite Biden’s 20 point fall in recent months, the Congressional Generic hasn’t moved that much and still favors the Democrats. In last week’s Navigator poll party ID remained 47D-41R.  In both of these polls Rs are at 41-42 – meaning while Dems have lost ground things have not yet moved to the Rs.  41-42 is not a competitive place to be.   

Congressional Republicans remain much more unpopular than Biden and the Democrats across many measures.  Returning to Navigator, Congressional GOP job approval is 37-56 (-19), and 14-67 (-42) with independents.  GOP Party fav/unfavs is -11, and McCarthy (-17 fav/unfav) and McConnell (-30 fav/unfav) remain remarkably unpopular.  And they trail Democrats badly on many of the issues which matter most to voters – COVID, climate, health care (and possibly women’s right to choose next year). 

The GOP’s path to becoming an acceptable alternative to Democrats next year is just very very hard to see, particularly if the economy has improved by the spring.  Younkin may have created some distance from himself and MAGA but it will be far harder for Republicans to do this in federal races, where voting R is literally a vote to put insurrectionists back into power. 

3. Democrats Have Been Turning Out in Very Large Numbers – In every election since 2016, Democrats have seen turnout hit the very top of what many thought achievable – in 2018, 2020 and it has continued in 2021 with very high performances in the GA runoff and the CA recall, two ‘special elections” where Democrats often underperform.  Early turnout in Virginia has also exceeded expectations, and we learn tomorrow if that will be enough to help give Dems the edge.

Some of this heightened turnout is due to fear of MAGA, but some of it is also due to how Democratic campaigns are evolving.  With far more money than before, Democrats can build much more sophisticated campaigns to target and reach their episodic and new voters.  The extra time early voting and vote by mail provides helps with this too, as does recent innovations in distributed texting and phone technologies that allow a race like McAuliffe’s to draw on volunteers from across the country for voter contact.  In essence the Democratic turnout machine is just bigger and better than ever before.  This means that Democrats are more likely to hit the upper end of what is possible in turnout far more often, as we did this year in GA and CA, and seem to be doing so far in Virginia.  For more on how this is all playing out in Virginia see this new thread.  '

The turnout burden of proof may in fact be on the Republicans in 2022, for if anyone has been suffering from turnout problems in recent elections it has been the GOP without Trump on the ballot. 

So, optimism for 2022 - So, regardless of what happens in Virginia tomorrow we are optimistic about the mid-terms next year.  We think very little of what Youngkin has done can be easily replicated in federal races, and it is very likely that this election is coming at the nadir of Biden’s 2021-2022 approval.  So to us Virginia is more likely to be an outlier than a harbinger, and if Republicans want to base their national campaign in 2022 on banning books, we say bring it on.  

But a few areas of concern which we are tracking, and will address in future memos – Dem underperformance on two important issues, the economy and immigration; and a worrisome drop off among younger voters in the Virginia early vote.  More on these issues after Virginia.

  • Simon Rosenberg, 11/1/21

Memo: Time for Dems To Come Together

You can catch Simon talking about this memo in a new That Trippi Show pod, 3 Ways To In in 2022; in this Newsy piece with Andrew Rafferty; and in this Background Briefing with Ian Masters podcast.  Simon and the insights from the memo are also cited in Ron Brownstein's two new Atlantic essays (here, here), this Daily Beast David Rothkopf column and this Politico article by Christopher Cadelago and Laura Barron-Lopez.

Time for Dems To Come Together – Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about how an early, compelling 2022 election narrative has emerged for Democrats – lean into defeating COVID, sell the rest of the agenda (growing economy, climate, health care, etc) and brand the GOP as extremists, unfit to govern.  Given the threat an unrepentant MAGA/GOP is to our democracy, keeping them out of power next year may be the single most important thing we can do to defend our democracy and advance the President’s democracy vs autocracy agenda. Considering the stakes, 2022 is no ordinary election and we simply must be doing everything we can to make sure we prevail.

Which is why all Democrats should be more alarmed by the drop in the President’s approval rating since a rancorous debate has broken out over his post-American Rescue Plan agenda.  Since June 24th when the two separate bills, infrastructure and reconciliation were joined and intense internal party in-fighting broke out, the President’s approval rating on 538 has dropped from 53.2%-43% (+10.2) to 43.9%-51.1% (-7.2) – a drop of 17 points.  This drop came at a time when the economy was creating 1m jobs a month, GDP growth was at 6.5% and tens of millions were receiving child tax credit payments. In our view the drop can be explained by the public believing the President was not attending to the big job at hand, defeating COVID, and thus even through the economy had started to truly boom the President got no credit for it.  It is widely believed that the President will need to be at 50-51-52 for the 2022 election to be competitive.  At 44-45-46, where we are now, we absolutely lose both chambers next year. Thus his decline is no small matter, and the longer he stays down the harder it will be to get back up. 

What this means is that we need to put this debilitating period of rancor, of process and tactics behind us as soon as possible.  All Democrats need to come together and get a deal done, recognizing the more time we spend fighting and not doing what the people want right now the harder 2022 (and Virginia) will be. The President needs to have a fierce urgency in his work to get a deal done, allowing Dems to once again refocus on what voters want more than anything else – defeating COVID/ensuring our recovery/returning to normal life.  As Dems talk about their agenda, any part of it, it needs to begin with “as we work to defeat COVID, create a strong, growing economy again, return to normal, we also need to (climate, health care, child tax credit etc).”  For many/most voters there is no Biden agenda outside of COVID and recovery, the ARP now.  The rest of his agenda needs to be seen as a complement to these core issues which are dictating our politics now, and are very likely to do so in the next election as very little of what's in the two new bills will be robustly implemented by next November.  The work of defeating COVID and ensuring our recovery isn’t done, and that is simply where our governing and political focus needs to be

As we go into more detail below, it’s our belief that Democrats should not expect a significant improvement in the President's standing by the passage of these two bills under debate right now without first firmly establishing that they are as a party responsible for defeating COVID, ushering in the economic recovery.  It is not enough that COVID ends, or the economy gets better. Democrats have to get credit for these things happening, and right now based on current polling those links are not adequately established in voter's minds.

Every part of the post-ARP Biden agenda will become more powerful, salient if packaged this way, and not alone, separate.  Democrats need to run on the whole agenda, ARP+ infrastructure+BBB, recognizing that during this time of intense discussion of the last two parts, absent the ARP, the President's numbers have dropped, significantly. As Gavin Newsom showed us, it's about defeating COVID, sell the rest of the agenda, define the GOP as extremists/unfit to govern. Everything in Biden's agenda becomes more powerful in that frame. 

It is time now to come together, get a deal done and spend the next year leaning in hard to the promising frame we’ve seen emerge in recent weeks.  Winning this next election is going to be very hard – the longer we keep fighting the harder it is going to be.  And it all starts and ends with defeating COVID.  For Joe Biden and the Democrats it remains job #1.  

A final note on polling, and the logic behind this analysis

In politics an issue can be popular, but not move voters. To move votes an issue has to be both popular AND important.  It's why we believe so much of the polling we've seen this cycle is junky, even misleading.  Polls that test an issue absent establishing its relative import, and how it stands up to sustained GOP attacks, are in our mind close to worthless. Popularity alone tells you very little about how an issue will perform in the real world in a far more complex and challenging issue environment. 

This helps explain why over the past few months the economy could have been booming, the center-left family could have been spending tens of millions on promoting infrastructure and Build Back Better, and the President's numbers could have plummeted.  The booming economy, climate, health care, an economy for all are of course both popular and important to voters, they just aren't as important as defeating COVID.  And thus my great fear is this period of an extended conversation about this part of the President's agenda, disconnected from his work on COVID, not only failed to keep his numbers up but may have directly contributed to taking his numbers down. The tens of millions of dollars being spent now selling BBB is reminding voters in the most important parts of the country that the President isn't in fact focused on COVID; and yes, these ads reminding folks that he’s moved on from COVID, particularly at a time when kids were going back to school across the country, intensifying everyone's concern, may have contributed to the damage done to him and the party over the past few months. 

I’ve been on several polling calls in recent weeks where folks talked about how hard it was to break through right now with the BBB agenda, how much people were still fixated on COVID, getting back to normal.  I don't really know why anyone could be surprised by this.  COVID is a disruption in our lives akin to a World War, a Great Depression, something so big and huge and scary that until it is gone, defeated, everything else is secondary.  As I've been writing for some time, it is a global collective trauma perhaps as significant as WWII.  It and its aftermath may dominate politics for years to come, and trying to sell something even as virtuous as the child tax credit is just bouncing off. 

The lesson here is that the only polls anyone in a position of influence should pay attention to have to test beyond popularity - they have to test and establish the relative importance of issues, and how these issues perform when challenged by Republicans. Almost all of the polling I've seen in recent months has been testing infrastructure and BBB exclusively, outside of the broader issue environment, and almost never against anticipated GOP attacks.  They merely tested popularity.  And I ask my fellow center-lefties - is there really any doubt that an agenda which gave you all sorts of stuff for free would not be popular? What were we learning in these polls, and did they create a false sense of security about the President's standing at a time when his numbers kept coming down? Did they prevent an obvious course correction, one I called for as early as June 9th?

I think we need to have a big conversation inside the family about polling, and a new theory of the case that polling and data can be spun, are an important part the daily information war.  I respectfully disagree with this view.  Polling and data is the place where all of us in a diverse party can come together and find common ground.  It allows us to put aside our ideologies and biases, and listen to the public, where they are and what they want. It’s what helps keep this disparate party together, and allows us to come up with common strategies that help us win.  Politicizing or spinning polls and data may have helped contribute to what has been a disastrous last few months for the President's approval rating, and also, I worry, may end up eliminating one of the most important tools we have for keeping the Democratic family together. And as someone who helped create modern spin in my time in the Clinton War Room, I can tell you there are limits to what can get spun in politics. There are limits. 

Finally, given everything I've written here, I don’t believe that Democrats should expect the President's approval to rise significantly when the two bills are passed.  It’s possible. But if you posit he’ll gain, answer these questions first:

- Why did the President's approval rating drop so much after the passage of American Rescue Plan, a bill which will spend more money this cycle than BBB + infrastructure, and which led to 6.5% GDP growth, 1m jobs a month, 180m people receiving direct payment and another 40m receiving child tax payments? We already passed a big economic bill and his numbers dropped. Why will these bills be different? Maybe because it's not all about the economy right now....

- Why would the President's approval rise for passing bills which during the time they were debated/sold to the public the President's approval dropped by 17 points? Haven't we already had a test of the saliency of these bills, and the test showed they were not capable of improving his numbers or even keeping them from plummeting?

- Have we, during the course of selling BBB learned, that there is limited political and electoral benefit in programs which target narrow numbers of voters regardless of the virtue of the program itself? As I write in this piece, I think we have, which is why I think we need to craft a winning narrative around universal benefits not targeted ones - defeat COVID, climate/health care/prosperity for all, etc and define the GOP/MAGA as extremists/unfit to govern. 

Here is another link to my indepth analysis which shows voters elected Joe Biden to do one thing above all else - defeat COVID, reboot the economy, get us back to normal.  Which is why I think we get the President's numbers back up not just by passing these two bills, but by adopting the frame Newsom gave us - defeat COVID/return to normal, sell the rest of the agenda, define them as extremists/unfit to govern.  Defeating COVID and getting credit for it, making it clear to voters we know this is their #1 concern, is the key that unlocks the power of the rest of the agenda. There is no BBB and infrastructure without defeating COVID first. 

As for next year, given how radical the GOP continues to be, I’m very optimistic that we can take this narrative and agenda and make what will be a tough election competitive.  And again, given how radical they continue to be, I would not want the job of selling all that to a COVID weary public, which is why today I would much rather than be us than them.  I think their path to victory in 2022 is harder to see right now than ours.

This memo was originally published on October 5th, was significantly revised and expanded on October 7th and updated on October 27th. 

2021 - A Year of Dems Tackling Challenges, Overcoming Obstacles

While it is not clear today what is going to happen to parts of the Biden agenda currently being debated in the House, what is pretty clear is that by the end of the year Biden will have passed his landmark American Rescue Plan which will be credited with helping bring an end to COVID and usher in a very strong year for the American economy; passed the ambitious and vitally important infrastructure bill; and passed a reconciliation bill that will make critical investments in climate, health care, skills/education and creating an economy which works for all.  

How exactly this all happens we do not know.  But that it is going to happen is not really in doubt.  

Taken together, this year of legislative progress will set up the basic frame for 2022 – pragmatism and progress vs dangerous radicalization.  Democrats will have overcome years of reckless GOP obstructionism on critical issues of the day; made real progress on COVID, an economy for all, climate, health care and more; and the GOP will have once again show themselves to be too radical and extreme to be trusted with power.  

We cover all this in more depth in a new essay, and in related content below.  

Analysis: Twice As Many Jobs w/Biden as Last 3 GOP Presidents Combined - 9/4/21 - More jobs have been created in Joe Biden's first seven months than in Presidencies of the two Bushes and Trump combined.  Repeated Dem successes, repeated GOP failures must become better known in our politics. 

Memo: After Texas Roe decision, Dems must lean into GOP radicalization - 9/2/21 - The Supreme Court's Texas Roe decision is so shocking and crazy that Democrats have no choice now to make the dangerous radicalization of the GOP central to the conversation they are having with the American people. 

Memo: A Fall To Do List for Democrats - COVID, A Growing Economy, Climate, Immigration - 8/30/21 - In a new memo, Simon writes that Democrats have four priorities this fall - defeat COVID/improve health care, creating an economy which works for all, tackle climate change and modernize our an mmigration system. 

Memo: A Stronger Response To Delta Is Required Now - 8/21/21 - In a new political memo, Simon reviews recent polling data and finds rising fears over delta, and growing support in the public for aggressive steps to stop its spread.  The President should seize the moment and launch a stepped up campaign to defeat COVID once and for all.

Memo: Some Thoughts on Afghanistan, What Comes Next - 8/17/21 -  While the endgame in Afghanistan has been a significant setback for the President, he should use these next few months to reacquint the American people with his forward looking agenda and make significant progress in enacting it. 

Biden Should Consider "A Fireside Chat" About COVID - 8/4/21 - It may be time for a prime time Presidential address about COVID, a fireside chat, where Joe Biden can update us on the progress made, the challenges ahead and make clear what his plan is to defeat the pandemic here and everywhere. 

Bold Action on Evictions, But Also A Reminder That Governing is Very Hard - 8/4/21 - The President told bold action this week to prevent mass evictions in the midst of a public health crisis, but the program's struggles should be prompt action to make sure all the President's ambitious programs are well designed, aggressively implemented and successful. 

Memo: A Summer To Do List for Democrats - Defeat COVID, Defend Democracy, Keep Creating Jobs -  6/9/21 - Democrats have important work to do this summer - defeat COVID, defend democracy and make sure the American people know the recovery has come about through Joe Biden's smart and effective economic plans.

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape

As I review in a new thread this morning, a possible 2022 Democratic campaign narrative is beginning to take shape.  It runs something like this:

“For over a decade now irresponsible Republicans have blocked progress on major challenges facing the nation.

With their first governing majority since 2010, Democrats are now offering pragmatic solutions to the challenges we face — defeating COVID, building an economy for all, tackling climate change, improving health care, protecting a women's right to choose, modernizing our immigration system, defending our democracy…..(candidates can tailor the list to their states/districts)

It is who we are, what we are fighting for. A better America.

Republicans, on the other hand, have become radicalized, and are now endangering the public's health, the economy, a women’s right to choose, common sense climate solutions and our democracy. Returning them to power next year would risk so much of the progress being made, and put our democracy itself in peril. “

That’s it. That’s the early 2022 narrative.

Pragmatism and progress vs extremism, radicalization, danger. 

Memo: 2022 Dem Election Narrative Begins to Take Shape - 9/16/21 - An early version of a possible Dem election narrative has begun to emerge - Dems tackle the big challenges, GOP too radical and extreme to once again trust with power.

Memo: After Texas Roe decision, Dems must lean into GOP radicalization - 9/2/21 - The Supreme Court's Texas Roe decision is so shocking and crazy that Democrats have no choice now to make the dangerous radicalization of the GOP central to the conversation they are having with the American people. 

Memo: A Fall To Do List for Democrats - COVID, A Growing Economy, Climate, Immigration - 8/30/21 - In a new memo, Simon writes that Democrats have four priorities this fall - defeat COVID/improve health care, creating an economy which works for all, tackle climate change and modernize our an mmigration system. 

Biden at 47% - 8/25/21 - Joe Biden has seen a nine point job in his approval rating over the last month.  Much of it is due to his declining approval on COVID.  Drawing from 2 recent essays, Simon offers some thoughts on what Biden can do now to reclaim his standing and win the fall. 

Memo: A Stronger Response To Delta Is Required Now - 8/21/21 - In a new political memo, Simon reviews recent polling data and finds rising fears over delta, and growing support in the public for aggressive steps to stop its spread.  The President should seize the moment and launch a stepped up campaign to defeat COVID once and for all.

Memo: Some Thoughts on Afghanistan, What Comes Next - 8/17/21 -  While the endgame in Afghanistan has been a significant setback for the President, he should use these next few months to reacquint the American people with his forward looking agenda and make significant progress in enacting it. 

Biden Should Consider "A Fireside Chat" About COVID - 8/4/21 - It may be time for a prime time Presidential address about COVID, a fireside chat, where Joe Biden can update us on the progress made, the challenges ahead and make clear what his plan is to defeat the pandemic here and everywhere. 

Bold Action on Evictions, But Also A Reminder That Governing is Very Hard - 8/4/21 - The President told bold action this week to prevent mass evictions in the midst of a public health crisis, but the program's struggles should be prompt action to make sure all the President's ambitious programs are well designed, aggressively implemented and successful. 

Memo: A Summer To Do List for Democrats - Defeat COVID, Defend Democracy, Keep Creating Jobs -  6/9/21 - Democrats have important work to do this summer - defeat COVID, defend democracy and make sure the American people know the recovery has come about through Joe Biden's smart and effective economic plans. 

Memo: A Fall To Do List for Democrats - COVID, A Growing Economy, Climate, Immigration

This memo was released before the shocking SCOTUS Texas Roe decision.  In a new memo we discuss how that decision makes the need for Democrats to aggressively lean into the dangerous radicalization of the right far more urgent. 

4 Items On The Fall Dem To Do List - Over the past few weeks NDN has written a series of pieces on how the Democrats can approach the busy Fall ahead.  At its core we believe the President must clearly articulate what the nation gets from refocusing its blood and treasure away from Afghanistan, and frame the coming fights as steps to move forward, not retreat.  We strongly believe the President can win this argument in the coming months, get his agenda passed and help the nation refocus its energies on far more compelling challenges - with defeating COVID being job #1.  

Perhaps our greatest worry for Democrats in the days ahead is that the size and ambition of the President’s agenda makes it hard to sell.  Most elected officials can only successfully sell 2-3 big ideas, policies or stories to their electorate each cycle.  What in this enormous package is most important to sell? As much attention needs to be given now how to sell this big agenda – infrastructure plus reconciliation plus American Rescue Plan – as what goes into the final details of the legislation itself.  

Last Friday’s Navigator Research poll offers some clues about how Dems can prioritize their agenda for voters.  The poll asks (q22) what are the “top four issues that you feel are most important for President Joe Biden and Congress to focus on?” For Democrats they are COVID (55%), health care and climate/extreme weather (36%) and jobs and the economy (33%).  For independents it’s COVID (38%), jobs and the economy (36%), health care (25%) and then several issues are all bunched up within a few points of each other a few points lower – Social Security and Medicare, immigration, government corruption, climate change/extreme weather. 

It’s also important to note that this poll breaks out “taxes," ”wages” and “inflation” as separate issues, and none of these three broke into the top tier of issues for Democrats or independents.  But adding them to the jobs and economy total pushes the economic basket of issues to the very top for both.  

What this data suggests is that Democrats should emphasize that their agenda does four big things – defeats COVID/improves health care, invests in broad-based prosperity, tackles climate change and modernizes our immigration system.  We put immigration fourth as it is our expectation that the enormous Afghan refugee resettlement project along with ongoing struggles to manage heavy flows at the border is likely to keep immigration/refugees a top tier issue through the election, and one we think Democrats need to lean into much more. Some 2022 candidates may want to focus a bit more on Social Security and Medicare given their districts or states, and in general we think Democrats would be wise to more purposefully counter the big government/radical left/wasteful government narrative which will be so central to the GOP attacks this election cycle and most election cycles since the 1960s.  

So this polling tracks the priorities we laid out for Democrats in our recent memo – focus now on defeating COVID/improving health, creating an economy which works for all, tackling climate change and modernizing/fixing our immigration system.  Individual candidates can tweak this formula, but broadly, if Democrats next year can tell voters that these are the things that we did – not just legislated against - we should be competitive in what is likely to be a tough election next year.   

Like many, we’d also like to see the President flesh out an important part of his agenda not covered here, his commitment to fight the global and domestic battle of democracy vs autocracy. Perhaps his coming United Nations General Assembly speech would be the right place for such an address.  Certainly many of us here in the US are worried about the unceasing radicalization on the right, and would like to understand how it fits into his broader agenda.  

Moving Beyond Tactics, Lowering Costs, Tax Cuts - Finally, we’d like to offer an in-depth critique of/meditation on some of the current efforts to sell the President’s agenda.  First, the emphasis on lowering costs and targeted middle class taxes are tactics, not strategy.  They are a means to the end, and the end is the 4-5 priorities above.  We should be focusing on the outcomes, the strategy in our initial top line messaging, not how we get there. It feels like we’ve gotten too tactical too quickly.  Folks need to know more about our overall goals and objectives before we drill down.  It’s like starting a campaign with an issue ad rather than a bio ad.  There is basic work we haven't done yet before getting to the narrower bits. 

Second, it is very hard for down ballot Democrats to sell programs whose benefits are targeted to specific groups rather than universal, for everyone.  Most campaigns can only convey 2-3 things to voters during the course of an election, and the more universal the benefit the easier it is to sell (as it reaches more voters).  Its one reason why the infrastructure package is polling so high right now – everyone benefits from it, so it’s easier to sell.  Yes, modern campaigns can micro-target communications to specific groups but selling a series of targeted benefits is beyond the financial and operational capacity of all but a very few 2022 campaigns.  This is an instance when bigger is not necessarily better.  

Third, a new series of ads by the pro-Biden group Building Back Together suggests there may be challenges with selling direct benefits to voters.  Watch this particular ad.  Clearly the research behind the ad found hesitancy about proud working people accepting government benefits.  This seems important, a red flag even.  Do voters, families, all of us – want more help from government or more opportunity to make more money, earn it ourselves? This ad suggests that folks want help but they don’t want welfare, “handouts.” And this is no small matter for it means that folks may get the benefit but will not be happy or grateful about it, and thus it may not work as a matter of politics regardless of the efficacy of the program itself.  

Given that the American Rescue Plan passed in March has already implemented large direct payment programs, including the Child Tax Credit, and both the President’s overall job approval and economic job approval have gone down, there is a question about whether this strategy of putting so much emphasis on targeted, direct payments to people is the right course in the months ahead.  As a matter of political strategy, it is hard to argue that it's working so far. This is an area which needs some intense discussion inside the Democratic family.  

Fourth, promoting universal rather targeted benefits does one other really important thing – it reminds us that we are all in this together.  It is implicit rejection of the rancid tribalism Trump brought to our politics. Restoring a sense of national common purpose should also be one of our highest priorities – for there is probably no other more powerful way to move beyond the darkness the former President brought.  

Fifth, we know that some of these ads are already talking about how the big tax increases coming will only hit people making $400,000 or more. That’s fine, but it feels like a data point that needs to come later in the conversation with voters  We will get far more acceptance on the tax increases from people, particularly those paying the taxes whose votes we need, if there is a broad sense across the country that the money will be well spent, that the need is urgent, and important things for all of us will come from it all.  We need to establish the virtue of the whole package first, before we can get to more granular matters, like targeted benefits or even who is paying it for all.  Establishing the virtue of the President's entire domestic agenda - America Rescue Plan + infrastructure + reconciliation - seems to be the most important marketing work ahead now and perhaps all the way through the election itself.  

Leading with an agenda that does a few big things to make all of us better, stronger, more prosperous surely is easier to sell than one that does dozens of smaller things for targeted groups. To be clear - we are not advocating abandoning the targeted programs in the coming reconciliation package, but we are suggesting that it may be difficult to build an electoral or political pitch around them.  And we end by acknowledging that we are not seeing all the research team Biden is seeing, and that all of this well intentioned friendly counsel is way way off the mark.  

Biden at 47%

This essay was published on Wed, Aug 25th, the day before the ISIS terror attack in Kabul which killed and wounded hundreds of people, including several dozen Americans.

Biden at 47% - So the big political news this week is Joe Biden’s plummeting poll numbers.  On 538 this morning he’s at 47.2% approve, 47.6% (-.4) disapprove.   On July 25th he was 51.8%-43.5% (+8.3).  So he’s dropped almost 9 points in the past month.  Most of this drop happened before Kabul fell, but it’s clear the unexpected victory of the Taliban has also driven the President’s numbers down a bit more (in the NBC/WSJ poll the President’s approval on Afghanistan is 25-60, in Suffolk it’s 26-62).  While there is a chance Afghanistan could be a drag on the President’s standing for some time, it is more likely given the impressive progress made in recent days to be a secondary concern for most voters in the coming year.  

So, what should the President do to get his approval back up? At NDN we think the President has to do two things.  First, he needs to return to war footing on COVID, and put as much energy into defeating it here and around the world as he is getting people out of Kabul right now.  As we review in a new memo, the primary reason the President was elected was to defeat COVID, and that work isn’t finished.  We’ve been advocating that the President have a prime time “fire side” chat with the American people where he lays out a new and more muscular COVID plan, reviews the real progress that’s been made, and praise American ingenuity for putting us in a strong position to bring an end to this era of COVID here and everywhere in the coming months.  Doing such a speech now and making COVID once again job #1 for his Presidency over the next few months will be particularly important as very soon every school and college/university will be open, and COVID will remain front and center in every community in the country for some time.  The President has to more aggressively speak to the concerns of every day Americans about COVID, take the side of the 73% who’ve been vaccinated and regain his advantage – something the extremism of the GOP on COVID has made far easier in recent weeks.  

In another memo we lay out the second thing the President needs to do - make very clear to us what America will get from withdrawing from Afghanistan and turning our resources and attention to more pressing challenges.  Make this pivot real, concrete to people.  Explain that our new strategy is to allow us to defeat COVID, tackle climate change, better compete with Russia and China, and defend democracy here and everywhere.  That it is about going forward, not retreating; and that he will in the coming months be fighting here at home for an agenda that speaks directly to these new challenges/opportunities by defeating COVID, tackling climate change, helping our companies, communities and people compete and win in a more challenging global economy and modernizing our immigration system.   No more talk of $3.5t, transformation, reconciliation – we have to talk strategy, outcomes now, not tactics.  We have to spell out the 3-4 big things we are going to get from the President’s new agenda and just hammer them home, and while doing so make it as clear as day that everyone benefits from this agenda, all of us, the United States. Not certain groups – but all of us.  There is no more powerful repudiation of Trumpism than relentlessly reminding Americans that we are all in this together, we are one people, one nation, and we rise and fall together.  

What are we going to do this fall? Defeat COVID, tackle climate change, create more opportunity and prosperity for all Americans, and reform our immigration system.  If we do those four things we will have successfully ushered in a better future for all of us, the President’s job approval will almost certainly rise again, and much more will be possible for the Democrats, the developed world’s most successful center-left political party.  

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