NDN Blog

A Moment of Fragile Promise

A Moment of Fragile Promise – The last few years have been hard in America.  They have been hard.   

But as warmer days are now arriving, there is all of a sudden much to be hopeful about.  COVID is truly receding here in the US, and we have more powerful tools to fight any future variant.  Our economy just had one of its strongest years on record.  New data shows that even with inflation Americans came out ahead last year A record number of new businesses were formed last year.  Millions have gained health insurance.  Transformative infrastructure investment has begun across the country.  Important climate and competitiveness bills are winding their way through Congress, as are other important efforts to invest in our people (see here for data, backup).  

Here at home, after a few very hard years, things are getting better. In some ways, remarkably so.  

And while Putin’s attack on Ukraine is tragic and terrifying, we also must acknowledge that something truly important has happened in this past week – the West has been reinvigorated, and a necessary and profound reckoning with Putin, autocracy and kleptocracy has begun. 

It has long been our view that the central opportunity of the Biden Presidency was to lead such a revival of the West, and to organize a new effort to roll back the gains illiberalism had made here at home and across the world.  We are there now, inspired by the historic bravery of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people, and there is no turning back for Joe Biden, the US or Europe.  A decisive blow against Putin’s rancid regime is being struck, and we need to give the President and his able team the time, space and resources to finish the job.  

We have scheduled two events this week to talk about these momentous and hopeful developments. Tomorrow at 1pm ET, we host noted historian David Rothkopf for what will be a timely discussion about Ukraine and what it means for the US and the West (RSVP). On Friday at 12:30pm ET we will be doing a live showing of our presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better, which reviews how much better the American economy does when Democrats are the in the White House (yes, with Biden too).  You can RSVP for With Dems here.

Join us for either event, or both.  Come spend time with us this week as we attempt to live in the fragile promise of this hopeful moment.  For we here at NDN are tired of the poisonous and misplaced pessimism that has infected our politics in the dark age of Trump, and intend to do our part in helping America learn how to ignore the voices who continue to talk down this remarkable country and its even more remarkable people.  

Video: NDN Talks To David Rothkopf About Ukraine (3/1/22)

On Tuesday, March 1st noted author, historian and commentator David Rothkopf joined us for a compelling, indepth discussion about Russia's attack on Ukraine, and what it means for both US foreign and domestic policy.  You can watch and/or listen to the discussion here.

More on David - David Rothkopf is CEO of The Rothkopf Group, a media company that produces podcasts including Deep State Radio, hosted by Rothkopf. He was a senior official in the Clinton Administration, and author of many books including Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, Superclass, Power, Inc., National Insecurity, Great Questions of Tomorrow, and Traitor: A History of Betraying America from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump.

“Mr Biden, Your Good Economy Won’t Sell Itself” – On Selling the Biden Boom

On Wednesday Feb 16th Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote about new polling from Navigator Research that found when voters are exposed to data about how much the economy has improved they become much more positive about the economy itself and importantly for 2022 Joe Biden’s handling of it.  Simon is quoted extensively in the piece. On Friday the 18th Paul Krugman cited this same research and Greg’s terrific piece in a new op-ed column, “Mr. Biden, Your Good Economy Won’t Sell Itself.”  On Saturday Amy Walter of the Cook Report took an indepth look at this data and discussion in an article called "the Empathy Factor."  In the piece she writes:

Democrats like NDN's Simon Rosenberg urge the president to acknowledge the challenges the country has been through over the past couple of years and "to make the grit, resilience, ingenuity, can do spirit of the American people the hero of our story in 2022."

But, Rosenberg also wants to see Democrats selling their successes. "As the incumbent party, Democrats will be judged this fall largely on whether voters think we've done a good job, that things are better. Things are better, and we should spend the next 10 months relentlessly making the case that they are."  

In a slide deck released this week, the Democratic research organization, Navigator, made a similar argument. When voters are presented with the tangible economic gains made during the Biden era (such as "more than 6 million jobs created last year,"), the presentation shows, opinions about the state of the economy improve. 

For some time now NDN has been making the case that the repeated strong performance of the US economy under Democrats, and repeated poor even disastrous performance of the economy under Republicans, was one of the most important least understood stories in American politics today. 

The economic boom we’ve seen in Biden’s first year in office – after yet another Republican recession – affirms this decades long trend.  As you can learn listening and reading Rob Shapiro below, 2021, despite the adversity of COVID, was one of the best years for the US economy in the post war era: 5.7% GDP growth, 6m new jobs, 20% gains in equities and housing, more new business formed than any year in American history, 5m people gained health insurance, huge drops in poverty.  Yes, inflation was higher than anticipated, but with real wages for the bottom 50% of workers (and perhaps all as Krugman suggests) rising, and huge gains in real estate and the stock market, an overwhelming majority of Americans came out ahead in 2021.  Many millions of Americans came out way way ahead.   

In other words, 2021 was, as Rob and others called it, a true Biden Boom. 

The story we’ve been telling for the past few years in our data-filled presentationWith Democrats Things Get Better, is a simple one – when Democrats have been in power, we’ve seen growth, huge gains in wealth and incomes, progress.  With Republicans we’ve seen recessions, people falling behind, American decline.  The contrast is very stark, and from a political perspective, we’ve come to believe that establishing this essential contrast has become perhaps the Democratic Party’s highest political communications priority in the coming months. 

You will find below some resources to dive deeper into this important conversation and political project.  We end with the a few stats we keep returning to which tell the story that needs to be told: 

·      Of the 42m jobs created in America since 1989, when a new age of globalization began, 40m – 95% - have been created under Democratic Presidents. 

·      3 times as many jobs have been created in Biden’s first year in office as were created under the last 3 GOP Presidents combined.  

·      550,000 jobs have been created per month under Joe Biden.  Under Clinton and Obama it was 176,000 per month.  Under the two Bushes and Trump it was 9,600 jobs per month.  9,600!!!!!!  The rate of job growth under Joe Biden has been more than 50 times the rate of growth under the last GOP Presidencies over their 16 years. 

Finally, on inflation, it is a bit hard to understand why, given the GOP’s repeated tanking of the US economy, commentators and reporters would take their economic arguments seriously. We believe there is a strong case that the impact of inflation on the economy and workers is being both economically and politically oversold right now – which is another reason why we think Dems need to be more aggressive about talking about how much better things are, and spending less time reinforcing the central GOP attack line against the President.  

Key Resources

Note to Reporters: Americans Are Better Off Even After Inflation - Rob Shapiro, Washington Monthly - Rob does a deep dive on some new economic data and finds that even after inflation a majority of Americans were better off in 2021. 

Simon’s Interview with Greg Sargent in the Washington Post – An in-depth discussion about the need and opportunity for Democrats to win the economic argument this year.  This article looks at new polling data released this week which suggests Dems can win the economic argument if they lean into it – as NDN has been arguing.  

NDN Interview with Rob Shapiro on the Biden Boom – Catch our discussion with noted economist Rob Shapiro, where Rob reviews his two recent articles in the Washington Monthly on the Biden Boom.  Includes a link to Rob’s highly influential articles. 

Memo: Dems Need To Focus On Winning The Economic Argument – Despite decades of strong economic stewardship, Ds trail Rs on perceptions of who can best manage the economy.  It is our belief that closing that gap, and even getting ahead of Republicans on this vital measure is now the highest political priority for Dems in the coming months. 

Report: Biden Boom Continues, 3 Times As Many Biden Jobs Than Last 3 GOP Presidents Combined - More jobs have been created in Joe Biden's first year than in Presidencies of the two Bushes and Trump combined.  Repeated Dem successes, repeated GOP failures must become better known in our politics. 

NDN's Saliency Index, 4th Edition- COVID, Economy Top Issues, Inflation Secondary For Dems - In the 4th edition of our new Saliency Index, we find the top issues for voters in the Democratic electorate to be COVID, jobs and the economy, health care and climate.  In this analysis we offer a lengthy explanation for why the data here continues to suggest that inflation remains a secondary concern for voters in the Democratic electorate. 

With Democrats Things Get Better (2/11/22) – Catch the latest version of the presentation that launched this conversation for NDN.  It is a data-filled deep dive on what has happened in America since the Cold War ended and a new age of globalization began.  What it shows is that things have repeatedly gotten better under Democrats, with Republicans, not so much.  

Memo: New Warnock Ad and Getting Us Through To The Other Side - In a new memo Simon argues that Democrats need to ground their politics now in COVID and the recovery, and work tirelessly to get their voters to the other side.  A new ad by Senator Warnock is a great example of the kind of strategy we are advocating for.

40m of 42m New Jobs Since 1989 - 95% - Have Come Under Dem Presidents - In some of our recent work we've come across a stat we just can't stop looking at - since 1989, and a new age of globalization began, America has seen 42m new net new jobs created.  40m of those have come under the last 3 Dem Presidents - 95%. 

Ending 2021 on A High Note – America’s Can Do Spirit Is Alive and Well - While 2021 was clearly a challenging year for the US, data now makes clear that despite adversity the American people reached deep, found a higher gear, worked their asses off and helped bring about one of the best economies we've seen in years. 

Press and Pods

You can catch Simon discussing the need for Democrats to lean into their successes in a few recent podcasts and television shows: Deep State RadioPoliticologyThat Trippi Show and Steve Clemons’ The Bottom Line

This big argument has also been featured in articles in the AtlanticBoston GlobeCNN, Daily Beast (here and here), the LA TimesUSA Today and Washington Post.  

Writing in The Daily Beast about our With Dems presentation Mike Tomasky said this

“Simon Rosenberg heads NDN, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. He has spent years advising Democrats, presidents included, on how to talk about economic matters. Not long ago, he put together a little PowerPoint deck. It is fascinating. You need to know about it. The entire country needs to know about it.

The presentation compares how the economy has performed by various measures under Democratic and Republican administrations, going back to 1989. That means that it fairly compares 16 years of Democratic presidencies (Clinton and Obama) to 16 (almost) years of Republican presidencies (Bush, Bush, and Trump). It uses official government numbers, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and so forth. There’s no cooking of any numbers. It’s just the facts.

And the facts are that it’s not even close. The economy does better—far better—when we have Democratic presidents. In terms of job creation, median income, health care, and yep, even the stock market, the economy does better—the American people do better—under Democratic presidents. By a mile.

Video: With Democrats Things Get Better (2/11/22)

We are pleased to offer a recording of NDN's signature presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better, from Friday, Feb 11th, 2022.  This was a particularly lively session, with lots of great discussion and loads of new material.  Hope you will check it out. 

With Dems is a 25 minute long data-filled look at the performance of the two American political parties since the end of the Cold War.  What we learn is that Democrats have repeatedly made things better when in power; the GOP not so much.  It is as we say in the deck the most important least understood story in American politics today. 

Perhaps the most remarkable stat in the deck - since 1989, and the Cold War ended, 42m net new jobs have been created in America.  40m - 95% - have been created under Democratic Presidents. 

To learn more about the big arguments in With Dems start with our recently published analysis 3 Times More Biden Jobs Than Last 3 GOP Presidents Combined and an essay, The Case for Optimism, Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism. which was the basis of the earliest version of this presentation.  We also strongly recommend reviewing David Leonhardt’s recent NYT essay "Why Are Republican Presidents So Bad for the Economy?" It makes very similar arguments and has lots of terrific and useful charts.  Our recent discussion with noted economist Rob Shapiro, and his 2 recent essays on the Biden Boom, also provide useful context.

Maria Cardona cites our research in her CNN column, as does David Rothkopf in this USA Today essay.   Mike Tomasky’s rave review of With Dems in a recent Daily Beast column is a great read.  Mike writes: “Simon Rosenberg heads NDN, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. He has spent years advising Democrats, presidents included, on how to talk about economic matters. Not long ago, he put together a little PowerPoint deck. It is fascinating. You need to know about it. The entire country needs to know about it."  We agree of course!

We will be presenting With Dems once or twice a month through the end of the year, and we intend to take many of the arguments in our presentation to the public with op-eds, media appearances etc. You can sign up for a future showing and learn more about the arguments in the presentation here.

Thank you for your interest, and please share this video and future invites with friends and family - the more the merrier!

Today - With Democrats Things Get Better, 1230pm ET

To help celebrate and promote Joe Biden's economic agenda NDN has rebooted its signature presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better, and will be showing it once or twice or a month throughout the year. 

With Dems is updated with every showing, so it is always new and fresh. We are now taking RSVPs for our Feb 11th, 1230pm ET showing. In the meantime feel free to watch a recording of our Nov 12th presentation which includes a lot of new economic analysis relevant to the current economic debate. 

To learn more about the big arguments in With Dems start with our recently published analysis 3 Times More Biden Jobs Than Last 3 GOP Presidents Combined and an essay, The Case for Optimism, Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism. which was the basis of the earliest version of this presentation.  We also strongly recommend reviewing David Leonhardt’s recent NYT essay "Why Are Republican Presidents So Bad for the Economy?" It makes very similar arguments and has lots of terrific and useful charts.  Our recent discussion with noted economist Rob Shapiro, and his 2 recent essays on the Biden Boom, also provide useful context.

Maria Cardona cites our research in her CNN column, as does David Rothkopf in this USA Today essay.   Mike Tomasky’s rave review of With Dems in a recent Daily Beast column is a great read.  Mike writes: “Simon Rosenberg heads NDN, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. He has spent years advising Democrats, presidents included, on how to talk about economic matters. Not long ago, he put together a little PowerPoint deck. It is fascinating. You need to know about it. The entire country needs to know about it."  We agree of course!

You can find even more background below.  Thanks for your interest, and we hope to catch you at one of our upcoming presentations!

Background on With Dems

The impetus for With Dems comes from the big argument Donald Trump started making in his 2016 campaign - that this new age of globalization ushered in after the end of the Cold War had weakened the United States, leading to his infamous phrase "American carnage."

At NDN we always found that argument misguided and wrong. When Trump came to office the US had a very low unemployment rate, record high stock market, declining deficits and rapidly growing incomes for American workers. The uninsured rate was the lowest of the modern era, crime rates were half of what they'd been, and the flow of undocumented immigrants to the border was a fraction of what it was in the Bush and Clinton years.  The world was largely at peace, a great deal of the world was modernizing and growing, and a global effort to address climate change was picking up steam.  While things weren't perfect, what President Trump inherited when he came to office were some of the best overall geopolitical, societal and economic conditions America had seen in decades.  It is something Simon discusses at length in this Medium essay.

So over the past few years we've been talking about just how wrong former President Trump was about this great country and its achievements.  It has driven a great deal of our research and advocacy and the creation of an earlier version of With Democrats Things Get Better called Patriotism and Optimism.  In the spring of 2020 we retooled Patriotism and Optimism into our new presentation, With Dems, which is a data filled look at America during this age of globalization, and how each party has navigated its challenges while in the White House. 

Central to this presentation is the notion that the Democratic and Republican parties aren't mirror images of one another, but rather that they have followed separate, organic pathways in a big, diverse country like the US. The result of this differing evolution is that the Democrats have been a remarkably successful governing party since 1989, while the Republicans have presided over three straight recessions, historic foreign policy failures and a deeply dangerous embrace of illiberalism.  

One thing we discuss in With Democrats is how Americans who have grown up in this post-1989 era - those under 45 - understand this divergence, and view the parties very differently as a result. In 2018, voters under 45 voted for Democrats by a margin of 25 points, whereas in the seven elections from 1992 to 2004, voters under 45 (who had grown up in a fundamentally different political era) voted for Democrats by an average margin of just 0.3 points. 

We hope you enjoy this new project and do note that one of our existing programmatic areas, Countering Illiberalism's Rise, has some overlap with the work you will find here.  We are pleased that CNN Commentator Maria Cardona featured our work in her recent column in The Hill, and it got a wonderful rave from Mike Tomasky in a new Daily Beast column, writing  "It is fascinating. You need to know about it. The entire country needs to know about it." 

Simon recently published an essay, "Build Back Better/Reconstruir Mejor - Joe Biden's Historic Opportunity" in the Mexican-based intellectual journal Letras Libres.  It addresses many of the themes we explore in With Dems and offers some thoughts on the big challenges ahead for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. A passage: "A President Biden would have an extraordinary opportunity to do what he calls “build back better” here in America, and around the world.  It would be wise for Biden to view this moment as the beginning of a new era, a generational long project to reset America and the world after a collective trauma.  Perhaps the most analogous moment in our history would be the years after World War II in which new institutions were established around a new vision for humankind."

We hope you enjoy With Dems, and if you do, please invite others to come experience it too. It is free and open to the public – all are welcome. 

Background Readings

Build Back Better/Reconstruir Mejor - Joe Biden's Historic Opportunity - Simon Rosenberg, Letras Libres, 10/1/20 - In a new essay for the influential journal Letras Libres, Simon offer his thoughts about what Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the Democrats should fight for if they prevail in the election this fall (English and Spanish). 

Crossing the Rubicon - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 1/29/20 - The GOP's increasing acceptance of illiberalism and actions at odds with our democratic tradition to gain/maintain power has become the most important political story of our time.

To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 12/14/19 - Over the past 30 years, the Democratic Party has been the most successful center-left party in the developed world.   It is time it started acting like it, and begin to far more purposefully lead the fight against rising illiberalism here and abroad. 

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats - And For Good Reason - Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor, NDN, 8/2/19 - Among the most significant political developments of the Trump era is the dramatic shift of under 45 year old voters towards the Democrats. From 2000 to 2016 D margin w/under 45s was 6 points. In 2018 it was 25. 

In New Global Age, Dems Have Produced Prosperity, the GOP Decline - Chris Taylor, Medium, 1/29/19.  Since 1989, Democrats have overseen strong and inclusive economic growth when in the White House, while the Republican Presidents have repeatedly seen economic under-performance and even recession and decline. 

The Case for Optimism: Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism, Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 6/2/17. In an essay that originally was published on Medium, Simon argues that the great rationale of Trump's Presidency  –  that America is in decline – simply isn't true, and must be challenged more forcefully. 

Chin Up, Democrats, Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 1/20/17. In his column, Simon argues that Democrats should have pride in their historic accomplishments and optimism about the future of their politics. This one is very relevant to the presentation itself. 

A Center-Left Agenda for the Trump Era - Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 12/9/16.  In the early days after Trump's election, Simon layed out a possible agenda for the Democrats centering on prosperity, security, shoring up the American led liberal order and ambitious efforts to reform our political system. 

Older, Related Work

An Enduring Legacy: The Democratic Party and Free and Open Trade Jan 21, 2014 - The global system created by Presidents FDR and Truman has done more to create opportunity, reduce poverty and advance democracy than perhaps any other policies in history. 

TIME Features NDN Economic Analysis, Chart, Labels It "Most Important Chart in American Politics" Feb 5, 2013 - Michael Scherer of Time reports on the influence Dr. Rob Shapiro's analysis has had on shaping recent thinking about how the American economy is changing.

"Forward, or Backward?" - The Descent of the GOP Into A Reactionary Mess 10/25/12 - In a new magazine essay, Simon argues that the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant the Republican offering is becoming.  In both Spanish and English.

Crafting an American Response to the Rise of the Rest, January 21, 2010, Cross posted on NDN.org and Salon.com.  Simon argues that the second generation Obama narrative must be a strategic response to the most significant transformation taking place in the world today, the rise of new global economic powers, or what Fareed Zakaria has called the “rise of the rest.”

The 50 Year Strategy, November/December 2007, Mother Jones. Simon and Peter Leyden offer a landmark vision for how progressives can win and prosper in the decades to come.

Memo: New Warnock Ad and Getting Us Through To The Other Side

Getting Us Through To The Other Side –  It’s been our contention for many months now that there was no politics for Democrats right now outside the COVID/recovery frame (hereherehere, here).  That until we had put the pandemic behind us, Pres. Biden and the Democrats need to ground their politics in the fight to defeat COVID, secure the recovery – to get us through to the other side. That was what we were elected to do, and until that work was done, we could not be seen as having moved on to other things. 

Our latest Saliency Index report confirms COVID and the economy remain the overwhelming focus for Democratic voters, and this should not be a surprise – we are living through perhaps the greatest disruption to the lives of Americans in our history.  It is where our voters are right now.  

A new ad by Senator Warnock is a very good example of how Democrats should consider approaching their politics at this moment. Watch.  Here’s the script: People are hurting. People are tired. People have seen what they’ve worked their entire lives to build turned upside down at a moment’s notice. They’re wondering when things will get back to normal and at the same time not knowing what normal even means anymore. At my heart I am, and will always be, a pastor. That means going to work for my congregation. It means understanding the challenges you face, and then doing my best to make a difference. Every day I carry your concerns with me. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to protect and create jobs. That’s why I know we must make health care more affordable. That’s why I’m cracking down on the corporations who are raising prices out of control. What I want the people of Georgia to know is that I see you, I hear you, I am you. I understand the work I was sent to the Senate to do and that’s what I intend to keep doing for Georgia.”  

He’s helping us get through to the other side.  That is what he was elected to do, and that is what he is doing.  

It has been our recommendation that Democrats need to make the grit, resilience, ingenuity, can do spirit of the American people the hero our story in 2022 (herehere).  In a time of incredible adversity, we put our heads down and powered through.  We created more new businesses than any year in American history. Our companies created a record number of jobs, and developed vaccines, therapeutics and tests which are giving us innovative tools to fight the pandemic. The stock market boomed. Millions got health insurance.  Wages rose for the bottom 50% of workers.  Poverty plummeted.  Our teachers kept teaching.  Nurses kept tending to our sick and dying.  Athletes kept competing.  Our kids, remarkably, kept Zooming, masking, plowing ahead.  Our workers kept working. It has been hard, really hard, but we are getting their folks. We should be proud of what we’ve done, together.  For as Joe Biden says it is never a good bet to bet against the American people.  What the American people have done together this past year has been inspiring, powerful, awesome to see.  

And Democrats of course are doing their part to get us through to the other side.  We passed the ARP, which gave us tools to fight the pandemic, put money in people’s pockets, got millions affordable health care, kept businesses open and secured a very strong recovery.  We are passing a series of far sighted economic plans which make investments in America which will ensure strong growth and opportunity for decades, so when the pandemic ends America can move confidently into the future. We are defending democracy with our allies against Russia, we have begun the hard but vital work of tackling climate change.  We are working hard to do our part to get us through to the other side, and build back better when we do.  

You can hear Simon talking about “getting us through to the other side” in this Deep State Radio podcast, this Politicology pod, this Newsy interview and this new Bottom Line television show hosted by Steve Clemons.  Simon was also prominently featured in this Washington Post story about the path forward for Biden: “Biden needed to get us through covid, and when he was getting us through covid, his numbers went up and when we were getting defeated by covid, his numbers went down, and that’s where we are now,” said Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist. “He needs to be the general who got us through the battle with covid and rally the American people, and I think there’s still time to do it, but omicron has made that more challenging.”

NDN’s Saliency Index, 4th Edition – COVID, Economy Top Issues, Inflation Secondary For Dems

Summary – In our new edition of the NDN Saliency Index COVID and the economy remain the dominant issues for all voters.  For Democrats COVID, the economy, health care and climate are the top the issues, with inflation once again clocking in as a secondary concern.  

Given that our findings about inflation continue to run counter to conventional wisdom, we try to offer up an explanation in our notes below on how it keeps showing up in this analysis as a secondary concern in the Democratic electorate. 

NDN’s 4th Saliency Index - from Jan 24th Navigator Research prompted question, “Which of these issues do you feel President Biden and Congress to focus on?”

Notes on the data/methodology – Our Index takes the raw Navigator data from its prompted question #29 “Which of these issues do you feel President Biden and Congress to focus on?” and creates a modeled Democratic and Republican electorate from the 4 answers provided by each respondent.  Our model assumes a typical swing state/district Democratic electorate will be 80% Democrats, 15% Independents, 5% Republicans, and a typical R electorate the inverse, 80% Republican, 15% Independent, 5% Democrats. 

These models are meant to be illustrative and not predictive.  Every state and district will have its own unique electorate.  But our goal here is to help political analysts go a bit deeper on what is often very simplistic national polling data, and help provide a better understanding of the issue priorities in the electorates candidates in each party will actually be talking to this fall.  You can find more on the methodology here, and review our last Saliency report from early December. Feel free to offer feedback on this analysis by emailing Simon at srosenberg@ndn.org.  We view this work as experimental and provisional, and are open to any and all feedback. 

In this poll Navigator added Education and Voting Rights to the prompts, changed “Climate Change and Extreme Weather” to “Climate Change and the Environment,” and changed “Violent Crime” to “Crime.”  The economic prompt is “Jobs and the Economy,” and the abbreviated prompts above are “Jobs and the Economy,” “Social Security and Medicare” and “Government Corruption.”  We continue to believe a “Deficit” or “Federal Debt” prompt would be useful. 

Key Takeaways

Different Information Universes/What’s Popular Is Not Always What’s Important – As we review the data each time we continue to be struck by how different the information universes are for Democratic and Republican campaigns.  While we all know this conceptually, we find this analysis really brings it out. 

In this report COVID is almost twice as important to Dem voters as Rs.  Two top tier Dem issues – climate/extreme weather and health care – barely register for Republicans.  Three top tier GOP issues – immigration, inflation and national security – are lower tier issues for Democrats. 

It’s our hope that Democrats will use these findings and attempt to replicate it in their own races.  At a very top line, it’s our experience that in our very noisy information environment a candidate – or a President – can really only convey a few key ideas or arguments.  Understanding what’s important to voters is a like a road map for elected officials and candidates. It is where they need to live in their free and paid media to be responsive to what is on their voters’ minds.

We are providing this data in part to counter what we think has become an overreliance on popularity as a central metric in Democratic politics this past year.  Issues can be popular but not important, and spending a great deal of time on something that is of secondary concern to voters can be very risky. This data suggests that for Democrats they have to be talking about COVID, jobs and the economy, climate and health care – that is where our voters are now.  We discuss the limitations of ‘popularity” in this recent essay.

Inflation Continues To Be A Secondary Concern In The Democratic Electorate – If a candidate were to be operating off the Navigator findings for all voters, inflation would a top tier concern.  But in the Democratic electorate, it just isn’t, and hasn’t been for months.  We’ve thought a lot about this finding, as we know it is cutting against conventional wisdom right now.  Here is our attempt to explain the data……

In early December Navigator asked whether inflation was being driven by disruptions due to COVID or Biden economic policies and voters in the modeled Democratic electorate choose COVID over US government policy by 70-21 (link).  So, for these voters, you defeat inflation by defeating COVID, which they view as by and away the #1 issue.  This logic is why we continue to believe that Democrats should be talking about inflation/supply chain/worker shortages through a COVID/recovery frame; and, for example, more aggressively challenge Republicans to help us tackle inflation by beating COVID here and everywhere in the world. 

It’s been our argument for months that for Democrats there really isn’t a politics yet outside the COVID/recovery frame.  This 4th Index report continues to support that basic insight. 

We also wonder whether the big variance in how the two coalitions understand inflation right now may be more than the distorting effect of right wing media.  As we write in this recent post, because the biggest jumps in inflation have come from gas and cars, GOP exurban and rural voters may be experiencing inflation more intensely than voters in urban and suburban areas who drive less.  Republicans also have a higher percentage of older voters in their coalition, and those fixed incomes are always much more sensitive to rising inflation.

On the Democratic side, a few things to consider: real wages for the bottom half of wage earners in 2021 rose (link), meaning that for those in the bottom half of the workforce their wages beat inflation last year. Many received additional help through enhanced unemployment benefits and the Child Tax Credit. Democratic homeowners and those who own stock also came out ahead, as both housing and all major stock indices far outpaced inflation.  We are also less reliant on cars and gas, so our voters just didn’t experience the most debilitating parts of how inflation manifested last year as Republicans did. 

So, again, not only are Democrats not hearing as much about inflation as Republican voters are, they simply may not be experiencing it the same way.  It may be more acute with Republican voters.  And certainly as the economic section below shows, Democrats are much bullish on the current economy than Republicans.  We just aren’t in the same place here. 

In a new column Paul Krugman comes down in a similar place to where we come down – there just isn’t a lot of economic data to back up the idea that inflation is causing searing pain, as like what happens when you lose a job, health insurance or a loved one to COVID, or like it did during the 1970s in a very different economy.  In this formulation inflation today may be best characterized as lessening the gains of a booming economy, one of the best of the past 70-80 years.  But the notion that inflation is doing harm, real harm, seems to be outside both the economic and attitudinal data here. 

The core goal of this Saliency Index project is to establish that while all issues are important some just matter more to people.  And it is possible that is what we are finding here.  Inflation matters to our voters but not just as much as other issues.

So how should Dems think about inflation? We don’t think it should be an area of primary engagement.  Instead, we think we should stay focused on defeating COVID, securing the recovery and doing a far better job of making the American people, their grit, their resilience, their can do spirit in a time of adversity the big story of the 2022 elections.  For those who believe we need to make a deeper connect to the struggle of folks, we agree – but we think it needs to be through the COVID/recovery lens.  COVID has been far more disruptive to our lives than inflation, and we just can’t spooked by right wing talking points here. We need to be the party that leads the nation through this COVID challenge and helps us come out the other side, successfully. It is what we were elected to do, what our electorate wants us focused on.  And our voters believe that the way we best tackle inflation is by defeating COVID – so it all works together. We address inflation fears by keeping focused on ending the COVID, doing we all can to get the American people through this terrible scourge. 

Implicit in this analysis would be that Democrats should not make “lowering costs” central to the narrative going forward.  It can be used as a response or defense, but making it a primary area of engagement helps reinforce the central attack line Republicans are using to attack the success of the President’s economic plan.  We continue to believe there is no real politics f or Democrats right now outside the COVID/recovery frame; and that we must do a far better job selling the success of Biden’s economic plan and be far less defensive in doing so. 

Realize not everyone will agree with this take, but just following the data here, trying to make sense of it all.   

Climate Change remains a top Dem concern – we’ve gone back and looked Navigator polling since May and all throughout Climate Change has been in the upper tier of issues in the Democratic electorate.   This is a bit of sea change, and something which deserves far more attention and discussion in the center-left family.  It is, of course, a welcome development. 

The Democratic Electorate Is Much More Positive on the Economy – so we ran our model against a different Navigator question, this one asking whether the economy is getting better, same, worse.  The results are pretty interesting: 

Economy                 All     Modeled D   Modeled R

Getter Better            17         25                  9

Same                       23         30                 15

Getter Worse           54         39                 72

So, for all voters, it’s 40% Better/Same, 54% Worse.  For the Dem electorate it’s 55% Better/Same, 39% Worse.  Completely different information universe here, and like in so many areas the intensity of GOP views can distort one’s understanding of where the Democratic electorate is without going through a modeling exercise like this.  The Dem electorate is also net positive on whether they were confident in their personal finances, 50%-46%. 


Memo: Dems Need To Focus On Winning The Economic Argument

Winning The Economic Argument – This week we hosted noted economist Rob Shapiro for a terrific discussion of his two recent essays in the Washington Monthly, It’s A Biden Boom – And No One Has Noticed Yet and The Biden Boom Is Bigger Than We Thought.  You can watch it here

The two essays make clear that 2021 was a banner year for the American economy, one of the best in the post WWII era – 6m jobs, 5+% GDP growth, record new business formations, real wage gains for the bottom 50% of workers, 5m people gaining health insurance, booming housing and stock markets. There can be no doubt that the vast majority of Americans are better off today than they were a year ago, and given the daily adversity we all faced due to COVID, we need to tip our hats to the resilience, ingenuity and can do spirit of the American people.   

The question of why the electorate doesn’t understand that the economy is better, and why Americans give Republicans a big advantage on the economy right now when their recent track while in office is among the worst in American history (3 consecutive recessions) are among the most important questions in American politics today.  It is very hard to see how Democrats are competitive in the elections this fall without doing something significant to change voter’s basic understanding of how just much better the economy is today, and how much better the economy has been with Democrats in power over the past 30 plus years (40m of the 42m jobs created since 1989 have been created under Democratic Presidents).  

As a matter of politics, changing this understanding should be the singular mission of the Democratic Party in 2022.  There are many forms a big campaign like this could take, but there are two pieces which Democrats should consider right away: 

The DNC Leads A Big Conversation About How With Democrats Things Get Better – The DNC should take on this mission, and organize a yearlong education effort involving every element of the party across the country.  Power points, videos, fact sheets, web sites should be developed, and every state and local party have to make it be their goal to be loud and proud about the achievements of Joe Biden and the Democrats more broadly this year.  Language and arguments should be tested, workshopped.  A large multimedia ad campaign should be developed to support the free media effort, and it should run in the second quarter of this year, from mid-April to July 4th.  Every Democrat should be asked to contribute to this vital effort, and a target goal of $50m should be established.  Voters need to know this information now, not in the fall – that is when candidates have to do their job.  

Other elements of the center-left family with resources can amplify the effort.  At a strategy level the goal should be to get the Democrats even or ahead with Republicans on the economy by Labor Day, making it far more likely the election will be competitive this fall.  A campaign like this also has the benefit of bringing the party back together around a singular mission, something we think the party can use right now. 

Elected Officials Do Months of Events Showing How Much Better Things Are – In research NDN did in late 2010 and early 2011, we asked voters who did they need to hear from to know a recovery was taking place.  The clear answer was local business people.  Voters told us that if they heard it from a brewery which had hired a few more people, or a factory that was going to two shifts, then they would believe a recovery was taking place.  That work informed the work of the Obama White House, and Senate and House Democrats over the next few years as we struggled to help people understand a recovery was indeed taking place.  

Today’s elected Democrats should tear some pages from this playbook, and spend most of their public events in state or district in the coming months with local business people who can validate that things are better.  These local leaders could also become stars in campaign ads and videos.  The efforts to play up the Infrastructure Bill should be seen as part of this effort, and not stand alone; for there are limits to how much political benefit Democrats will get from things people will not see or feel before November.  

As the incumbent party, Democrats will be judged this fall largely on whether voters think we’ve done a good job, that things are better.  Things are better, and we should spend the next 10 months relentlessly making the case that they are.  Every moment we spend talking about things which will not be felt by the election should be understood now as a distraction.  We have a vital argument to win this year; one we can win; and one we must win to make the elections competitive this fall.  And we need to keep repeating – if we can’t get credit for what we’ve done, it’s unlikely we are going to get credit for things which haven’t happened yet.  

Things are better.  With Democrats things are better.  Things are better today than they were a year ago.  

Let’s get to work people.

Final note – we are not as convinced as others that inflation is the central reason Democrats have struggled to break through on the economy this year.  For more on that see here.  We believe the central reason we haven’t broken through is that we haven’t tried hard enough.  That’s a fixable thing, and what this plan tries to address.  

Does this plan assume the economy stays strong in 2022, and we can keep making the argument? Yep.  It is the likely scenario and we should go for it.  

Video: Rob Shapiro On The Biden Boom (1/25/22)

On Tuesday Jan 25th we hosted a terrific talk with Dr. Rob Shapiro to discuss his two recent articles in Washington Monthly about the remarkable performance of the American economy in 2021.  You can watch this discussion here.

Be sure to read Rob's two great articles:

It’s A Biden Boom - And No One Has Noticed Yet and

The Biden Jobs Boom Is Bigger Than We Thought

The strong performance of the American economy under recent Democratic Presidents is one of the most important but least understood stories of our politics today.  To learn more about our work in this space, see check out this recent memos below, and please join us for our next presentation of "With Democrats Things Get Better" which takes an extended data driven look at just how much better the economy performs when Democrats are in power.

Ending 2021 on A High Note – America’s Can Do Spirit Is Alive and Well

Report: 3 Times As Many Biden Jobs As Bushes, Trump Combined

40m of 42m new jobs since 1989 have come under Dem Presidents

Friday, Feb 11th 1230 pm ET – With Democrats Things Get Better – On Friday, Feb 11th is the next showing of our signature presentation, With Democrats Things Get Better.  It’s a 25 minute data filled journey through American politics since the Cold War ended and a new political age began.  And what the data shows, not surprisingly, is that during this period when Democrats were in power the US had strong, sustained job and GDP growth, booming stock markets, rising incomes and wages; and when Republicans have come to power, we’ve had 3 consecutive recessions, two very severe, and debilitating deficits.  The fundamental contrast between Democratic growth and progress versus GOP recession and decline that emerges from the presentation is very stark, and critical to understanding where we are in American politics today.

You can learn more about the big arguments behind With Dems here, and sign up for the 1230pm ET Zoom-based presentation here.

Perhaps the most remarkable stat from the deck – of the 42 million jobs created in the US since 1989, 40 million – 95% - have been created with Democrats in the White House.

Feel free to invite friends and colleagues to either event – the more the merrier!

Ending 2021 on A High Note – America’s Can Do Spirit Is Alive and Well

Ending 2021 on A High Note – America’s Can Do Spirit Is Alive and Well

2021 was a hard year for the United States.  Our political system suffered arguably its most direct challenge in our history, a threat that remains, aided by a radicalized GOP.  Truly extreme weather of all kinds caused hundreds of billions of damage to communities in every part of the country.  And then there was COVID, as great a disruption to our way of life as many of us may see in our lifetimes.  

It was a hard year.  

But remarkably, despite all these ongoing and sometimes debilitating challenges, the American people reached deep, found a higher gear, worked their asses off and the economy took off.  Our friend Rob Shapiro labeled the strong growth we’ve seen this year a “boom,” and the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described it this way: “America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years notwithstanding the contrary media narrative contributing to dour public opinion,” Matthew Winkler, former editor in chief of Bloomberg News, wrote last week. Among the gains: The economy expanded an estimated 5.5 percent in 2021 (fourth-quarter growth dramatically outpaced Europe and even China). Unemployment plunged to 4.2 percent. Record-setting U.S. stock markets (the S&P 500 is up nearly 30 percent) outperformed the world. Productivity jumped. Corporate profits are the largest since 1950 and corporate debt the lowest in 30. Consumer credit expanded. Confidence among CEOs is the highest in 20 years. The American Rescue Plan cut child poverty in half.”

And to that incredible list we would add real wages for workers in the bottom half of the US workforce have seen gains this year despite rising prices, and millions gained health insurance through the Affordable Car Act.  

But of all these inspiring stats, the ones that we find the most remarkable are about new business formation, good ole American entrepreneurship. 2021 saw the most IPOs ever recorded, 1006, substantially more than the previous record of 848 in 1996.  And the pace of new businesses created of in 2021 is way beyond anything we’ve seen in decades



All of this data together points to 2021 being one of the most successful years for the American economy and people in modern history.  That it has happened in a time of such ongoing adversity speaks to the core of what I think is truly most exceptional about America – our incredible desire to do, to make, to create, to invent, to innovate, to take risks, to adapt.  Everywhere we look we see the power of American ingenuity – our companies and scientists are leading the global fight against COVID; Tesla has inspired the world to rethink mobility; Apple, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and so many American tech companies continue to imagine and build the future.   The list goes on and on.  A thousand IPOs this year, millions of new businesses – during COVID! The dynamism, the grit, the resilience, the toughness at the very heart of this great country has never been more on display as it has been these past few years. 

Surely if President Biden wants to show the world that democracies are still where it’s at, finding a way to celebrate these collective achievements in a time of global challenge, to remind all about the transformative power of American ingenuity and the can do spirit of our people, would be a great way to kick off the new year.  It might even be a theme a State of the Union could be built around.  

So I am choosing to end this hard year on an optimistic note.  For I think the key to keeping our democracy, tackling climate change and defeating COVID all start with recognizing the greatness of this remarkable nation and its people, and summoning that can do spirit to complete vital work which is not yet done.  These are things that can only be done by us, all of us, working together in the years ahead.  And there is nothing more “democratic” than a people, along with their government, pulling together to get big things done. 

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