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.