The Missing Economic Message

In all the discussion of turnout patterns and landscape and so forth, in which I’ve been a robust participant, there’s sometimes a temptation to talk as though demographic groups are frozen in their current positions forever. But they’re not: indeed, one factor that seems like an eternal lodestone to Democrats, the over-65 vote, went Democratic just eight years ago. And by the same token, Republicans were seriously competing for Latino voters ten and fourteen years ago.

In the end, a vote is a vote. And while Democrats hope to restore their 2008-12 margins among young and minority voters in 2016, and turn them out, if the Donkey Party ever wants to get back into a position to govern and not just block Republican extremism, it’s going to have to develop an economic message that resonates with white voters who now view government rather than corporate elites as the chief obstacle to their aspirations.

John Judis made this point at TNR today. And Greg Sargent reinforces it after talking to several progressive pollsters:

The exit polls show that candidates like Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, Bruce Braley and Mark Udall lost by anywhere from large to truly massive margins among non-college whites and older voters. That’s also true of the overall national electorate. You should treat these exit polls with a grain of salt, but the pollsters I spoke to agree that this gets at a fundamental problem Democrats face.

These pollsters argued that this was above all the result of a failure to connect with these voters’ economic concerns. At the root of these concerns, Mellman says, are stagnating wages and the failure of the recovery’s gains to achieve wider, more equitable distribution….

Ultimately, stressing individual issues such as the minimum wage hike and pay equity wasn’t enough to get past that — even if they are quite popular — because these voters want to hear a more comprehensive message about how Democrats would move the economy forward. Pollster Celinda Lake, who polled on multiple races, says the broader failure to articulate this — from the President on down — led these voters to opt instead for vague promises of a change in direction.

“We have a huge problem: People do not think the recovery has affected them, and this is particularly true of blue collar white voters,” Lake said. “What is the Democratic economic platform for guaranteeing a chance at prosperity for everyone? Voters can’t articulate it. In the absence of that, you vote for change.”

“Our number one imperative for 2016,” Lake concluded, “is to articulate a clear economic vision to get this country going again.”

A very good place to start is by reading Alan Blinder’s analysis and prescription for growing the economy while–and by–raising wages.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.