Dems aren’t really running against the Koch brothers. Rather, they are running against plutocracy. The strategy is premised on the idea that swing voters view the economy as rigged against them, and in favor of the very wealthy, whose interests will be zealously protected by a GOP-controlled Senate. The latest addition to this strategy: The announcement that Dems will push for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and the McCutcheon decision doing away with aggregate limits on individual campaign donations.
A new polling memo from Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps sheds some more light on this approach. Conducted with the Public Campaign Action Fund, it finds that in the 86 most competitive House districts, there is strong opposition across party lines to the McCutcheon decision — and strong support for efforts to reduce the influence over money in politics.
The poll found that even in contested Republican districts, 70 percent oppose the McCutcheon ruling when it’s described to them, 56 percent strongly, and in Dem battleground districts, 74 percent oppose it, 62 percent strongly. An overwhelming 71 percent of independents in the 86 battleground districts oppose the decision.
The poll also found strong support in battleground districts for the Government By The People Act, which was described as a measure that would limit contributions to $150 per individual and match it on a six to one basis with public funds, along with strengthened disclosure of all donations. Seventy percent of battleground voters favor the plan. It found broad support for a message against a “government bought and paid for by wealthy donors.”
But is there any chance talking about these issues will actually win any votes for Dems? Dems railed against outside money influencing the 2010 elections, and it did nothing to prevent that massive “shellacking,” right?
Erica Seifert, a pollster for Democracy Corps who conducted this poll, says this and other focus group research suggests things may be different this time. We are now in a time of higher public concern about inequality (the 2010 elections came before Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 election, which focused heavily on a contrast with Mitt Romney as the plutocrat’s dream candidate), and an increased sense that big money’s influence over politics is a key reason the playing field is tilted for the wealthy and against ordinary Americans.
“The old adage used to be that campaign finance reform isn’t something you run on,” Seifert told me. “But over the last few years, we’ve been seeing that this is something voters care about. We’ve tested it in a bunch of different ways. People see political inequality and money in politics as driving a lot of the fundamental economic problems we’re dealing with.”
Seifert noted that the poll shows a focus on big money could help mitigate one of the Dems’ most serious problems: The midterm dropoff in their core groups in the Rising American Electorate, i.e., young voters, minorities, and unmarried women. But of course, as Nate Cohn details in a good piece, boosting turnout among these groups may not be enough — winning over some of the older, whiter voters who populate the midterm electorate will also be crucial.
Seifert says her research has shown that a focus on big money in politics also has persuasive appeal to those independent and swing voters, and gives Dems a way to achieve distance from Washington — even if they are incumbent Senators. “Focusing on political inequality and money in politics is a good way to appeal to independents, and appeals to moderate Republicans who are starting to take a harder look at the conservative agenda of today’s Republican Party,” she said. “It’s a way to separate yourself from Washington and appeal to people who are incredibly angry about it.”
This is where the Dem focus on the Koch brothers intersects with the Dem “fair shot” agenda. The idea is that swing voters who are experiencing stagnating wages and stalled economic mobility can be won over by a Dem agenda focused on the minimum wage hike, pay equity, preschool education and infrastructure spending to create jobs. Of course, it’s often pointed out that few people know who the Koch brothers are.
Seifert agreed, but added this is beside the point: “People understand that big money equals access, and that these people are getting something out of it that’s not good for ordinary Americans,” she said. “People are energized by the idea that the economy works for the few because few have access to politics.”