Politico reports that internal polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has them very worried. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, privately warned Democrats that they’d lose the House if the election were held today.
The internal DCCC poll found that only 42 percent of likely voters in more than four dozen House battleground districts and regions trust Democrats on the economy, according to Politico. There’s also this:
A growing number of battleground-district incumbents are privately alarmed by new data that showed the party struggling on bellwether issues such as the economy, despite their trillion-dollar pandemic rescue effort this year and Biden’s generally steady approval rating.
As a result, Politico reports, the DCCC chair is privately advising Democrats to get more aggressive in promoting President Biden’s economic agenda, whose individual items are still very popular in DCCC polling and in public polls.
The complication here appears to be that it’s unclear how much it means politically that Biden’s individual policies poll so well on paper. Either Democrats are not doing enough to communicate these particulars to voters, or their overall experiences of the recovery matter more than what they think of those policies, or some combination of the two.
The good news is that there may be an answer to both of those problems: It resides in passing Biden’s agenda. But this will require both communicating about it effectively once it’s passed and that it actually has a palpable impact on people’s lives.
A new memo from the Center for American Progress makes this case. It argues that Democrats should not be spooked by Republican fearmongering about government spending leading to inflation, which is meant to create the impression that Big Government liberalism has led Democrats to lose control of the economy.
The inflation we’re seeing, the memo argues, mostly reflects supply chain bottlenecks and hiccups as the economy restarts from its covid-19 deep freeze, and is mostly concentrated on select items that aren’t that important to overall consumer spending, such as used cars.
Instead, it argues, what matters more to people’s perceptions of the economy are the sum total of the combination of their wages and their expenses on items that are central to their lives, such as health and child care.
Here Democrats have some control over the outcome. They can pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan (with $579 billion in new spending on “hard” infrastructure) and the Senate reconciliation bill (with $3.5 trillion in spending on an expanded child tax credit, health care subsidies, child care, paid family and medical leave and assistance for community college).
This would have the effect of both boosting wages and bringing down critical health care, child care and other costs, the memo argues. And those policies would also make it easier for people to return to work, enhancing workers’ productive potential and pushing us toward full employment, both of which would do more to spur wage increases.
Once passed, these things could prove popular in a way that matters. According to the DCCC, that internal poll also found that 87 percent of battleground voters say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports investing in infrastructure.
Obviously all this could turn out wrong. Such changes might not kick in fast enough to palpably impact people’s lives, or inflation could balloon or the covid-19 resurgence could derail the recovery.
What’s more, Democrats could lose the House irrespective of these issues — Republicans can plausibly win it largely via extreme gerrymanders alone. Which would seem to argue for reforming the filibuster to pass democracy protections, rather than relying on the idea that good policy will automatically be good politics, but that’s another story.
Yes, Democrats can and should do more to sell Biden’s agenda effectively. But surely people’s actual day-to-day experience of the economy will also matter. And if Democratic policies do fuel a robust recovery, they’ll have a good story to tell. It might not be enough to overcome the traditional midterm backlash or extreme gerrymanders, but it sure seems worth a try.