Listen to this article
Produced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI storytelling.
President Joe Biden and Democrats cannot win the debate over the economy without fundamentally reframing the terms of choice they offer voters, a comprehensive new study by one of the party's leading election strategy groups concludes .
The study, scheduled for release today, aims to alleviate one of the party's most glaring vulnerabilities in the run-up to the 2024 elections: surveys' consistent finding that when it comes to managing the national economy or to fight inflation, a significantly higher number of voters express their confidence in the Republicans. than among the Democrats.
To close this gap, the study says, Biden and Democrats must shift the debate from the party best equipped to grow the overall economy to the party that can help families achieve what the report calls a “better life.” The study argues that Democrats can win this argument with a three-pronged message focused on: delivering tangible economic benefits (like increasing federal subsidies for purchasing health insurance), confronting powerful special interests (such as big business) and a commitment to protecting key personal freedoms and liberties, chief among them the right to legal abortion.
The study was conducted by Way to Win, a group that funds candidates and organizations focused on mobilizing voters of color, in collaboration with Anat Shenker-Osorio of ASO Communications, a messaging consultancy for voters of color. candidates and progressive causes. Last year, Way to Win was among the key advocates pushing the party to emphasize a message of protecting individual liberties and democracy — an approach that helped Democrats exceed expectations despite growing discontent generalized with regard to the economy.
To reverse the economic advantage of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Democrats will need to highlight “the tangible improvements their policies have made to people's lives, instead of talking about abstract economic gains, and that they tout their future program of expanding these gains.” , taking on corporate greed and MAGA Republicans who aim to govern only for the wealthy few,” concludes a memo summarizing the research provided. exclusively to Atlantic.
Based on months of polling, focus groups and other public opinion research, the study comes amid simmering concerns among Democrats over national and key state surveys showing Trump leading Biden. Particularly frustrating has been the persistence and pervasiveness of negative public attitudes toward the economy, despite robust economic growth, low unemployment, and a considerable reduction in the inflation rate over the past year. for the White House and other Democrats. Democrats were particularly nervous by a recent Democracy Corps investigationa group founded by longtime party strategists James Carville and Stanley B. Greenberg, which found that voters in key states gave Trump a retrospective rating of labor approval for his performance as president, close to 10 percentage points higher than what they gave to Biden. its current performance.
Biden has spent months trying to highlight positive trends in the economy by describing them under the heading “Bidennomics.” But the Way to Win study, like that of Democracy Corps, says it is counterproductive for the administration to try to convince voters that inflation is falling or that the economy is improving when so much of people are struggling to make ends meet. Tell voters that “inflation is falling [produced a] negative reaction” in research, Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, senior vice president of Way to Win, told me: “Their experience is that it’s over. If you make a blanket statement that things are getting better, it rubs people the wrong way.
Perhaps the key takeaway from the report is the assertion that it is a mistake for Democrats to focus the 2024 debate on any of the major national trends in the economy, including those that have been positive under Biden, like job growth.
For many years, the report argues, voters have been inclined to believe that Republicans are better than Democrats at managing the overall economy — an advantage that could be particularly pronounced for Trump, a former business mogul, s he is the candidate of the Republican Party. But, according to the study, undecided voters, along with the irregular voters the party needs to be present in 2024, give Democrats an advantage over the party that can best ensure “your economic well-being and that of your family “.
“If the question is who [handles] the economy is the best, although that is by no means true, that is their brand advantage,” Shenker-Osorio told me. “If the question is who is going to create the best future for your family, that's an advantage of the Democratic brand. This is a story we can tell. It's a credible story, and it's a story that people are more interested in.
To move the debate to this more favorable terrain, the report argues, Biden and other Democrats must simultaneously reorient their economic arguments in opposing directions. The group argues that Democrats need to focus more on talking less about macroeconomic trends and more about the specific policies they have adopted to help families make ends meet. This includes policies Biden has adopted to reduce prescription drug and utility costs, and policies he could promote in a second term, such as reinstating the expanded child tax credit that the Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia withdrew the inflation reduction law last year. .
“Among swing voters and surge voters, people are more affected by talk of tangible gains than talk of growing the economy,” Shenker-Osorio said.
At the same time, the report argues that Democrats must tie their economic agenda to a broader promise to defend voters against a set of forces threatening their ability to succeed. In its research, the group found that the strongest arguments for Democrats combine promises to deliver concrete economic benefits with promises to defend basic rights and stand up to big, wealthy corporations.
On all these fronts, says Fernandez Ancona, the key for Democrats is not just to warn about what a second Trump term could mean, but to give voters a positive vision that emphasizes their success to stop it and on the prospect that Biden's re-election could bring measurable results. benefits. “We really believe that we can't just tell people bad things,” Fernandez Ancona said.
Key results from the 2022 election offer Democrats reason to be optimistic that the approach advocated by Way to Win will succeed. In the five swing states most likely to decide the 2024 presidential race, Democrats won seven of nine Senate and gubernatorial elections in 2022, mostly around variations on the themes Way to Win wants that the party will focus on next year.
Not all of the problems Biden faces, such as doubts about his age and abilities, can be solved by recalibrating his message. Fernandez Ancona does not pretend otherwise. But she argues that a more precisely targeted message will give Biden the best chance of maximizing his support, regardless of the background environment next year. “We can’t control the conditions,” she told me. “Messaging cannot solve all problems. But it does something to chart a path forward and ensure that voters go to the voting booth knowing what the issues are.
With Trump looming as the Republican Party's likely nominee, Democratic strategists may at this point have greater consensus on what's at stake in 2024 than on the party's path forward. The sheer proliferation of studies proposing a new approach for Biden is perhaps the most telling measure of how much tougher this election is shaping up to be than Democrats once predicted.