Abortion, the Economy and a Democratic Closing Argument
Some thoughts on how Democrats can fine tune their message in a slightly worsening political environment
Everyone correctly takes polls with a shaker’s worth of salt these days. Are they right? Are they wrong? No one really knows. But looking across the campaign landscape — at the ads, the spending, and the body language of the campaigns, it’s clear that the political playing field has tilted ever so slightly in the Republican direction since the summer.
None of this says that Democrats are doomed. Far from it. Other polls show Democrats holding onto a narrow lead. Democrats remain slight favorites in several of the key Senate races. But we must adjust to the new reality on the ground. The focus on abortion and MAGA extremism over the summer closed the initial gap and put Democrats in a position to upend history and the political environment. However, this is the moment in the election cycle when campaigns settle on their closing argument. I now believe Democrats’ closing argument needs to include a strong, populist attack on extremist GOP economic policies.
It’s the Stupid Economy
There has been much speculation about the purported GOP comeback. During the summer, most of the opposition was in a defensive crouch, deflecting their extremist views on abortion. Many speculated that Republican ads on crime and immigration moved to messaging battles, which is less friendly terrain for Democrats. Others (correctly) pointed out that the barrage of Republican Super PAC money erased the significant advantage Democrats previously held on the airwaves. But recent polling shows a more predictable reason.
According to the aforementioned New York Times poll, there is a specific reason for the shift:
With inflation unrelenting and the stock market steadily on the decline, the share of likely voters who said economic concerns were the most important issues facing America has leaped since July, to 44 percent from 36 percent — far higher than any other issue. And voters most concerned with the economy favored Republicans overwhelmingly, by more than a two-to-one margin.
The renewed focus on the economy is not the product of killer ads or shitty press coverage. It’s a reflection of reality. After declining for months, gas prices rose again in the past few weeks. A recent Navigator Research poll found a 27-point increase in the number of Americans who claim to be paying more for gas since their last survey in late September.
Similarly, Navigator found the number of Americans who believed the cost of goods was going up increased by four points from early September. I know four points does not sound like a lot, but consider that the number went from 89 percent to 93 percent. The poll also found a 14-point drop in the number of people who said the economy was improving.
Put another way, the economic environment has worsened in the final stretch. This change has once again raised the salience of the economy — an issue on which the public (inexplicably) trusts Republicans more. To maintain our majorities, we must adjust our message according to this new reality.
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