Memo: Economic Messaging
You can’t open Twitter/X or a tipsheet without running into bad economic survey data, takes from pundits of varying temperatures on how Democrats are going to blow it, and of course, hand-wringing from progressives. Depending on what you read, Democrats either are not communicating an economic message at all, or the mainstream media is simply ignoring it because it doesn’t drive clicks.
Here at Navigator Research, we see a third possibility that shows up in our most recent Navigating the Battleground survey. There is an opening for progressives for two reasons: one, Republicans burned up their long-established brand as the party that is serious about focusing on the fundamentals of the economy; and two, Democrats have passed an economic policy agenda that is really popular — just deeply unknown — while Republicans continue to shill for corporations and the wealthy at every opportunity.
As a result, progressives should reframe their popular economic agenda in terms of a focus on bringing down costs and improving the economy for everyday people while driving a contrast that forces a choice against unpopular, extremist Republican policy proposals.
And as a baseline – do not jettison advocating for our progressive policy agenda before the American people know it exists.
There are four clear trends of data progressives must get comfortable with as they re-frame and re-introduce the progressive economic agenda to the American people in contrast to what Republicans are trying to accomplish.
Data trend 1: Democratic accomplishments in the macroeconomic environment don’t currently matter because they don’t connect to Americans’ top economic concerns. The Biden Administration policy agenda has averted dire prediction after dire prediction coming out of President Trump’s troubled COVID economy. Unemployment is currently below 4 percent, new job growth consistently shatters projections, and America’s leading corporations are investing in new manufacturing facilities – creating jobs in rural areas that just years ago were plagued by population decline due to lack of economic opportunity.
And yet, approval of the President’s handling of the economy has stalled at 37 percent.
One explanation that our recent Navigating the Battleground data has led us to is that a strong macro-economy or jobs numbers don’t resonate with the American people because they’re judging the economy based on different factors: the prices of food, consumer goods, and housing, all of which are currently up. A Navigator survey conducted in late October found that three in four Americans rate the economy negatively (74 percent) and nearly two in three feel uneasy in regards to their personal finances (63 percent); this comes as inflation remains the number one priority Americans want Congress to focus on (49 percent) as 86 percent say they are paying more — not less — for groceries, and 66 percent of Americans expect that their costs will go up over the course of the next year.
Data trend 2: The progressive policy agenda that does address costs is popular, but widely unknown. We currently exist in a “bad vibes” world (and indeed — real economic anxieties and pressures for many), and growing support for the progressive policy agenda means shifting to a facts (which are good, but unknown) and aspiration/implementation world. Here’s how that shows up in October Navigator data:
- Lowering the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs earns net +64 support, but is only known by 57 percent of Americans;
- Passing a bipartisan bill to rebuild roads and bridges, expand power infrastructure, and more is earns net +59 support, but is only known by 54 percent of Americans; and;
- Passing a bipartisan bill to invest in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and improve domestic supply chains earns net +53 support, but is only known by 41 percent of Americans.
The list goes on. The popularity of these accomplishments has remained steady, and they are ripe for a re-introduction to the American people.
Data trend 3: Republicans are viewed increasingly as unfocused on the economy. In July, the share of battleground constituents who believed Republicans in Congress prioritized economic issues was net -30 (29 percent focused more on economic issues – 59 percent focused more on non-economic issues). After a turbulent fall punctuated by Republicans in Congress’s near miss with a self-inflicted shutdown and a speakership fight, that share had fallen to net -53 (17 percent focused more on economic issues – 70 percent focused more on non-economic issues). This shift in just a few months is notable, and it is a continuation of the long decay in Republicans’ once strong positioning with the American people as the party that is serious about fixing the fundamentals of our economy.
And, in a moment when any given shred of data on how people are experiencing the economy could make the top of your favorite (or least favorite) political news site, this is a novel finding that is currently under-considered and under-reported.
Data trend 4: Republicans are also increasingly viewed as being the party of extremism. Republican economic legislation such as the Fair Tax Act, ”which would eliminate all income and payroll, estate and gift taxes and replace them with a 30 percent national sales tax on everything you buy” is immensely unpopular (net -25; 28 percent support – 53 percent oppose). Republican proposals to make cuts to or end Social Security and Medicare are in the same soup with the American people (76 percent find this concerning). And, by a 31-point margin, Americans describe the Republican Party’s position on abortion as extreme (58 percent extreme – 27 percent not extreme), including independents by 30 points (50 percent extreme – 20 percent not extreme) and a third of Republicans who say the same (net -16; 35 percent extreme – 51 percent not extreme).
Based on these four data trends, a new way of thinking about how progressives should communicate our economic agenda and our approaches to bringing down costs would be making the transition…
…from how progressives are communicating now: “We passed legislation that is bringing down the cost of insulin by allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.”
…to: “While MAGA Republicans are focused on taking away abortion access and cutting Social Security and Medicare, Democrats in Congress are focused on bringing down the cost of your insulin – which is why they passed legislation that allows Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.”
This reframing takes advantage of the chaos Congressional Republicans have surrounded themselves with, meets Americans where their focus lies, and allows progressives to reach the economically persuadable — Americans who disapprove of the Biden Administration’’s handling of the economy but support its economic agenda — with the goal of educating them.
Jen Palmieri is often quoted as saying “there are ‘communications problems’ and ‘problem problems.’” That phrase is frequently borrowed by communicators to gently point out when a ‘communications solution’ is being demanded, but a ‘problem solution’ is required. In this moment of dire polling for the Biden Administration, we urge the opposite approach in service of the progressive policy agenda: first consider a ‘communications solution’ based on the trends we see throughout our data, whether in nationwide surveys or within the battleground. That is not to say that a problem solution may be at some point needed, but in the meantime, it is too early to hit ‘eject’ on our popular progressive economic policy agenda before the American people even know it exists.