Progressives Have The Winning Argument On Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

This headline in The Washington Post earlier this week—House Republicans try to steer focus back to jobs—(after guess who took the focus off of jobs) highlights how silly the silly season has gotten for the right in Washington, but it also is a sign that even the people promoting the budget-slasher drama in Washington know it’s not playing well in Main Street America.

Progressives, in other words, can win this political argument decisively by tapping into and addressing what struggling middle-class families are experiencing and the leadership they are demanding of their government. (Meanwhile, as Bill Scher notes today, congressional conservatives can’t help but ride their ideological hobby horses to ridiculous extremes while relegating addressing the job crisis to rhetorical flourishes in news releases.)

Celinda Lake offered her latest polling and observations on this at last week’s "Summit on Jobs and America’s Future" in Washington. The video (above) is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch as she explains the gulf between where ordinary people are and the actions congressional conservatives are taking.

Updating the Clinton-era theme, "It’s the economy, stupid," Lake says, "It’s the economy, moron." Job creation and economic growth are the top priority of Americans, not reducing the deficit, Lake says. "Actually, the great irony here is that the single biggest predictor of concern about the deficits is concern that we have not created enough jobs here," she said.

Also, according to Lake’s polling, people say overwhelmingly that the causes of the deficit are not Social Security benefits, assistance to the poor or too-generous public employee pay and benefits; the causes are largely tax breaks for the wealthy and spending on two wars.

"When people talk about what their agenda is, it is the progressive agenda. … They believe overwhelmingly in spending on Social Security and Medicare, and they rank those solidly over reducing the deficit. People don’t even like across-the-board cuts right now, because they believe that what should be done is that priorities should be set," Lake said. "And people overwhelmingly believe that there should be tax policy changes that should go after the big corporations and the wealthy, and the oil companies, who are making away like bandits."

Lake’s presentation at the jobs summit emphasized two areas where she says progressives "have the wind at their backs":

1) This economic focus extends to favoring programs like job training, education, Social Security, and Medicare over reducing the deficit—so appeals for “across the board” cuts need a response showing the threat they present to these programs. Voters want to set priorities.

2) There is also strong momentum in favor of tax policies favored by progressives. While jobs outweigh deficits 2-1, voters do worry about spending in these tough times. Progressives should respond to this with a “fiscally responsible” frame against massive tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests.

An example of a winning message was highlighted in the Campaign for America’s Future/Democracy Corps poll done in January, in which 58 percent of respondents favored an "invest for jobs" message while only 35 percent favored the message emphasizing deficit reduction as the overriding priority. The investment/jobs message read: "While reducing the deficit is important, creating jobs and growing the economy should be our first priority. The best way to get our deficits under control is to put our economy back on track. That requires investment in areas vital to our economy like education, modern infrastructure, research and technology, and a clear plan to make things in America once more. Critical investments in our future cannot be sacrificed to austerity and budget cuts."

Here are the slides that Lake presented:

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