The Way to Win: Election Talk with Celinda Lake

Richard Eskow

Last week on The Zero Hour we talked about the upcoming election with Celinda Lake, a leading strategist for progressive organizations and liberal Democratic candidates. The conversation was enlightening. It was also (hopefully in the best sense of the word) alarming – as in, a wake-up call. There is much to be done to prevent a Republican victory in November, and not much time to do it.

The good news is that there is substantial polling data that lays out exactly what must be done. The question is, will enough Democrats get the message?

Expanding Social Security

In this first clip we discuss a recent study by Lake Research Partners that shows that voters “overwhelmingly” favor expanding Social Security. They also favor lifting the payroll tax so that millionaires and billionaires pay into the program at the same rate as people below the (which is currently about $117,000).

I was familiar with this study, since I wrote about it recently. The conversation was still enlightening. While I understood that voters favored lifting the tax, I didn’t realize that most voters aren’t even aware of its existence – or that, once they learn about it, they view it as a “loophole” that benefits millionaires at their expense.

And it’s not just that voters “wildly favor” Social Security as a program. They are also deeply concerned about their own retirement, so an expansion to the program is personally as well as politically appealing. It’s particularly attractive to female voters who are critical to Democrats’ prospects in November.

Retirement is a “major anxiety” for women. Married women begin to think seriously about the issue at age 55, while single women become concerned about it at the age of 35.

“Overwhelming” Support

In this clip we discuss the fact that, according to the Lake Research Partners study, 73 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans supported expanding Social Security. There are very few issues that have that much ability to sway undecided voters.

Nenety percent of Democratic voters also support the idea, and 75 percent of them feel strongly about it, which means that a platform of expanding Social Security (and paying for it by lifting the cap) would be an enormous motivator for turning out the Democratic base on Election Day.

I asked why more Democratic candidates weren’t embracing the proposal, with numbers like these. “I can’t imagine,” she answered. She then went on to comment that officials in Washington tend to think of Social Security as a program that requires taxes and costs money.

“But that’s not how people think about Social Security,” Lake said.

Values Voters Vote Social Security

In this third clip, she goes on to explain that voters don’t think of Social Security as just another program. Instead, it represents a core value among the electorate. Social Security is, as she explains, what political types described as a “valence issue” – as close to motherhood and apple pie as you can get in the real world.

“You want a bipartisan issue?” asked Lake. “People think that this is the best program they ever heard of, better than sliced bread.”

She went on to say that Social Security “embodies fairness” for voters, in addition to being a “very, very popular program.”

The Winning Platform

When asked what other programs could provide a winning platform for Democrats – one which could drive turnout and persuade voters – Lake listed three issues:

Education: As Jeff Bryant notes here, voters are outraged by the idea that education programs (Lake used Head Start as an example) are being cut in order to balance the budget. She notes that the issues is especially important to “drop-off voters” and registered Democrats, both of whom must be motivated to go to the polls in this off-year).

The War on Women: Policies that affect women, along with misogynistic Republican rhetoric, is a critical issue for voters this year.

Economics: The third issue involves the basket of policies Lake describes as “populist middle-class economics,” which includes issues like the minimum wage and Social Security (which voters also see as an economic issue.)

Give ‘Em Heck, Joe!

In this last clip, I floated the idea of sending Vice President Biden out on the campaign trail to talk about economic issues. I asked Lake, who worked for Biden’s 2008 campaign, if she agreed that he has a certain gift for these issues:

“He is the best,” she said.

Will somebody propose that to the President? “Boy, I hope so,” she said. “Hopefully his folks will hear it from your show,” she added, “because I couldn’t agree more.”

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