New Insight Into A Democratic Populist Path To Victory

Isaiah J. Poole

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg is not all doom and gloom about the Democratic Party’s chances of keeping control of the Senate. The polls may suggest otherwise, but Greenberg still sees a way for Democrats to have a good outcome Tuesday – and it’s through the Democratic Party’s base in the “rising American electorate” of single women, millennials and people of color.

But to get to that path of victory, Democrats will have to pivot much more strongly and convincingly toward a populist economic message that identifies the villains responsible for economic inequality and middle-class decline as well as the policies needed to address those problems.

These are the themes that emerge in a slide presentation prepared for The Wednesday Group, a private meeting of progressive leaders organized by the Campaign for America’s Future that takes place every two weeks. (Greenberg made the slides that accompanied the presentation public.)

Unlike an Associated Press poll released last week that said that Republicans had pretty much closed the gender gap with Democrats among women, a battleground poll done by Greenberg’s Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices/Women Vote says that among unmarried women, Democrats have a 34-point advantage over Republicans. But in a memo that Greenberg posted on the Democracy Corps website Wednesday, he links to a Ronald Brownstein article in National Journal that notes that married white women are favoring Republican candidates by significant margins. So are “waitress moms,” economically pressed, blue-collar women without a college education who would benefit most directly from a progressive populist economic agenda – if it were convincingly presented by a credible candidate.

The battleground poll shows that the economy is the most important driving issue for both Republicans and Democrats. But the second most important issue that is driving voters toward the Democrats is “their position on women and women’s issues.”

Interestingly, for unmarried women in particular, the issue that comes up as second most important is not “women’s issues” but Democrats’ “position on the new health care law.” It is a reminder that for many women access to health care – whether it is related to reproductive issues, care for children, or issues of equity and affordability – is a core concern. And while there is no getting around the polarizing impact of the Affordable Care Act, the reality is that the base of people who oppose it – 42 percent – is smaller by a 10-point margin than the combination of people who support it and those who would support moving toward a single-payer system like Canada’s.

Yet, Brownstein writes that “college-educated white women, though strongly preferring Democrats on issues relating to women’s health, actually trust Republicans more on both managing the economy and safeguarding the nation’s security.”

The one strength that Democrats do have among this group of women, he continues, is that “college-educated women were more likely than other whites to trust Democrats to defend the interests of people like them or the middle-class more broadly.”

That coincides with message testing done by Democracy Corps. A political message that calls for “leaders who can live a day of our lives and make change for us” by increasing the minimum wage, ensuring women get pay equity, and taking steps to make the economy work for working people and “not just those with the big money” scored far higher among unmarried women and the rising American electorate generally than a conservative message that emphasized repealing Obamacare, cutting regulations and lowering taxes.

Greenberg’s online memo asserts that if Democrats hold the Senate Tuesday, one reason would be that Democratic candidates “ran on economic issues that affected unmarried and working women and these notorious non-presidential year drop-off voters decided the election matters.”

Another reason would be that African-American voter turnout defies expectation. A report released Wednesday by the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies said that black voter turnout dropped from between 10 to 29 percent in 13 competitive states from President Obama’s election in 2008 to the 2010 midterms. If black voter turnout on Tuesday mirrors what it was in 2010, “the 2014 midterm election cycle will be a challenging year for Democrats, even with overwhelming African‐American support.”

But an aggressive operation to turn out the black vote, and a platform that can win at least 85 percent of those black voters who do turn out, could actually enable Democrats to win Senate races in Colorado, Kansas and Michigan, and governor races in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland and Wisconsin.

This all adds up to what Robert Borosage has written is the challenge for Democrats: “They must ignite their base voters and get them out to vote, and they must appeal to the low-information, undecided voters or, rarer, true independents who are just now making up their minds.” To do that, Democrats can win in these final days with a campaign built on the knowledge that “voters are looking for someone who is making sense, who understands what they are experiencing. And they are looking for someone who not only is on their side, but also offers a way out.”

For more on the economic issues women face and the political popularity of the remedies that would address them, read the latest Populist Majority memo, “Women Voters: The Base Of The New Populism.”

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