You may recall how bent out of shape I was by a recent YouGov survey of rural voters in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. I found some of the responses almost incomprehensible. For example, the respondents were asked to look at a list of policies and then associate them with a political party. These rural voters seem incredibly brainwashed by Fox and the GOP's hate talk radio allies. Here are some of the policies they asked about:
Fighting for good paying jobs
both equally- 11%
Working for working people
both equally- 6%
Controlled by corporate lobbyists
both equally- 29%
Pandering to racists
both equally- 8%
Working to improve small towns and rural communities
both equally- 10%
Pro small business
both equally- 11%
Protecting America's democracy
both equally- 8%
Fighting to lower the cost of prescription drugs
both equally- 11%
I'm sure I don't have to explain why I was flabbergasted by those responses. Celinda Lake just completed a set of focus groups for the Congressional Progressive Caucus to determine what swing voters in competitive districts think the Democratic Party stands for. The key findings were just as depressing as the rural voters polls.
Most voters have trouble describing a clear positive vision of what the Democratic Party stands for. New voters were voting against Trump and the GOP, not for Democrats. Lake wrote that "voters are not hearing enough about what Democrats have accomplished, what they are fighting to accomplish, and how they are standing up for voters’ values and priorities. Without Trump on the ballot as a clear villain or stronger definition as a party, Democrats are
at risk of losing some of these new voters in 2022. Voters are expecting Democrats to get things done. Democrats won these surge and swing voters in 2020, but among both groups, their judgement is still out. If Democrats fail to deliver real results or regular people, these new voters can be lost again. Democratic surge voters are looking for major policy outcomes and delivery on promises, not 'more talk with no action.' Many voted down-ballot to empower Democrats to pass legislation without Republican obstruction."
She also wrote that swing voters recognized all the GOP bullshit about "Socialism!!!!" and defund the police" for exactly what it was: "divisive fear-mongering." And they found that among swing voters, the big issue priorities are the environment and climate change, corruption in government and kitchen table economics. After those issues, come social justice, affordable healthcare, immigration and the economy.
Lake noted that "Democratic surge voters and swing voters are looking for different types of candidates, but independence from partisanship and special interests appeals to both. The focus should be on getting things done for regular people."
Democratic surge voters’ ideal candidate is someone “real”-- young, diverse, from a lower socioeconomic background, and relatable to them, but with experience on the issues they are running on. They want to see real passion for progressive priorities.
Swing voters are looking for candidates who are less partisan, independently-minded, and can work across the aisle to get things done. They don’t want to see anything they perceive as too partisan or extreme-- words that these voters largely associate with politicians using divisive language, rather than with progressive policies.
Bold, populist anti-corporate ideas are extremely important and can help candidates bridge the gaps between these groups.
Lake gave the Progressive Caucus two sets of messaging recommendations, one for Democratic surge voters and one for swing voters. "The bottom line," she wrote is that progressive Democrats have winning language here in terms of mobilizing surge voters." She added that the most convincing messages-- reflective both of surge voters’ top priorities and successful framing-- among Democratic surge voters are:
Racial Justice, which prioritizes other approaches to policing including community safety, crisis counselors, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Healthcare, which makes the case for transitioning to Medicare for All to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality affordable health care.
Gridlock, which describes how Republicans in Congress have repeatedly failed to offer solutions while attempting to block legislation, while Democrats are fighting to get things done for regular people.
Voting Rights, which describes how Democrats are prioritizing fighting voter suppression and expanding access to the ballot box
As for swing voters, Lake found that the most convincing messaging for men is the Economy and rights that lay out the Democrats' plan to achieve an economy where all working people are respected and earn a fair wage for their work. Messaging for women is a little different. She wrote that "Among Red and Blue District swing women, respectively it is the messages on Climate Change, outlining how forward-looking, justice-oriented climate policy can save lives and create jobs, and Health Care, communicating the vision of providing everyone in America with high-quality, affordable health care."
She added that swing voters "react negatively to language they perceive as partisan or divisive. We know contrast messaging is a critical piece of communication, and it is often unconsciously effective, however it must be executed carefully, especially in this era. Swing voters increasingly see both parties as intentionally divisive for their own gain. It is critical to avoid playing into this framework in their minds, in order to retain credibility. To strengthen contrast messages, open messages with the shared goals and values that Democrats are fighting for before describing the problem with clear evidence, then describe a solution and the action needed to reach it. The recommended messaging framework: value, problem, solution, action. It is important for solutions to be positive, specific, and believable. Efficacy is still an issue-- these swing voters want to be reassured Democrats can get things done.
She ended her memo by telling the Progressive Caucus that "A generic Republican opposition message attacking Democrats on COVID, socialism, raising taxes, open borders, and Defund the Police did not resonate among swing voters. While these voters do have some criticisms of Democrats’ COVID response and taxation, they found the message exaggerated and off-putting.
NBC News' Sahil Kapur asked Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive caucus, why she believes voters don't know what the party stands for. He wrote that "Jayapal said Democrats have hurt themselves in the past when they had power by failing to make good on promises, like raising the minimum wage. As a result, she argued, many working-class voters decided to give Trump a chance. 'We have not, as Democrats, utilized some of the opportunities we've had over time,' she said."
Apparently, Manchin and Sinema intend to guarantee that Democrats won't be able to this time either. And that will leave America at the mercy of which shitty corporate party makes the best lesser-of-two evils case.