A Path to Democratic Ascendancy on the Economy

Finding a path to economic credibility is the Democrats’ biggest challenge – and this major new study shows how to head down that path. Here are the major findings:

• Current Democratic narratives fail to meet voters where they are and how they perceive and experience a very tough new economy. Since 2009, two-thirds have viewed the economy negatively, with a surge of people reporting reduced wages and benefits.

• The Republicans have lost major ground with voters on their signature issue, addressing the budget deficit and spending (44 percent, down from 51 percent a month ago), though voters are holding back from Democrats and President Obama on the economy.

• To get heard anew, Democrats must do the counter-intuitive – forget the past, the financial crisis and recovery. For people, the economy is a set of powerful on-going realities: a middle class smashed and struggling, American jobs being lost, the country and people in debt and the nexus of big money and power that leaves people excluded.

• Democrats will start to make progress if they embrace that reality and make it their mission.

• Republican messages on debt and spending get a strong positive response (56 percent more likely to support), though not as strong as the Democratic messages that address the full range of current problems.

• Democratic messages focused on the past and financial crisis tested dismally, but a message that rejects debates about the past as old politics is one of the highest testing messages for Democrats.

• A message of political reform and accountability to limit Wall Street and oil company lobbyist influence gets considerable traction and makes Democrats more credible on changing other aspects of the current economy.

• The messages on the loss of American jobs (61 percent more likely) and the state of the middle class (56 percent) test very strongly and are obviously the heart of any Democratic narrative on the economy. The messages identify the new economy and focus on what should happen to make life better for ordinary people and the country, without any reference to the history that brought us here. It turns out that is what matters to people in a very tough period.

The memo, frequency questionnaire, graphs, and crosstabs, as well as a memo on our in-depth-interviews, can be found at Democracy Corps.