Biden Needs to Stop Boasting About the Economy

As the midterm polls tighten, veteran pollster Stanley Greenberg emerges as Cassandra warns Democrats that they need to push economic populism or risk being kicked out of the House and Senate in an angry voter. Greenberg, who was a close adviser to Bill Clinton early in his presidency, is not alone in making this argument. He echoes the polemics of leftist figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders and journalist David Sirota (a Sanders adviser). But Greenberg, with his impeccable mainstream credentials, is more likely to be listened to by party elites who often ignore the criticisms of Sanders or Sirota.

Greenberg’s analysis is best understood as a challenge to party electoral orthodoxy. This orthodoxy is strongly expressed in a tweet by Democratic strategist Greg Pinelo: “This election is no longer about persuasion. It’s about the composition of the electorate. If there is an effect in Kansas (it doesn’t have to be that big), the Dems will shock the world. If the turnout of women is there in historical norms and white women vote GOP at average rates, we’re losing.

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Pinelo’s clever statement is worth unpacking, with the underlying assumptions made clear. What he’s saying is that there isn’t a significant group of conflicting swing voters (i.e., voters who may be pro-choice but also concerned about inflation, who respond to Republican messaging), or voters who may prioritize the economy as their major concern and who will be attracted to the GOP by default (because Democrats offer a weak status quo economic message). By Pinelo’s logic, this is an abortion election, with Democrats winning or losing depending on the priority voters give to that issue.

Some analysts went further, warning that even talking about the economy was dangerous. Writing on Guardian, political scientist Cas Mudde, of DePauw University, insisted, “Democrats are right not to focus on the economy.” Mudde acknowledges that “the most Americans say they personally feel the pain of inflation and believe the US economy is getting worse, not better. But, he insisted, “The economy is going to make these feelings even more important, while focusing on Joe Biden, whose approval ratings near their lowest levels during his presidency, and the Republican party, which still is more reliable on the economy than the Democratic party. ”

Abortion, especially after Dobbs removed the constitutional right to reproductive autonomy, will of course be a dominant issue in 2022. To the extent that Democrats are overperforming in special elections, and remain remarkably competitive in polls (doing better than the party holding the White House usually does in midterm years), this is because tens of millions of Americans consider it a make-or-break issue.


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