Grocery shoppers are seen in Atlanta, Georgia

Shoppers are seen in a Kroger supermarket on October 14, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)

New Survey Suggests Populist Economic Message Can Help Dems Prevail in Midterms

A message emphasizing stagnant wages and GOP ties to price-gouging corporate interests can help Democrats beat back an "onslaught" of Republican attacks, a new memo argues.

New survey results published Wednesday indicate that a closing midterm message focused on high costs of living and Republican fealty to the corporate interests driving up prices can help Democrats overcome an "onslaught" of GOP attacks and keep control of Congress in November.

Conducted by longtime Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the survey tests a number of sample messages, including one that notes "working people haven't seen a real pay increase in years," spotlights Democrats' efforts to combat corporate price-gouging, and hammers the GOP for getting "their money from Big Oil and big pharmaceutical special interests"--two major culprits behind recent price hikes.

"As corporate profits soar, and as billionaires become even richer, working class Americans are falling further behind."

That message, which acknowledges worker pain amid stubbornly high inflation and a looming recession, performs much more strongly among likely voters than one that focuses primarily on Democrats' legislative accomplishments and Republican extremism.

In his write-up of the new polling data, The American Prospect's David Dayen noted that after the first message, "voters give Democrats positive approval marks, and it raises Democrats' standing in the generic ballot by one point."

"The most resonant part of the message, respondents say, is the part about how working people haven't seen a raise in years, a message that shows understanding of the plight of ordinary people," Dayen observed, pointing out that Democrats "lose ground in the generic ballot" after voters hear the alternative messaging.

The survey results come as Democrats are facing pressure from progressives to sharpen their economic messaging in the final days of midterm campaigning--and some evidence suggests the party is beginning to listen. The New York Timesreported Monday that Democrats are "struggling to find a closing message on the economy that acknowledges the deep uncertainty troubling the electorate while making the case that they, not the Republicans, hold the solutions."

"On Monday, Democrats unveiled new messages that appeared to switch tacks, incorporating achievements of the past two years with expressions of sympathy on the economy and dire warnings for what Republicans might bring," the Times noted.

President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers have also been sounding the alarm over the GOP's threats to hold the economy hostage in an attempt to secure cuts to Social Security and Medicare and push for more giveaways to the rich.

While Biden and congressional Democrats have denounced fossil fuel giants and other corporations for pushing up prices to pad their bottom lines in recent months, Greenberg and other critics argue the message hasn't been strong enough or sufficiently focused on the consequences for workers, many of whom are seeing their paychecks eroded by high food, gas, and housing costs. One analysis found that Democrats have spotlighted economic issues in less than 7% of the party's total ad spending since Labor Day.

"Democrats need to understand that we have a winning message on the economy and inflation. But rising costs will beat us if we avoid the issue," Greenberg and two fellow Democratic strategists wrote for the Prospect last week. "No Democratic candidate should stop talking about abortion. But going down the stretch, we need to make sure our closing message also talks about the cost of living, inflation, and the economy."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made a similar case in an op-ed for The Hill on Wednesday.

"Poll after poll shows that the most important issues facing the American people are the economy and inflation. This should come as no surprise," Sanders wrote. "As corporate profits soar, and as billionaires become even richer, working-class Americans are falling further behind."

"Let me admit that the Democratic Party is far from perfect," Sanders continued. "Too many Democratic members of Congress have been unwilling to stand up to the big money interests that dominate Washington and fight for working families. That's why we need at least 52 Democrats in the Senate."

"But here is the simple reality: the Republicans in Congress are far worse when it comes to addressing the needs of the working class," the senator added. "We must expand the Democratic majority in Congress and continue to push them to represent the needs of the working class, not the billionaire class."

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