PollerCoaster: Why Democrats Need to Think Big
After more than a decade, Democrats finally have control of the White House, Senate and House, albeit by historically narrow margins. With their new power, the Democrats have a choice. Do they press their advantage in a potentially narrow window at the risk of overplaying their game or do they curb their ambitions in search of a bipartisan compromise?
This debate boils down to a political question about which strategy gives Democrats the best chance of retaining their majority in 2022. Many remain scarred by the 2010 midterm elections, when one of the most successful legislative periods in the he story was followed by a devastating election that cost us dearly. control of the House and hampered Barack Obama’s ability to govern for the remaining six years of his presidency.
According to the latest Crooked Media/Search for change PollerCoaster survey, the answer is clear. Democrats have the opportunity – and the obligation – to think big. Amid the raging pandemic and recession, the public has an affinity for Joe Biden’s agenda, an appetite for bold action and little tolerance for obstruction. According to the poll, Democrats are far more likely to pay the price for doing too little to address the crises than too much.
Clearly, the Democrats have the upper hand politically with a grassroots agenda and a divided opposition that is drifting further from the mainstream with each passing day.
Change Research surveyed 1,742 registered voters nationwide from Jan. 22-23.
Biden’s agenda is popular
Over the past week, Republicans have shed crocodile tears at every overly gullible reporter in town over how Biden is breaking his unity pledge by pushing his agenda. They called his executive orders “divisive” and his COVID Relief proposal “radical left.” Republicans are wrong. Biden’s agenda is very popular. Our poll found that most of Biden’s top priorities are supported by at least 60% of registered voters. Support levels above 60% are almost unheard of in such a highly polarized political environment. Biden’s agenda is backed by some voters who don’t even believe he is the legitimate winner of the election.
- Sixty-nine percent of voters support Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Even 39% of Trump voters support him.
- Fifty-five percent of voters support raising the federal minimum wage to $15, including 17 percent of Trump voters.
- The law for the people, a proposal for political and democratic reform, enjoys 65% support, including more than a third of Trump voters (the irony is dead!).
- Biden’s proposal to forgive up to $10,000 in student debt per person rings 55-40. Notably, a plan pushed by some progressives to write off up to $50,000 is nearly as popular at 52-43.
The survey asked respondents to identify their priorities from a list of issues. The results were clear. Voters are focused on the current crisis. The top three issues were all COVID-related – vaccine distribution, economic aid and stopping the spread of the virus.
These results make it clear that successfully handling the pandemic and recession is the most important task for Biden and congressional Democrats. In the short term at least, nothing else matters as much.
That means pushing aggressively to push through the COVID Relief plan in the face of Republican opposition. When Republicans love Susan Collins to complain that $1.9 trillion is too high a price, they are really on the wrong side of public opinion. The danger for Democrats is doing too little, not too much.
Don’t fall into the austerity trap
Republicans rediscovering their utterly sincere concern for debt and deficits the minute Biden was sworn in as president was as predictable as the sunrise. After spending billions of dollars on phenomenally ineffective corporate tax cuts and massive, unnecessary increases in defense spending, Republicans are now talking about pinching pennies on vaccine funding, unemployment benefits, checks relief supplies and money to keep firefighters and teachers on the job. Republican success in 2010 was fueled in part by a spending revolt after a stimulus bill, a bank bailout and the Affordable Care Act (which actually cut the deficit despite what Republicans claimed ). In this poll, we tested Republican austerity arguments and found them relatively ineffective. Framing Biden’s policies with right-wing language on debt and deficits reduced support, but only by about 10 points.
In other words, a majority of voters still support Biden’s plans even if they add to the deficit. The results should embolden Democrats to push for the policies that do the most good and to dismiss complaints of bad faith from Republicans and others. Given the immense desire for action on COVID and the economy, cutting the veils to appease the false deficit hawks would be a monumental policy mistake.
The price of getting small
While this poll is very good news for President Biden and the Democrats, it also underscores the challenges they will face in governing with such narrow majorities. Potentially unanimous Republican opposition and obstructive legislative tactics like the filibuster will hamper the Democrats’ ability to implement their agenda. But voters demand results, however they get them.
Voters want a compromise, but not at the expense of necessary progress. By a margin of 64-27 voters would prefer the Democrats win the support of members of both parties, even if the Democrats have to compromise on some of their priorities. However, given the choice between as much relief as possible without Republican support or less relief with Republican support, voters prefer as much relief as possible 46% to 38%. Compromise is nice, but voters prioritize relief.
Despite the affinity felt by the Senses. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and others for the filibuster, the public is ready to throw him overboard to progress. Voters support ending the filibuster by an 8-point margin, and if Republicans used the filibuster to block a $15 minimum wage, they would support ending it by a 14-point margin. The poll asked voters how they would feel if “Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress did everything in their power to stop Democrats from passing laws, regardless of what the laws might To do”. Nearly nine in 10 Biden voters would feel negatively if that happened. Allowing McConnell to block progress will diminish Democratic enthusiasm, making the exorbitant turnout Democrats need to hold the House and Senate nearly impossible to achieve. Given the choice between embracing a big agenda bypassing or eliminating the filibuster, and embracing something smaller with bipartisan cooperation, this poll clearly shows that voters much prefer the former.
It should also be noted that McConnell’s stonewalling strategy is not without risk. Almost a quarter of Trump voters would have negative feelings if McConnell and the Republicans stood in the way of progress.
A Divided Republican Party
Good political strategy comes down to getting across messages and policies that unite your coalition while dividing the opposition. Democrats have an opportunity to take advantage of a divided Republican Party.
The post-Trump, post-coup Republican Party is a mess. The party’s favorable rating is 29 points underwater. Twenty-eight percent of Trump voters view their party unfavorably. Former Vice President Mike Pence is about as popular as the coronavirus with a negative rating of 21 points.
The most interesting division, however, concerns economic issues. Trump voters who earn less than $50,000 a year are much more supportive of Biden’s economic plans:
- 42% support Biden’s US bailout
- 28% support Biden’s student debt plan
- 29% raise the minimum wage to $15
These aren’t huge numbers, but they’re big enough to matter in a close election. Trump helped shore up working-class voters for the GOP. Increasing support and turnout among these voters is how Trump won where Romney lost. This poll shows that the implementation of populist economic policies could offer the Democrats an opportunity to win back some of them. This potential schism is something they should explore in further research, but it’s a promising opportunity.
We are a long way from 2022. A million things can and will happen. But as we sit here today, the political path for Democrats seems clear: Be bold and do whatever you can to stick to a popular agenda. The risks of doing too little far outweigh the risks of doing too much.
This note also appeared in Messaging, Dan Pfeiffer’s political strategy bulletin. Subscribe here for further analysis.