Photography lesson

Hiltzik: Learning the wrong lesson from election day 2021


Haven’t we seen this horror movie before?

The problem with the Democratic Party over the past few decades is that instead of showing American voters everything it does for them, it shuns its programs as if it were fleeing the crime scene.

The last time this happened, the achievement was the Affordable Care Act, passed in mid-2010 and intended to provide health coverage to 20 million middle and working-class Americans for the first time and to eradicate the inequalities that have crushed many others with medical care. invoices.

Make no mistake: today’s Republican leadership is not against the way we got the job done. The Republican leadership is against the job being done.

Franklin Roosevelt, 1936

Instead of shouting from rooftops for the virtues of the ACA, Democrats let Republicans define the bill as a “disaster” and ridicule it as “Obamacare.”

The harvest was the 2010 election, in which the GOP won 63 seats in the House and seven in the Senate.

Judging by Tuesday’s election results, the same process is going on right now. As of this writing, Democrats have lost the Virginia gubernatorial post and possibly the state legislature, and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who was to win hands down, is locked in a too tight race.

The lessons of the election will be reduced to mush over the next few days, weeks and months – likely until the results of the November 2022 midterm election are known. But a few observations are ripe now.

The first is that there is always a difference between the legislative program and the record of a party and the electoral mechanics. Democrats have been good enough at crafting the former to help ordinary Americans, and often incompetent at the latter. Some of this incompetence falls under the category of inadequate “messaging” skills, which is not too broad.

One of the questions that will certainly need to be worked on in the aftermath of the Virginia race is whether the Democrats would have done better with a stronger candidate than former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe obviously had a lackluster campaign; among other shortcomings, it wasn’t until the very end of the campaign that he called out his opponent, Glenn Youngkin, for the overtly racist themes of Youngkin’s campaign.

But McAuliffe, like Democrats in general, did not make it clear to voters what was at stake in the election, including the programs and policies that will be reversed or gutted under Republicans’ control. Youngkin said it will opt for tighter restrictions on abortion and harsher treatment of transgender students and race education. He alluded to restrictions on voting rights.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: what voters think about the Democratic Party platform. More precisely: what do they know?

What we do know is that voters support most of the key provisions of the Democratic platform, usually by wide margins. We can see that from the results of the most recent opinion poll on the issues, a national follow-up survey conducted from October 30 to November 1 by Morning Consult and Politico.

The poll sample was 1,996 registered voters polled online, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. At the heart of the poll were questions about the provisions of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which is currently the subject of feuds on Capitol Hill.

Democrats have struggled to complete enactment of the plan partly because their majorities in Congress are so slim, but also because they haven’t mustered enough support from ordinary voters to put pressure on holdouts. .

Let’s take a look at what he found. In general, many of these arrangements enjoyed bipartisan support.

Respondents supported paid medical and family leave by 70-20%. Even among self-proclaimed Republicans, support was 59% to 32%. (These numbers combine “strongly in favor” and “somewhat in favor” and “somewhat against” and “strongly against.” No opinion.) The margin of error was two percentage points.

The two-year free community college was supported by 55% to 36%. Allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of earned drugs by 72-15%; Republicans backed him 64% -33%. The addition of dental and vision care to Medicare increased from 82% to 11%; Republicans backed him 76% -17%. Adding hearing services to Medicare was 78% – 123% supported.

Childcare assistance and universal preschool were favored 61% to 28%. The one-year extension of the child tax credit won support from 53% to 34%. Home care subsidies for the elderly and the disabled were favored by 79% to 12%.

On environmental issues and global warming, the payment of electric utilities to increase renewable energy sources was supported from 50 to 33%; electric vehicle tax credits from 47% to 37%; subsidies for home solar panels from 61% to 24%.

The expansion and improvement of the Affordable Care Act premium subsidies were supported from 53% to 30%, and the provision of Medicaid coverage to low-income residents of the 12 states that have not extended Medicaid under the ACA was supported even more strongly, from 63 to 24%.

As for how to pay for the Build Back Better program, respondents supported imposing a minimum corporate tax of 59% to 23%, and the so-called billionaires’ tax – a 5% surtax on income over $ 10 million and another 3% on income over $ 25 million – was supported from 57% to 25%. Republicans were very divided, 42% against 40% against.

It should be noted that some of these provisions have already been removed from the Build Back Better package, the result of its reduction from a measure costing $ 3.5 trillion over 10 years to $ 1.75 trillion to satisfy the Democratic senator. curator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

It doesn’t matter that even at $ 3.5 trillion over a decade, the package would be tiny compared to the size of the U.S. economy, the federal budget, or spending as unproductive as the defense budget.

Among the provisions Democrats rejected included a free community college, paid medical and childcare leave, and utility grants to increase renewable energy sources. What remains, however, is still revolutionary in terms of overhauling government for the benefit of ordinary Americans.

Poll results show Democrats failed to ensure voters know what’s on their platform and what’s at stake if it fails. It is also a significant failure of a press obsessed with the horse-racing aspects of policymaking, perhaps because there is no heavy intellectual work involved. Diving into the details of policies and their potential impact on people’s lives takes so much more work, and who wants it?

But that leaves voters confused and therefore easily misled about what these policies mean to their lives. The same phenomenon has infected the coverage of the Affordable Care Act, opening the door to its misrepresentation by the GOP. As I reported in 2013, just as the ACA insurance exchanges were launched, Americans loved Obamacare.

When it was broken down into its individual components, it was clear that Americans were each favoring: Closing the Medicare drug benefit donut hole: 81% in favor. Extension of coverage for dependents to offspring up to the age of 26: 76% in favor. Medicaid extension: 71% in favor. Prohibition of exclusions for pre-existing conditions: 66% in favor.

When the same respondents were asked what they thought of ‘Obamacare’, the result was 43% unfavorable to 39% favorable. It took nearly 10 years for the American public to become aware of the virtues of the Affordable Care Act (in December 2020, the Gallup poll reported that 55% of respondents approve of the ACA).

This is a bad sign, as it suggests that the negative branding of even a very good policy is difficult to undo, once it takes hold. Democrats today better go to bat to protect their platform, prontissimo.

Are they capable of it? Effective communication of positive policies is difficult. Perhaps the most accomplished politician in this regard was Franklin Roosevelt, who never let voters forget what was at stake when Republicans attempted to attack the New Deal.

His best moment came during the New York Democratic State Convention in September 1936, when his re-election campaign was launched amid the GOP’s attacks on Social Security and other Rooseveltian reforms.

Let me warn you and let me warn the nation against the sweet escape that says, “Of course we believe all of these things; we believe in social security; we believe in work for the unemployed; we believe in saving homes. Let’s go through our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all of these things. … You just have to give them to us. We will do them all, we will do more, we will do them better; and, most important of all, their achievement will cost no one anything, ”he said. “Make no mistake: the Republican leadership today is not against the way we got the job done. The Republican leadership opposes getting the job done.

Notice FDR’s careful enumeration of the elements of his program, and his perforation of the fallacies of his adversaries. The political landscape may have changed since 1936, but the challenge for Democrats to win and maintain their support for an agenda that will benefit most Americans hasn’t changed at all.