Memo to Democrats: Inflation Only Beats You If You Don’t Talk About It
Democrats need to understand that we have a winning message on inflation. But inflation will beat us if we avoid the issue or are embarrassed about it.
My organization, American Family Voices, has done a deep dive in researching working-class counties and voters, commissioning polling and a series of focus groups in PA, OH, MI, WI, and IA. We did this work earlier in the year before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act, and when Biden was still in the 30s in his approval ratings. What was striking in that political environment, in focus groups with small and medium-sized town swing voters, was that they were not blaming Joe Biden for inflation. Their primary ire was directed at big corporations that have moved jobs overseas and created supply chain issues; and at the near-monopoly power these wealthy corporations have over prices, allowing them to price gouge consumers.
Working-class voters want politicians to solve these problems. Inflation is their number one concern, and they are thinking about and talking about it all the time. They aren’t leaping to blame Biden, though. They understand that the problems are complicated and tough to solve, but if they don’t think the Democrats prioritizing inflation, they will get very angry. They want to know Democratic candidates have a plan and are going to make inflation a top priority.
If voters never hear ads from candidates mentioning inflation; if the mail they receive never mentions it; if they only hear it touched on in stump speeches; if the answers to the inflation question in debates are mushy; voters are going to decide those Democratic candidates are not prioritizing the issue they are most focused on in their day-to-day lives.
And there is not a reason in the world Democrats need to be defensive or mushy about their plan for inflation. A populist message on the issue has been tested repeatedly by the smartest pollsters in the business (let me do a shout out to Celinda Lake, who did the polling for our Factory Towns research, and to Stan Greenberg, whose Democracy Corps memos are outstanding) and it works. Here are the foundational message points:
1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof. Big oil, food, shipping, health care, and real estate companies have been making record profits over the last two years. I will crack down on price gouging, but to be clear – my opponent has proposed nothing to combat this abuse.
2. Drug prices and health insurance premiums are going to go down because of the Inflation Reduction Act, and I will fight to do even more to build on that and put more money in your pocket. I want to do even more to lower costs, but the Republicans want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, while having no plan of their own.
3. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years; their Medicare premiums are going down for the first time in over a decade; and their drug costs will go down because Democrats passed a law forcing the big drug companies to negotiate with Medicare. Republicans are talking about ending Social Security and repealing the bill that lowers drug costs.
4. Manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States; new plants are opening; new jobs in solar and wind energy manufacturing and semiconductor chips have been created; and our infrastructure is being rebuilt. All of this will end our supply chain problems and create millions more good jobs. My opponent opposes most or all of these measures.
5. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit.
These five points make up a compelling, highly persuasive anti-inflation plan, one that has great credibility with voters. Focus on them in some combination, or focus on them one at a time, but make sure voters know you have a plan for combating inflation and helping working families survive while it still lasts.
Yes, Democrats, keep talking about abortion – it’s really important in turning out the Democratic vote and persuading some women to vote for us that usually vote Republican. And there are other good issues in the mix. But your path to victory is to also make sure voters know you will prioritize fighting inflation and have a plan for addressing it.