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Rewriting the Rules of the Economy
Taking on Trade, Unions and Banks in 2016
Tuesday, January 26 2016
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At a time when two-thirds of the country says America is on the wrong track and when conservatives are mounting a sustained attack on America’s direction, the country is even more ready to embrace a Rewriting the Rules narrative, agenda and message, according to this new poll with Democracy Corps.  Bringing in trade, union representation and banking regulation only adds to the power of these bold changes, first advanced by the Roosevelt Institute nine months ago.       

These issues are being debated in the Democratic primary, and all the candidates have endorsed major policy recommendations at the heart of the Rewriting the Rules report. President Obama too has talked about the need “to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.” However, he and some Democratic candidates are calling for the country to “defend and build on the progress we’ve made” the past 7 years and saying we need “a sensible achievable agenda.”[1] That is less aligned with the changes the report advocates.  That message has allowed the Republican presidential candidates to embrace change and talk about wage stagnation, rising inequality on Obama’s watch, the need for more jobs and trade agreements that don’t hurt America.

In economic terms, the national contest is getting harder. But there is a huge opportunity for progressives to emerge victorious if they lay down the battle lines. We see again and again policies and messages that are framed as checks on corporate power show the greatest potential to drive enthusiasm and unite Americans.

This online poll of 1,200 likely voters shows progressive candidates who embrace an aggressive “Level the Playing Field” message enhanced with progressive positions on trade and unions dominate the conservative candidates with their conservative message and policies.[2] This progressive message begins with frustration this country doesn’t work for the middle class, is governed by “trickle down” economics, and allows CEOs and billionaires to write the rules so government works for them, not you. But in a major new finding, this survey shows that bringing in opposition to new trade agreements written by big corporations seeking to undermine American jobs and incomes and voicing support for union representation so working people can challenge corporate power for higher income elevates both vote and turnout.

The union-centric message performs particularly well with progressive base voters, but candidates should also welcome the trade debate. With TPP and NAFTA very unpopular, especially among independents, the trade-centric message performs particularly well with independents. Bringing trade into the debate also further undermines support for key conservative economic principles overall.

New policies that go beyond Glass-Steagall to regulate the financial sector and break up the big banks further strengthens the progressive economic argument. Adding tough new rules that make “our financial system work for families, small businesses and community banks” gives progressives effective new language on Wall Street reform.

These three additions – strengthening unions, opposing new trade deals and reigning in Wall Street risk – can all be subsumed under the central principle of the Rewriting the Rules report: that CEOs, corporations and big banks have used their power and influence to write the rules in their favor and it’s time to rewrite the rules to level the playing field and grow the middle class.

Finally, this survey settles some important tactical issues that will make progressive messages more powerful:

  • Jobs remain the elemental starting point, even more than higher incomes, though an economy that creates more jobs must be buttressed by government policies and greater worker empowerment that allow jobs will pay enough to live on and reward hard work.
  • Focusing on the corruption of our government by billionaires and corporate donors is very powerful; though raising the Koch brothers specifically wipes out any advantage in the message.
  • Centering on the middle class and bringing in working families sustains our messages, but moving to “ordinary people” and like substitutes weakens it.

These results could not be more timely and useful. They build on research we conducted last fall on leveling the playing field in America, as part of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rewriting the Rules project.


Starting point: voter anger generates conservative engagement, progressive disengagement

Voters continue to say that the country is on the wrong track by a margin of 2 to 1. The progressive base is similarly disaffected, with 60 percent of the Rising American Electorate – minorities, unmarried women and millennials – saying we are headed in the wrong direction. While conservatives have turned this dissatisfaction into engagement, progressives are disengaged.  Only 59 percent of the RAE ranks their interest in the election a “10” compared to 68 percent of conservatives. This is the defining challenge of this election.

An offer to build on the administration’s progress is tone-deaf in this context.


Progressive opportunity: tapping into desire for change to move an aggressive agenda

Voters, including the progressive base want change. But the change they are seeking is an aggressive progressive approach, not a conservative approach.  A candidate offering a progressive “Level the Playing Field” economic message decisively defeats a conservative economic message by a margin of 11 points, with 37 percent of voters saying such a message makes them much more positive towards the candidate.


It is not surprising that the Democratic race is competitive, given Bernie Sanders’ alignment with this message. It is not yet clear whether Secretary Clinton’s message will evolve to this point.


Voters demand strong Wall Street accountability

Taking on Wall Street risk and changing the way banks work so they protect regular consumers is central to the Rewriting the Rules agenda and one of the most important policy levers at our disposal to change the way the economy works. An agenda that down-sizes “Too Big to Fail” banks but also regulates shadow and high-risk banking and increases enforcement wins dramatically more support than one just centered on protecting consumer banking from Wall Street risk-taking. This bold banking reform scores 10 points higher than one that seeks to pass a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act for our times.    

This bold bank reform also heavily outscores the conservative policies that seek to abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and repeal Dodd Frank. Fully 58 percent of voters support stronger regulation of banks – including ending “Too Big to Fail,” regulating shadow-banking and risky financial products, and enforcing financial crimes – so the financial system works for the middle class, with 33 percent strongly supportive.

In fact, reining in Wall Street risk is one of the most popular policies in the progressive arsenal, second only to enforcing labors laws (64 percent effective, 36 percent very effective) and as popular as investing in infrastructure.


Bringing the trade and union debates center-stage helps progressives

The economists who contributed to the Rewriting the Rules report were clear: strengthening unions and improving the trade system are integral to the collection of policies that would be most effective to address inequality, grow the economy and raise incomes. We cannot rewrite the rules and level the playing field without taking on these issues. The good news is that bringing these issues into the debate – particularly trade – helps progressives.

This survey featured an experimental design in which one-third heard a control “Rewriting the Rules” debate with a back and forth between progressives and conservatives; one-third heard the same debate but with an added emphasis on labor rights, and one-third heard the control debate augmented with a trade discussion. Each split heard both progressive and conservative policies, arguments, and messages. We then looked at three different measures to understand whether the inclusion of labor rights or opposition to trade helps or hurts a progressive candidate.

The first test was the simplest – we looked at respondents’ ratings of the “Level the Playing Field” message. When that message also included an argument about trade or unions, it performed as well or better than the original “Level the Playing Field” message.


The union version performed somewhat better among Democrats, with two-thirds saying it makes them much more positive, compared to 60 percent for the control version and 59 percent for the trade version.

The trade message performed particularly well with independents, with 32 percent strongly supporting the trade message, compared to 29 percent for the union message and 28 percent for the control message. This is not surprising given the hostility independents show towards trade agreements in this poll.


The second test was a regression analysis. Controlling for other factors, the union message had the greatest likelihood of shifting respondents’ votes towards Democrats in the congressional vote; meanwhile, the trade message had the greatest likelihood of becoming more interested in voting in 2016. Together, these messages can increase turnout in a low-enthusiasm election and shift the vote towards progressive candidates.

The third test makes the most of the experiment design of the poll and looks at the extent of support for conservative principles about the economy, growth and government, depending on which arguments respondents heard. Those who heard the trade debate were dramatically less supportive of the conservative worldview on the size of government and tax and regulation at the end of the survey. It seems that joining the trade debate with a plausible policy agenda legitimated a role for government and undermined the idea of small government, in ways we do not fully understand. It also eased some concerns about the impact of policy on small business. 


These findings, taken together, show that trade and labor arguments can boost engagement for progressive candidates and can weaken support for conservative policy positions.


Landing the trade argument

The Rewriting the Rules agenda includes key trade policy changes. The progressive policy offerings around better trade deals are more strongly supported than the conservative proposals, with voters giving the most support to the policies vowing to end the deals that protect big pharmaceutical companies that use trade deals to keep prices high and ensuring America maintains sovereignty and the ability to regulate country of origin.


It is clear progressives want a debate about trade and candidates make gains when they join this argument.  The most convincing argument in favor of the conservative trade position is less convincing that every progressive argument tested.

Candidates should be against an agreement where corporate interests and CEOs negotiate their benefits in secret, while political leaders fail to look out for American workers: 64 percent of Americans find this argument persuasive, including 31 percent who find it very persuasive. That is more support than the best the Republicans have to offer, with a 10 point lead in intensity. That the agreements have cost American jobs is a close second in persuasiveness. Sovereignty is less powerful as an argument, at the moment.


Making the case on union representation

In the current environment, it is no surprise that unions have a more negative than positive image in this survey.  The online panel is a little more negative than the public generally. But that does not mean the progressive policy agenda related to worker empowerment and union representation is not strongly supported by the public when they hear it.  Indeed, the policies emerging from the Rewriting the Rules report intended to expand the role of unions in the economy and politics win substantially more support than the conservative agenda backed by a conservative candidate. Those hearing the union version of the “Level the Playing Field” message prefer it to the conservative economic message with a statement about reigning in unions, 62 to 54.

The progressive union policies are some of the most strongly supported policies tested in this survey, and they enjoy much stronger support than the conservative policies. Sixty-four percent think greater penalties for companies that violate overtime and minimum wage laws will produce a better economy, 36 percent say it would be very effective. This puts it alongside infrastructure investment and reigning in Wall Street risk as amongst the most powerful policy ideas progressives have. As a point of comparison, making college affordable scores 10 points lower.

There is strong support for giving people the “legal right to join together with co-workers and negotiate with employers for better wages and benefits,” buttressed by laws against employer retaliation. Fresh language helps strengthen the case for collective bargaining. When we describe the policy as a “legal right to join together with co-workers and negotiate with employers” – without mentioning the words “union” or “collective bargaining” – 55 percent think it would produce a better economy, 26 percent say it would be very effective. When the same policy included the words “union” and “collective bargaining” only 42 percent said it would be effective in producing a better economy. Progressives will win more support for their efforts if they use this more descriptive language.


The challenge for progressives is that the conservative rhetoric has a stronger grip on the public imagination. While the top two progressive arguments are a statistical tie with the top two conservative arguments, the conservative lines have a 10 point intensity advantage.

Progressives’ strongest argument is one that aims to use unions as a check on corporations and CEOs that are only interested in their profits and shareholder payouts, not American workers. This view places the blame for jobs moving overseas on the shoulders of greedy corporate interests, not on union workers. A 53 percent majority say this is a convincing argument, 22 percent very convincing. The second most convincing argument in the progressive arsenal says unionized firms lead to higher wages for everyone in an industry by forcing them to compete for employees.



Settling tactical choices

In an effort to consolidate the progressive community, this survey also settles some nontrivial tactical choices.

Koch brothers. By 55 to 45 voters think ‘Billionaires and corporate donors have unacceptable influence over government’ rather than that ‘Business influences government, but so do labor unions and other special interests.’ But when the Koch brothers are added to the message, the billionaire rhetoric loses its power. The inclusion of the Koch brothers makes the critique look political, and leads to one of the biggest differences in the survey: adding the clause ‘like the Koch brothers’ to the message shifts the balance of opinion in favor of billionaires (46 to 54).


Jobs and raising incomes. Despite the creation of 14 million jobs under this administration and the certainty that we now need to focus on getting jobs to pay more, voters still are hungry for more jobs as the highest priority. They may well equate there being more jobs with more employee choice and market power. In this survey, job creation is the public’s priority over raising incomes by a 34 point margin. With the Rising American Electorate (RAE) – people of color, millennials and unmarried women – job creation is preferred to higher incomes by 30 points. At the end of the day, there is something elemental about having a good job – and that is why a good job has to be at the heart of the progressive project. To have equal power, raising wages should be linked to jobs that pay more.

Inclusive growth over rapid growth. The public has gone beyond the economists’ prescriptions for faster economic growth to growth that is inclusive: “raises everyone’s incomes and wealth, not just those at the top.”  They opt for that kind of growth by a 54 point margin. They also prefer improved economic performance that “produces a higher standard of living” to rapid growth by a slightly smaller thought still strong margin (+50). Inclusive growth, however, gets more intense support: 42 percent, compared to 37 percent for improved economic performance.


Middle class. Economic messages gain strength when they are centered on the middle class, though “working families” can contribute as well. The “working families” language has a lot of energy.  By 56 to 43, voters say we need an economy that works for “working families” rather than the “middle class” – including a majority of the RAE.


But importantly, when a respondent hears repeatedly about the middle class, the vote holds up against the conservative attack, whereas when the language is about ‘ordinary people’ Democrats lose 4 points in the race. 


[2]National Web-Survey of 1,200 Likely 2016 Voters. This survey took place January 6- 12, 2016. Likely voters were determined based on whether they voted in 2012 or registered since and stated intention of voting in 2016. Data shown in this deck is among all 2016 likely voters unless otherwise noted. Margin of error for the full sample is +/-2.83 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups.

Public Embraces Stiglitz "Rewriting the Rules" Economic Agenda: Roosevelt Institute "Level the Playing Field" Plan Motivating Progressives in 2016
Monday, October 05 2015
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Earlier this year, the Roosevelt Institute released its Rewriting the Rules economic agenda crafted by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.  What it offered sounded like a new common sense: the economy is governed by underlying rules; they are a choice and we have the power to change them.  But can this serious formulation win the intellectual argument with elites and the public, can its bold policies win acceptance, can the resulting political messages defeat opponents and energize and motivate a disaffected citizenry? Since the report's well publicized release, the Roosevelt Institute has partnered with Democracy Corps to determine whether its Rewriting the Rules analysis and recommendations were actionable in the short and long-term. 


This research is unique because we are not testing policies developed by pollsters or advocacy groups. We tested policies that the Roosevelt economists believe would be effective levers in changing the rules of the economy and producing a broadly shared economic growth. Well, it is now clear, the public embraces that agenda, while the conservative economists’ agenda is barely credible. 


After hearing a candidate’s pointed message attacking trickle down economics and promising to level the playing field for the middle class and America, the disengaged get more engaged and voters get more supportive of that leader.  But that campaign context understates the possible moment and opportunity. The public is ready to repudiate trickle down economics, the most important intellectual idea since Reagan, and turn away from its attendant conservative policies.  It is also ready to embrace the intellectual framework and bold policy options necessary for America to achieve inclusive growth. The scale of support for these disruptive changes suggests we may be going into a distinctive period.  The 1910 and 1912 national elections created momentum for progressive reform; 1932 and 1936 elections brought the New Deal; 1980 and 1984 elevated market individualism, deregulation and low top income tax rates; Ross Perot in 1992 and the conservative surge in 2008 and 2010 elevated worries about the national debt and austerity.


The Roosevelt narrative and policies were crystallized as a Level the Playing Field’ progressive message, and it is electorally compelling. It gets a stronger and more intense response than the conservative one.  It leads the disengaged to be more engaged, particularly the target audiences of the new American majority.  It also produces much stronger results than a mainstream progressive message that is silent on inequality and proposes modest changes.  Roosevelt’s message has the virtue of energizing the base, without diminishing its appeal to independents and swing working class voters.  At the end of the survey, the big ideological debate, the bold policies, and competing Roosevelt and conservative messages energized the Rising American Electorate of racial minorities, unmarried women and Millennials who could comprise 55 percent of the voters in 2016. 


The first phase of research included six focus groups in Atlanta, Denver, and Cleveland among African American women, Latino men, the white college-educated and working class men and women.[1]  After the focus groups, we conducted a national survey of 900 likely 2016 voters.[2]  It included an elaborate experimental design that measured how the Roosevelt formula tested against a conservative economic posture, as well as against a more mainstream progressive one that did not address inequality.


The results reported here will lead one to consider: what is the scale of opportunity in the elections ahead?

  • The core principles and rules in the Rewriting the Rules report have huge levels of intense support with the public. More than 80 percent agree and nearly 60 percent ‘strongly’ agree that “the rules of the economy matter and the top 1 percent have used their influence to shape the rules of the economy to their advantage.”  And an intense majority of 54 percent strongly agrees that “leveling the playing field” for working Americans and small businesses would bring greater economic growth and rising incomes. 


  • Conservative economic principles are greeted skeptically, to say the least. The country only splits evenly on whether regulations of big business end up hurting small businesses and jobs. And the term trickle down is greeted negatively by two-to-one (45 to 21 percent) of the public and across all ages and classes.  


  • In this survey, the non-emotive term, CEOs of large businesses are viewed very negatively; indeed, two to one negative (45 percent coolly and only 25 percent warmly). 


  • The current conservative economic narrative is barely competitive with the Roosevelt rewriting the rules narrative. The former narrative uses the language of prominent conservatives and Republicans, focusing heavily on big government, regulation and spending that is strangling the economy.  But the Roosevelt economic narrative is viewed as more convincing by a 12-point margin (73 to 61 percent).


  • The more the Roosevelt and conservative economic narratives are debated, the bigger the civic effects and greater the political advantage for the party aligned with it.  Those respondents who heard this ideological debate (one half of the respondents) rated the Roosevelt messages at the end survey 5 points higher, compared to those who heard no such debate. That suggests the more these economic ideas are put front and center, the higher the support for change in the political domain.


  • The level of support for the Roosevelt economists’ recommendations to progressive leaders suggests a public ready for serious changes across a broad range of areas.  Nearly 80 percent of people polled see the top policies as effective. And the level and intensity of support are, remarkably, about 20 points higher than for the policies advanced by conservative economists for the Republican presidential candidates. 


  • The broad agenda prioritized by the public includes policies that seek to reform politics and campaign funding, help working families, invest in infrastructure, increase taxes on the top 1 percent to support investment, help independent contractors and small businesses, and address CEO pay and corporate governance.


  • The public is more supportive of these policies when the agenda starts with reforming the corrupt system of financing politics.  A sophisticated public believes that the richest individuals and corporations are using their money to write the rules of the economy.  Thus, they see the most effective economic policies as ones that bar secret money, require immediate disclosure, bar corporate contributions and empower small donors.


  • By contrast, the public views the policies that dominate the Republican Congress and presidential debates as least effective: only a third of the public believe reducing regulations produced by unelected bureaucrats, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and closing our borders to protect workers would be very effective in bettering the economy. The current conservative economic policy agenda barely seems relevant to the public


  • The Level the Playing Field progressive message scorns trickle down, seeks an economy that works for the middle class, seeks to stop the toxic influence of corporate money, and seeks to level the playing field so we can grow the middle class and America again. It gets a dramatically more positive reception than a very realistic conservative message. This progressive message scores 12 points better overall.


  • The Level the Playing Field Democratic message performs dramatically better than a mainstream Democratic message with self-identified Democrats and, the critical swing group, white working class voters.  It is more motivating for Millennials, and it performs equally well with independents.  The mainstream message, which does not mention inequality or tax increase on the wealthy, is only competitive because Republicans rate it 12 points higher than one that seeks to level the playing field.


  • The percent choosing 10, the highest level of interest, jumped 17 points among racial minorities, 11 with off-year drop-off voters, 11 points with the Rising American Electorate, 12 with unmarried women, and 11 with Millennials.


Presented below are the narratives, policies and messages that emerged in this first phase of research for the Roosevelt Institute.





[1]Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, on behalf of Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute, conducted 6 focus groups: African American women and college educated men in Atlanta, Georgia on July 20th, college educated women and Hispanic men in Denver, Colorado on July 22nd, and white non-college educated women and white non-college educated men in Cleveland, Ohio on July 23rd.

[2]Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, on behalf of Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute, conducted a national survey of 900 likely 2016 voters from September 12-16, 2015. The survey consists of respondents who voted in the 2012 election, or registered since, and were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting in 2016.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error will be higher among subgroups.

New Take on the New Economy
Monday, November 17 2014
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The state of the American economy looms over the public creating long-term pessimism about the state of the country, making the economy, wages and jobs the biggest factor in people’s vote in the last national election and the next.  People are very aware of improvements in the macro economy and in the labor market, but they are even more aware that new jobs pay less and people have not seen a raise in a very long time. They continue to struggle to deal with prices, piece together multiple jobs and have restructured their lives to survive financially, even as they watch CEO compensation, Super PAC spending and inequality soar.
That is the starting finding of this new survey for the Economy Media Project and Democracy Corps.[1] And since people have barely heard from President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and liberal economists on this new economy – Republicans are more trusted on the economy by a lot and conservatives are at parity with liberals on the intellectual arguments. Without progressives really attacking the core economic problems, austerity is still preferred to investment and full-employment spending.
That is true, despite an American public very focused on what jobs pay and helping working families, very critical of the top 1 percent and CEOs, determined to see something done about inequality and supportive of long-term plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country. But this new survey shows that the average voters and even the growing progressive base of minorities, Millenials, and the unmarried have yet heard an economic narrative to rally around, but they clearly want to. The stakes are high and so are the opportunities at this pivotal moment.
The State of the Economy
The economy is the largest contributor to an abiding pessimism about the country as a whole, with about two-thirds saying the country is headed in the wrong direction for decades.  The economic cloud hangs over the nation’s politics, as both Senate and House battleground polls demonstrate where 55 percent of voters in Senate battleground states said “their position on the economy, creating jobs and improving wages” was the biggest factor in their vote.[2]
There is some improvement in the perceptions of the macro economy, but the proportion giving a warm or favorable rating has barely hit 30 percent. But much more powerful are feelings about “the state of your personal finances,” which are unchanged in the past year, indeed since the crash.
Perception of Macroeconomy Has Improved, but No Change in Personal Finances
The personal labor market has improved to some extent over the last 18 months, reflecting overall unemployment data.  Fewer people are losing their jobs and fewer are receiving reduced benefits, a restructuring that has begun to set in.
The behavioral changes to manage this long-term stagnation are producing what may be permanent changes in economic and social adaptations. While somewhat fewer report struggling with prices at the grocery store, more than half still report making big changes to buying habits due to rising prices.  With jobs paying less, 36 percent report they are working more hours or took second job to make ends meet.  A quarter still face the loss of health insurance, which may relate to unsettled attitudes about the Affordable Care Act that are still more negative than positive.  And 31 percent have moved to multi-generational home to deal with cost of living.  That is unchanged and dominant among Millennials and Gen X’ers.
Most Micro Economic Indicators Have Not Changed
This grinding micro personal economy continues to take a big toll with the growing parts of the electorate that have rallied to Democrats in recent years – African Americans and Hispanics, Millennials and unmarried women are very economically vulnerable and open to a government role on the economy and social insurance.  Among this Rising American Electorate, 69 percent changed their grocery-buying habits, 65 percent are more likely to have taken a second job, 46 percent have fallen behind on their mortgage, and 38 percent moved to a multi-generational household[3].
The lack of progress on these everyday economic experience leads many to question whether an economic recovery is actually even occurring—48 percent say “The national economy is recovering and more people are getting work” against a nearly equal 47 percent who report that “There is no economic recovery because individuals aren't seeing any improvement.”
The New Economy Changes What the Main Economic Problems Are
This economy that produces sub-par job growth, few income gains and increased inequality is changing what people see as the main economic problems to be addressed. And that is everything if you are building an economic narrative and message and building an agenda. The public is pretty smart it seems about this new economy. 
The problems fall into four substantive areas: the character of new jobs, inequality, lack of U.S. jobs, and a real concern about government spending and deficits.
Topping the list is the character of new jobs, above all, jobs that do not pay to live on and everything that follows from that.  This understanding and grouping emerged in the focus groups that we conducted for the EMP and other non-profits over the last year, but they also tested in electoral surveys as the strongest economic message when combined together. Jobs that do not pay enough to live on leave people at the edge financially, threatened by inexplicable expenses like child care and student debt, and leaves women determined to get equal pay.
Character of New Jobs and Inequality at Center of New Economic Consciousness
Inequality has emerged as a huge concern as well – and indeed, the two top responses in the inequality cluster of problems test as highly as the two top problems in the cluster around the character of jobs. The public is paying a lot of attention to the United States becoming an unequal country of only rich and poor and shrinking middle class.
Interestingly, the focus on economic inequality tends to be highest among the college-educated; the non-college educated and working class are singularly focused on jobs not paying enough to live on, and everything that follows from that. People in the East are most highly concerned about the character of jobs theme, while in the GOP Conservative Heartland focus primarily on government spending and deficits and regulation.[4]
Following the character of new jobs and inequality is the notion that there is a lack of U.S. jobs, due to trade agreements and outsourcing that undermine U.S. jobs and pay, and too few new jobs and industries being created here at home. Trade agreements and outsourcing on its own tops the list of concerns (along with jobs not paying enough to live on and the United States becoming unequal), particularly among likely 2014 voters, independents, and older women.
There is also a real concern about high government spending and budget deficits, as well as growing government regulations that keep businesses from hiring. One third of voters rate government spending as one of the top problems to address with the economy, though this is primarily driven by white voters, men, conservative Republicans, and white Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers.
The concern about the changing character of work dominates the consciousness of the Rising American Electorate in particular. For them, equal pay for women is the number one economic problem to be addressed. Fundamentally, this is the economic agenda of the Millennial Generation and the minority populations, with concern about making ends meet.  But the issues of making ends meet are also of big concern among college-educated women, who are growing in numbers and are increasingly part of the Rising American Electorate and are key to any progressive or Democratic majority.
The Character of Jobs is at the Heart of Problems with the Economy for the RAE
The Economic Debate
The public understands that the country faces huge new economic challenges, and yet, they do not at this point turn presumptively to Democrats to address them, nor do they embrace liberal and progressive arguments centered on these issues. Despite Democrats holding a five point partisan identification advantage, people believe by a 43 – 38 percent margin that Republicans are better than Democrats on the economy, a 10 point deficit based on the presumptive partisan orientation. The public really has pulled back from Democrats on the economy. 
The progressive-liberal economic approach centered on creating full employment, raising incomes at every level, and public investment stands only at parity with a conservative approach that stresses reductions in the size of government and level of spending, cutting taxes, and making entrepreneurship easier.  Conservatives are not dominating this space, but liberals must begin to win these debates in order to have a real impact on policy change.
There is no overall difference in these economic approaches when tested unbranded (“Speaker A” and “Speaker B”) versus branded (“Progressive Speaker” and “Conservative Speaker”), but branding does impact some key groups. Both statements are at parity among independents when unbranded, but they favor the conservative approach by 15 points when branded as such. The Rising American Electorate favors the progressive-liberal approach by 24 points when branded, compared to just two points when unbranded.   
That the public does not embrace liberal economics needs is a huge problem – and needs to be addressed. Perhaps there is not enough focus on the character of work and markets, and perhaps the public does not trust government to pay enough attention to small business and changes in the labor market.
Economic Debate at Parity
The country splits evenly on key elements of the economic debate that you would expect progressives to win. People are divided on (and increasingly unsure about) whether rising middle class incomes or a better environment for businesses will have a more beneficial impact on the economy.  It is possible that the stagnation of incomes has robbed the purely middle class argument as an economic tenet to support key income producing policies. It is possible that the progressive argument has to address what is happening with independent contracting and free-lancing and small business.  Perhaps a third of people are employed in such jobs, and small business has become even more a way out of this grueling economy, but only conservatives are speaking to that aspiration.
Middle Class Statement Does Not Dominate Entrepreneurship and Small Business
We know that austerity brought by gridlock suppressed economic growth and increased unemployment. We also know that austerity threatens further recession and deflation in Europe, yet the public remains very cautious about investing and spending increases to achieve full employment that will raise wage levels.  The country may require a much higher level of spending and tolerance for inflation to really bring the economy back, but progressives are not even in the debate as they approach increased spending and investment.
By a 17 point margin, voters favor austerity over more spending, saying that the biggest economic problem our country faces is not a lack of investment to grow the economy, but too much government spending and interference in markets. This is particularly true among white non-college voters (46 point margin), white seniors (40 points), independents (21 points), and white unmarried women (19 points).
Austerity Still Prevails Over Full Employment Spending
But keep in mind, there is overwhelming and rising support for a plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country and create jobs over the next five years.  It is fair to say that people do want to embrace that big a national economic vision, but progressives have not yet built the intellectual framework to support.   
Rising Support for a Plan to Invest in New Industries
Tackling Inequality
Inequality is another matter.  The public knows who are the villains of the piece, view the problem as central, and are not put off by arguments in favor of entrepreneurs, job-creators and markets.  And they have pretty good ideas on how to begin addressing the problem, starting with investing in education, taxing the top 1 percent so they pay their fair share, and raising pay, starting with raising the minimum wage.
This is rooted in a public distaste for a whole range of bad actors that voters feel play a central role in the current economic dispensation.  CEO’s of large businesses earn intensely negative ratings as the result of being seen as irresponsible, disloyal to employees, and as primary beneficiaries of the system that has collected wealth in the hands of the top one percent.  They are viewed negatively by almost every demographic group in the electorate, including white working class voters and independents.  Barely a plurality of Republicans gives them favorable ratings (39 to 30 percent). But the Rising American Electorate is particularly averse to CEO’s of large companies; 51 percent rate them unfavorably, and there is strong intensity behind these numbers – 36 percent feel very unfavorable.
CEOs of Large Businesses and Campaign Arm Viewed Very Negatively
The public’s concern about growing inequality also trumps a worry about punishing entrepreneurs and keeping businesses from investing. Despite a slight overall softening from 2013, this remains a deep concern for voters that carries strong intensity. Of the 55 percent majority that list inequality as a bigger concern, 43 percent feel this way very strongly. Millennials and younger women, self-ascribed moderates, young non-college voters, and those in the West are particularly concerned about reducing the growing inequality in this country.
Concern for Inequality of Rich and Poor and the Middle Class Trump Concern for Business and Markets
This survey also tested four approaches to building a plan to address inequality, and there is  powerful support for three of them: investing in education, making sure the top 1 percent pay their fair share in taxes, and increasing middle class incomes, starting with raising the minimum wage.  Each produces a similar level of overall and intense public support; nearly half give very favorable ratings to each, and six in ten or higher support each plan overall. It is important to note that the notion of reducing the power of corporations and the financial sector, while supported overall, fares much less well than the other approaches, suggesting the context for the populist argument is going after the wealthy elite rather than the financial sector as a whole.
Public Says Address Inequality with Education, Taxing Top One Percent, and
Raising Minimum Wage to Get Better Paying Jobs
Inequality is on the public agenda, and voters come to this debate with distinct priorities informed by their understanding of the new economy.  The public is ready for the debate to be joined and for the country to address them with interventions to bring reform.
With this pre-election survey of the public’s feelings on the economy in hand, it should not be surprising that voters punished Democrats when voting on the economy and many of those struggling chose not to vote – an election with the lowest turnout since the 1942 midterm election during World War II.
The economic message articulated by the president during the last rallies before the election spoke about the economic progress that Democrats and the administration had achieved.  These were his remarks at a rally for Governor Dan Malloy in Bridgepoint, Connecticut: 
“You think about when I came into office, we were seeing the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes. Unemployment was about 800,000 per month we were losing jobs. And over the past four and a half years, America has created more than 10 million new jobs. We've created more jobs than Japan, Europe, and all the advanced countries combined. (Applause.) Over the past six months, our economy has grown at the fastest pace in more than 10 years. There’s almost no economic measure where we are not doing better now than when Dan took office or when I took office.”[5]
When the president held his press conference after the wave election, he remained firm, even though he acknowledged that people were not yet feeling the gains.
“This country has made real progress since the crisis six years ago. The fact is, more Americans are working. Unemployment has come down. More Americans have health insurance. Manufacturing has grown. Our deficits have shrunk. Our dependence on foreign oil is down, as are gas prices. Our graduation rates are up. Our businesses aren’t just creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s. Our economy is outpacing most of the world. But we’ve just got to keep at it until every American feels the gains of a growing economy where it matters most, and that’s in their own lives.”[6]
There were some progressive commentators after the election who regretted that Democrats did not spotlight the economic progress and argue we need to give the president a majority in Congress to “keep things going.” Another critic argued that progressives do not really know how to produce wage grow and so Democrats may as well take credit for the macro economy and attack the Republicans for offering no more than European austerity.[7]
With the public aggrieved about the new economy and demanding big changes in direction, Democrats and progressives will only get heard when they join the economic debate with a very different voice.

[1]The survey of 950 2012 voters including 698 likely 2014 voters nationwide was conducted from October 16-21, 2014 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the Economy Media Project and Democracy Corps.  Voters who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on a combination of vote history and stated intention of voting in 2014. Unless otherwise noted, margin of error for the full sample= +/-3.2 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error for likely 2014 voters= +/-3.4 percentage points. Fifty percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and trying to accurately sample the full American electorate.''
[2]Survey of 1,000 likely 2014 voters (unweighted 2200) in the most competitive Senate races in the country conducted by GQR for Democracy Crops from September 20-24, 2014 and a survey of 1,105 likely 2014 voters in the most competitive Congressional seats across the country, conducted by GQR for Democracy Corps from October 4-9, 2014.
[3] This data reflects the total of those who have felt a personal impact or an impact on someone in their family.
[4]GOP Conservative Heartland: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming.
[5]Remarks by the President at Rally for Governor Dan Malloy at Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, November 2, 2014.
[6]Remarks by the President in a Press Conference in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., November 5, 2014.
[7]Jonathan Capehart, “The falling jobless rate and spineless Democrats,” Washington Post, November 7, 2014; John Marshall, “Forget the Chatter, This is the Democrats’ Real Problem,” Talking Points Memo, November 10, 2014.
The New American Economy - Full Report
Tuesday, July 30 2013
Download this file (dcor.emp.memo.073013.web.pdf)Memo[July 2013 Full Report]768 Kb88 Downloads

“How do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”

Americans are living in a new economy—one in which jobs do not pay enough to live on what they used to—and barley keep up with prices at the grocery store, student loan payments, and childcare expenses. Voters have moved to a post-recession understanding of how pay and prices balance out in their household budgets. Because their understanding of the economy is no longer situated in the temporary reductions of the recession but a seemingly permanent assessment about jobs, they now have very different assumptions about life chances, opportunity, income, and equity.

Read more... [The New American Economy - Full Report]
The New American Economy
Monday, July 01 2013
Download this file (dcor emp fg memo 071013 final.pdf)Memo[ ]537 Kb91 Downloads
Download this file ([June 2013 Economy Focus Group Presentation]978 Kb74 Downloads

There are emerging perceptions and understandings about how the economy now operates that can be fairly described as a New American Economy – with very different assumptions about life chances and equity.  These conclusions are very tentative, based on two working class groups in Columbus, Ohio, and two groups in Orlando with young college women and Latino voters.  This is the summary of a longer report, which we will distribute soon, but we wanted to circulate this material now. 

The New Economy: 5 Tenets

1. People believe that American jobs have been fundamentally restructured to pay less; America is producing jobs “you can’t live off.”

  • This may be the biggest change in the perception of the economy and it dominates all other reactions. In the past, people talked about jobs paying “less” as a consequence of the Great Recession, but this change in the character of jobs is just given.
  • When they heard reports of the new jobs being created, the discussion was totally about what those jobs pay: they have had to replace “one career job” with two or more “disposable jobs”; “you have to work twice as hard to make half as much as you used to”; “how do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”
  • Sacrifice has become part of the routine: “After we pay our bills we make sure that our children eat but there’s times my husband and I can’t afford it and we eat peanut butter, potatoes, or rice. We make sure our children are eating 4 food groups but we can’t.”
  • Because jobs don’t allow you to make ends meet, you have to cobble together several jobs to make a full time income; two jobs may not be enough, so one parent must work two jobs while the other works one job and cares for children.
  • The pay leaves them on the edge: one woman says, “I can’t afford to lose right now” because she is right at the edge.

2. People sense there is a macro recovery under way and things are getting better. However, they universally describe the economy as “uncertain” and their feelings as “concerned” and “worried.”

  • People know of others who have gotten jobs or sold a house, and they have heard credible reports of the economy improving. That produces less anger in reaction to elites over-interpreting positive economic news, like the monthly jobs number.
  • Nonetheless, the improvements have not reached them yet, which leads to this kind of qualifier: “the housing market is supposed to be on an upswing again.”; “you want to be optimistic for the future.”
  • Their first reactions to the economy included these terms: “pretty scary”; “worried”; “concerned” ;“not good” ;“it’s starting to balance out a bit, but we never know…it’s a roller coaster.”

3. They have restructured their households and families to deal with this new economy, which feels permanent, not just an adaptation during the Great Recession.

  • People talk about working full or part-time in retirement or postponing retirement.
  • More people have moved in with family members, sharing intergenerational housing. This includes parents taking in adult children, but also 20-somethings taking in their parents who have lost jobs or fallen on hard times.
  • Couponing and penny-pinching is given, but there is also some talk about neighbors sharing big-ticket necessities like lawn mowers that are difficult for one family to afford.

4. With their households on the edge, they are consumed by the costs of childcare and student debt. Both of these reactions seem to have a new intensity – from women moving totally into the labor force as jobs pay less and as young people have turned to college as an economic strategy.

  • Childcare: “[childcare is] more than my mortgage payment but I can’t not do it because the money that I bring in pays for electricity and food…it’s…just a complete vicious circle.”; “If we want…to keep the American Dream alive and have a middle class America then we have to do something to make child care more affordable.”
  • Working just to pay off student debt: “You are working just to pay off your student loans so it’s almost, it’s a double edged sword. ”; “That’s paying your bills. That’s paying your rent… you’re never getting ahead.”; “I’m working as a bartender not by choice… I make more money doing that than any position I could get in my degree so I pay my student loans as a bartender.”

5. They have downsized and adapted their expectations for a good economy – now just means having “a few extra dollars after payday.”

  • The new signs of an improving economy are humble. They say they will know they are doing better when they are “able to save more” or get “yearly pay raises” or when “I can pay my bills.”
  • They describe the job and income situation as a “serious problem,” not a “crisis” – suggesting they have adapted to the new economy.
  • They refuse to give up on the American Dream, but there are few rags to riches discussions.



1. Education has become more important in this new economy – as a personal strategy and as a macro strategy to produce a stronger economy. This includes investing in math and science education, job training, and making education more affordable.

  • There was near universal agreement that education is the most important investment we can make in our economy: “Without technology and education we’re doomed. We have to increase those.”; “I think our children are our future, they need to be smart and well educated for our country to get better.”; “I feel like if they… put more money into education, that it will benefit the country as a whole more. We’ll be able to compete more for jobs with other countries.”
  • This is simultaneously a personal strategy, as the women in particular pursue education.

2. Making work pay has emerged more central as a policy response. There was very strong support for a make work pay package—including making sure women get equal pay, expanding paid family, maternity, and sick leave for families, and making childcare available and affordable.

3. With families restructured and weighted down by debt, people remain responsive to conservative arguments on debt and spending.

  • “When you’re in debt you owe lots of money to people they’re going to come to collect it… like, the government’s in that much debt.” And, “what happens when we spend more than we’ll ever pay back? If I borrowed or charged us $450 million dollars on my credit card I’m going to lose my house, my car, everything. Is China going to repossess our country and then move their overpopulated people here? Where will we go? They own us.”

4. But information about rapidly falling deficits stops them and allows a shift to jobs and growth. This is the statement that shifted the debate: In May of this year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit is declining this year compared to the last few years. The deficit has been reduced by 60 percent over the past two years and will be cut in half again over the next two years, which economists consider a normal level. 

5. Addressing inequality is critical, but the starting point and emotion is on political inequality á la Stiglitz and Reich. People are consumed by the lack of jobs that pay and the fate of the middle class, but they look right at the top when focused on the rigged political battle that favors the rich and connected. They are animated about the political inequality – the use of lobbyists and money to rig the game for those at the top. That is the entry point to making change.

  • “[The top 2 percent are] holding us hostage and then they’ve got the money to buy the politicians to get what they want.”
  • “The general concept of our elected officials being there to support their constituents and the people that have elected to put them in office and unfortunately I think the reality is that too many times they’re placing their votes with people that line their pockets from special interest groups.”
  • “The problem is you have corruption on these high levels where you have these people who are, you know, laundering money or they’re giving themselves these multi-million dollar annual bonuses and they’re cutting wages or they’re cutting jobs or they’re outsourcing jobs.”

6. People desperate for an end to political dysfunction. People are very conscious of the political dysfunction in Washington that keeps government from doing anything to address the country's problems – indeed, making it harder. That is not unrelated to calling people to use government to effect change. Their postcards at the end of the group were very revealing:

  • “We are not as divided in our opinions as our elected representatives! 2. With good old American political compromises our problems are solvable. 3. America’s citizens are often more patriotic than congress.”
  • “I think the government needs to work together to get things accomplished that benefit America and not special interests.”
  • “If both political parties could work together, we might actually be able to accomplish something.”
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