Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Are the Democrats So Lame?

The newspapers are full of stories about how Democrats are struggling against Obama's low popularity, how they'll probably lose the Senate and lose ground in the House, and so on. "Oh, woe is me!" cry the Democrats. "Obama... the election... Obama...Oh, dear! Whatever shall we do?"

No doubt the pundits are right (or, if not the pundits, then at least the statisticians), and that's about how the elections will play out. But here's what puzzles me: the Democrats are way ahead on the issues.

The what?

Yes, you know. The issues. This election seems curiously devoid of discussion of actual policies. That's much more of a problem for Democrats, because the policies they favor are favored by large majorities of Americans. They need policy discussion to turn out their base, and to sway moderates. If there are no issues, then the topic becomes Obama, which doesn't seem to be working very well for them.

Instead of playing defense, they should be on the attack. For example:
  • Increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Some Democrats are using this, of course. According to the Pew Research Center, it polls at 73% support, with 50% saying it would make them more likely to vote for a candidate (versus 19% saying it would make them less likely). John Boehner has already declared his opposition, so Republican House candidates are pretty much stuck on this one. 
  • Break the power of big money in politics.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 76% of Americans think that the amount of money in politics has given the rich more power than other Americans. And they're not wrong. This is the huge silent issue of American politics; politicians just do not want to talk about it. I'll bet you didn't know that the Democrats have a campaign-finance reform bill, the Government By the People Act. It's not the ideal bill, but it's pretty good and it's got a name. Candidates should be running on it--a generalized promise to do something is not going to impress anyone. 
  • Increase spending on infrastructure. A Gallup poll last year found more than 70 percent would vote for "a Federal government program that would spend government money to put people to work on urgent infrastructure repairs." A good place to turn on its head the Republican line about "intergenerational theft."
  • Keep guns out of the hands of criminals and unstable people. Expanded background checks continue to be overwhelmingly popular; a report on one recent poll announced: "In Georgia there's 71/22 support for them, in Tennessee it's 67/26, and in Arkansas it's 60/31." The Republicans blocked this in the Senate. I think the Democrats' reflex is, if you can't say something libertarian about guns, don't say anything at all, but the polling suggests that's wrong.
    If I were an adviser to a Democratic candidate, I would be telling my candidate to run ads on those issues over and over. And to ask his opponent what his position is.

    A final issue I would throw in if I were running against a Republican House incumbent:
    • Congress should work at least as many days per year as an American kid in elementary school.  Doesn't sound too onerous, right? But it's around 180 days, while the House is scheduled to be in session this year for 113 days. I don't know of any polling on this, but I think the only reason there isn't an uproar is that no one knows about it.
    I'm not arguing that issues campaigns are better for democracy than mood campaigns, though that might be true. It's simply that at the moment, a mood campaign favors Republicans, and an issues campaign favors Democrats. The Democrats seem to be waiting for issues to fall from the skies. They should be looking at their feet.