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Democrats’ Recovery Dilemma

economy-troubles-wordcloud

The economy may be recovering but voters don’t want to hear that, Democratic strategists warn.

AP (“Advice to Democrats: Don’t say ‘recovery’“):

Election-year memo to Democratic candidates: Don’t talk about the economic recovery. It’s a political loser.

So say Democratic strategists in a blunt declaration that such talk skips over “how much trouble people are in, and doesn’t convince them that policymakers really understand or are even focusing on the problems they continue to face.”

In addition, Stan Greenberg, James Carville and others wrote that in head-to-head polling tests the mere mention of the word “recovery” is trumped by a Republican assertion that the Obama administration has had six years to get the economy moving and its policies haven’t worked.

Coincidentally or not, Democrats have largely shelved the “R” word.

President Barack Obama’s only utterance of it in recent weeks was on April 8, and it was in the context of accusing Republicans of blocking progress on issues that “would help with the economic recovery and help us grow faster.”

Additionally, at a news conference on March 26 where they announced a campaign-season agenda, neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., nor most of the other five lawmakers present uttered the word “recovery.”

[...]

In their memo for Democracy Corps and the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, the authors propose that to boost turnout among their target groups Democrats should back an economic agenda that “puts working women first,” and says that incomes are soaring only for CEOs and the top 1 percent of the country.

“As a start, Democrats should bury any mention of the recovery. That message was tested … and it lost to the Republican message championed by Karl Rove,” they wrote.

By traditional measurements, an economic recovery has been underway since partway through Obama’s first year in office.

The economy was shrinking when he was sworn in but turned positive in the third quarter of 2009. It has been growing since, although barely so at times. Unemployment, measured at 7.8 percent when Obama took office in January 2009, rose to 10 percent in October of that year until it began declining. It now stands at 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, though, many of the jobs that have been created are lower-paying than the ones that preceded them. Long-term unemployment is at historically high levels, another factor that does little or nothing to reassure hard-pressed men and women that any recovery is helping their own pocketbooks.

Page Gardner of Women’s Voices, listed as a co-author of the memo, said in an interview that for unmarried women and other key parts of the Democratic coalition, “a message about the benefits of a recovery doesn’t really reflect their lives currently. The power of the women’s economic agenda and talking about equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave, and messages that go to their ability to make it themselves and help their families make it is very powerful, and that’s what they want to hear.”

Democrats are in a bizarre position, indeed.  We suffered the largest economic calamity in generations at the tail end of a Republican administration and it’s been followed by the weakest recovery in generations under his Democratic successor. After five years, though, it’s Obama’s economy and he gets the blame for the remaining weakness rather than credit for the rebound.

Given that, it’s hard to see how the Women’s Voices strategy works. Arguing for major reforms at this stage is almost by definition an opposition platform. To the extent that people yearn for change, they’re not expecting it to come from the party that’s been in power for years.

Republicans are in an excellent position to bolster their majority in the House and narrow the gap in the Senate, if not retake the majority outright. In an off year, unlike a presidential year, they don’t even need a particularly persuasive alternative plan. Running on a “throw the bums out” platform is likely to be enough given public dissatisfaction with the status quo.

The caveat, though, is that the GOP can’t repeat the mistakes of 2010. While they gained 63 seats and took back the House of Representatives, recapturing the majority, and picked up six seats in the Senate, they gave away several seats by picking outlandish, extreme candidates that had zero general election appeal. The conventional wisdom is that the enthusiasm gap will propel Republicans to a strong showing. But the fear is that the zealots will choose the candidates, thus lowering the enthusiasm of more moderate Republican voters—and perhaps helping energize Democrats—in the fall.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    One of the problems is how uneven the recovery is. Some states never experienced a recession; others have recovered fully. In yet other states, like Illinois, we’ve yet to see much recovery. Unemployment here is just a few points below where it was at the peak of the last recession and much of that is due to a declining labor force participation rate.

    Just because things look great in Virginia and New York does not mean that they look great in every state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: That’s a really good and important point, Dave. We tend to look at the national numbers, because we have those in abundance and they’re what the media and national political leadership focus on. But people don’t live in the aggregate but in local economies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    @James Joyner:

    Further, since the national media are concentrated so heavily in New York and Washington, DC, there is a strong predisposition to focus on those two localities and treat them as though they were typical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. george says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Further, since the national media are concentrated so heavily in New York and Washington, DC, there is a strong predisposition to focus on those two localities and treat them as though they were typical.

    I think you’re dramatically overestimating how important the national media is today. I don’t know many people under 40 who get their news from national media. And most of those over 40 have long since made up their minds about what party they support (typically regardless of policy) – or often, don’t bother voting at all.

    Both Democrats and Republicans speak as if the MSM (or national media) is a unified block controlled by the other party, but its neither unified, or to large extent, even influencial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    The recovery has been uneven within many states as well. Here in Oregon the Portland Metro area has recovered pretty well – the rest of the state not so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. James Joyner says:

    @george: No, I think @Dave Schuler has it right. It’s true that the national media is more diffuse than it was when I was coming up, what with the proliferation of cable news, including the more partisan outlets like Fox and MSNBC. But they’re still based in New York and DC. And I’d argue that local outlets, and especially the local newspaper, are much, much less influential these days than they were even 10-15 years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @george:

    Do you really think that the 18-35 y/o set pay attention to local issues at all or could even name their mayor or state representative?

    What has made the national media influential is that is that they get to pick the stories that are given the push and which stories are not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  8. Pinky says:

    I agree with Dave’s point, but no state made it through the recession without taking a hit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. James Joyner says:

    @george: To turn your point around, where is it that you think the under-40 crowd is getting their news? Twitter and Facebook? Because those places just aggregate the national outlets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. al-Ameda says:

    The San Francisco Bay Area has been the beneficiary of a tech-scoial media based economic upturn that had pushed unemployment rates down to about 6%. I lost my job because of the 2008 crash, and I had to find a new job too. It took me 7 stressful months – I specifically focused on tech-health policy research where job creation was, and still is happening. Ultimately I landed a great position in finance and planning for a medical policy research group. It is very tough out there and many of the jobs lost in 2008-2010 are not going to return. Adapt and survive – I’m not being glib, it’s just that I know no other way.

    Look, I hate to say it but …. this polling comes as no surprise. And we know who the disaffected are, the same people who have been disaffected since the current president was inaugurated in 2009 and again in 2013.

    My extended family is very conservative and is completely in the Republican Talking Point World. They’re the folks who honestly believed the GOP media spin that mainstream polling was biased and wrong and Romney was going to win, win big. They’re also the same ones who believe he constant spin that there is no recovery at all, that what happened in 2008 was no worse than any other garden variety recession and that things should have been back to “normal” not long after that, and Obama’s failed policies have made things worse.

    The financial catastrophe of 2008 resulted in the vaporization of about 25% of the wealth of American individuals and businesses. At the the time the president was inaugurated in 2009 the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of 700,000 per month, unemployment peaked at a rate well over 10%. Since that nadir, we have experienced moderate economic growth and the unemployment rate has steadily decreased. To me the surprise is that we’ve been a state of slow steady growth – and not recession – for over 4 years now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  11. stonetools says:

    I might be like a broken record on this, but I believe that Obama’s biggest blunder was the rollout of the stimulus program. When he introduced it, he was still in the grip of his “Hope, Change, and Reasonable Bipartisan Compromise” delusions. He also didn’t have a good grasp of economics and more importantly, the effect of the economy on the vote.
    Instead of listening to the liberals on his economic team (Romer, Summer) he listened to moderates like Geithner and to conservatives concerned about inflation (!). The result was that he proposed a moderate stimulus that was further watered down in order to achieve RBC with the Republicans. At that time, Krugman warned him that the stimulus was too weak and that the Republicans would use the continuing recession and the “failure” of the stimulus against him and to prevent a further round of stimulus. But Mr . Hope and Change passed the stimulus, sold it as an example of the triumph of RBC and proclaimed that it would be the remedy for the economy.
    Fast forward a year. The stimulus did work, but weakly, starting an underpowered recovery that didn’t even start to take effect till after the 2010 elections. Unemployment kept on rising till it hit 11 percent-in October 2010. The electorate rendered its decision on the Obama economic program and its message the next month.
    I imagine an alternate universe in which Obama listened to the liberals and told the public, “This could be a Great Depression 2 and we need a Great Depression type economic response”. He then went all in for a big stimulus, asking for $1.2T instead of $800B, including CCC/WPA type programs. When Republicans opposed this, he would agree to a whittled down program, warning that it would not be enough and that further stimulus would be needed. When the 2010 elections came around, he would argue that the rising unemployment and weak recovery was because the Republicans had opposed a bigger stimulus that would have worked, and the elections would have been different. Ah well, a liberal can dream…
    The Republicans have been mostly responsible for the weak recovery by blocking further rounds of stimulus. And they’ve been able to avoid responsibility precisely because the weak stimulus was seen both as Obama’s idea and as a failure. Paradoxically, that means they can talk about the weak recovery as Obama’s fault. At this point, its hard to think how Obama can turn things around. He can ask again for a further round of stimulus, and try to combat five years of successful Republican propaganda about the “failed stimulus”. Alternatively, he can just hope the recovery picks up steam over the next six months.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    @Pinky:

    Quite to the contrary some states, e.g. Washington, North Dakota, Texas, had a relatively small number of counties that went into recession.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. anjin-san says:

    @ al-Ameda

    Paul Katner once said that San Francisco is “49 square miles surrounded by reality”

    You can’t apply a square mile figure the Foxverse, but the same concept applies. The difference is that San Francisco’s alternate realty was pretty cool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Democrats are wimps by nature. They should be out there playing Ross Perot with charts and graphs. They should go again and again to car wreck analogies. Talk about the car being driven into the ditch, about how much easier it is to wreck an economy than to fix one. Especially when the driver who put the car in the ditch to begin with is trying to pin the blame on the tow truck driver and refusing to turn off the emergency brake.

    Go to FDR. It took us what, 10 years to climb out of the Great Depression? And then we only managed it with a world war.

    Then they should go hard and aggressive on O-Care. That’s right: back it, support it, crow about it, shove it in Republican faces. 50 votes to repeal, zero votes on any GOP plan.

    But Democrats love a nice cringe because they really are puszies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  15. al-Ameda says:

    @anjin-san:

    You can’t apply a square mile figure the Foxverse, but the same concept applies. The difference is that San Francisco’s alternate realty was pretty cool.

    So true. The Fox Alternate Realty Dimension (in terms of acknowledging facts) is 49 miles wide and 0.0000001 inches deep. Politically and ideologically, most of my family inhabits that dimension.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  16. Tyrell says:

    “The economy is improving” “The recession is over” “Unemployment rates continue to drop”
    “Inflation is low” These types of statements being issued from time to time by the government propaganda news media are usually met with grins or people shaking their heads. My pay has been flat since 2009, not that it increased much since 2000. A lot of people that I know lost good jobs in the last several years. Those that have found work are in the retail or service industry working at menial labor with little or no benefits. These are skilled, educated people.
    I have receipts that go back to 2005. The price increases that I am seeing in the last few years are mainly food and building supplies. Some of my main food items have almost doubled in 3 years. Prices of large tvs, cameras, dvd players, and gps sets have gone down, but this something that is not bought on a regular basis.
    Let’s talk about gas prices, again. The gas companies (or someone) are tip toeing these prices up, hoping no one will notice. One sure way to get the price down is for Congress and the President to threaten a sure fire serious investigation. Then watch the price per gallon plummet: $3….$2.50….$2.00; depending on how much heat they put on them. I have heard some candidates recently promise action if they get elected. We’ll see. The political wreck yard has a lot of political careers that were suddenly ruined when a politician tried to take on powerful big oil.
    One dilemma is this: I and a lot of people tend to look through the lens of the turbo charged economy of the 1990’s, when businesses were begging for workers, pay increases were yearly, and benefits were great, and if we wanted something we went out and charged it. Will we ever see that again? Maybe not in our lifetime. What we are feeling now is a big hangover from that time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  17. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I do think there is grounds for optimism here. There is a big difference between the 2009 Obama , with his talk of Hope, Change and Reasonable Bipartisan Compromise, and the present Obama. Then he didn’t want to kick the Republicans when they were down. He wanted to “turn the page”, invite them back to the table, etc. That’s all gone now. He’s urging the Democrats to go out there and be aggressive about the ACA and he is matching the deed to the word. He is out there campaigning on Democratic issues like equality of opportunity and economic fairness and not on Republican issues like the deficit.
    You can see the changed attitude with Harry Reid. He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch and he’s been a full attack mode since 2012, pushing the nuclear option, running the Senate the way the Republicans run the House, and unapologetically tossing bombs at conservatives. He’s lately labeled the Bundy defenders as “domestic terrorists”, stirring a libertarian website to call him an “asshole.”
    In the mean time, Paul Begich in Alaska has aired the first pro-ACA ad. Its being billed as the way for a red state Demoicrat to campaign on Obamacare. Check it out. I think its a good start.

    Put Alaska First, a super PAC supporting Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, launched the ad campaign Thursday featuring Anchorage resident and breast cancer survivor, Lisa Keller. In the 30-second clip, Keller runs outdoors through the Alaskan snow and recounts how her insurance company dropped her coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

    “I was lucky I beat cancer, but the insurance companies still denied me health insurance just because of a pre-existing condition,” Keller says in the ad. “I now have health insurance again because of Mark Begich. Because he fought the insurance companies, so that we no longer have to.”

    The ad could be a bit more open about mentioning Obama and the ACA, but the good thing about the ad is that it’s 100 per cent true (unlike the anti-Obamacare ads) and thus irrefutable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  18. stonetools says:

    @Tyrell:

    One dilemma is this: I and a lot of people tend to look through the lens of the turbo charged economy of the 1990′s, when businesses were begging for workers, pay increases were yearly, and benefits were great, and if we wanted something we went out and charged it. Will we ever see that again?

    Well maybe if we elect another President Clinton…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    Tyrell: There are two sources for increasing financial wealth and economic growth: commercial bank loans and budget deficits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Jeremy R says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Then they should go hard and aggressive on O-Care. That’s right: back it, support it, crow about it, shove it in Republican faces. 50 votes to repeal, zero votes on any GOP plan.

    I completely agree here. There’s something deeply offensive about politicians paying almost no political price for visiting widespread anxiety, suffering and early death on their neediest constituents, for no better reason than base partisan spite:

    Kansas extending ban on expansion of Medicaid

    TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Gov. Sam Brownback has indefinitely extended a ban on expanding Medicaid in Kansas under the federal health care overhaul.

    Brownback on Friday signed a bill approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature to keep the ban in place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  21. stonetools says:

    @Jeremy R:

    You do have to wonder how much longer the Republicans can get away with just stomping on the poor and the unfortunate, but in the case of expanded Medicaid I think its going to be clear fairly soon that lots of the white working class ( who have been mistakenly supporting the Republicans) would benefit from it. Once those voters wake up, they will turn out sociopaths like Brownback. At least I hope so… but ignorance and bigotry are powerful blinders. We’ll see.
    The point is the Democrats need to be aggressively pointing out just how evil the Republican policy is, without apology or cringing at accusations of “class warfare”. They should “welcome the hatred” of these malefactors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Jeremy R:
    TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Gov. Sam Brownback has indefinitely extended a ban on expanding Medicaid in Kansas under the federal health care overhaul.
    Brownback on Friday signed a bill approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature to keep the ban in place.

    It tells you a lot that Sam Brownback is willing to throw thousands of Kansans under the bus because of a conservative animus toward the president. The lengths to which Republicans will go in order to try to make ACA fail is amazing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  23. bill says:

    if we were “recovered” then we wouldn’t need the “food stamp nation”or the “fed propped up interest rate” bs anymore.
    @al-Ameda: sounds like you came from good family, what happened to you!? hate will eat away at you if you let it, embrace reality!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  24. superdestroyer says:

    @stonetools:

    So the argument is that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, then the government will adopt a policy to encourage a speculative bubble with no thought to the long term consequences.

    Since there will be no Y2K issues for whoever is elected in 2016 (most likely Hillary), then what will be the mechanism of the speculative bubble?

    Maybe the U.S. would be better off electing someone who wants to avoid a speculative bubble but does want to encourage private sector job growth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  25. Tyrell says:

    News article: “Nurses See Pay Cjt Under Health Care Act”. It seems that somehow Obama care has some provision that prohibits nurses at hospitals from getting bonuses. This is ridiculous.
    I know the doctors do great work, but when in a hospital most of the labor intensive work is done by the nurses. Yet they are not allowed some bonus money under the AHA ? Another great government policy that hurts the middle class.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  26. rudderpedals says:

    @Tyrell: Link?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    @rudderpedals:

    I presume this is what he’s referring to. I think it’s a bit more complicated than his remark might lead you to believe. Basically, it’s a problem that faces many employers: demanding that employers offer healthcare insurance to their employees reduces options. Under prior regulations given a choice between healthcare insurance and additional pay some employees might have elected to take the additional pay.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    @al-Ameda: sounds like you came from good family, what happened to you!? hate will eat away at you if you let it, embrace reality!

    What happened to me?
    Simple, I started to think for myself and pay attention to facts and I embraced reality. My family? Not so much.

    Hate is certainly not a problem for me.
    I certainly do not hate liberals, I cannot say the same for my family, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  29. george says:

    @James Joyner:

    To turn your point around, where is it that you think the under-40 crowd is getting their news? Twitter and Facebook? Because those places just aggregate the national outlets.

    Good point – I guess I should say that most folks under 40 get their news from sources that filter the national outlets, sometimes after several distillations.

    If I was more cynical I’d say many don’t get the news at all – I do some coaching, and mentioned the Korean ferry sinking (couple days after the fact). None of the ten teens I was coaching had heard of it. In their case it came from a national outlet, and then was filtered by the inexact memory of their coach before reaching them. I suspect that’s a fairly common path (replace coach by any other person casually mentioning some bit of news).

    But in any case, you’re right that the origin is probably the national outlet, even if the original reporting and most of the details are lost in transmission.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0