By Alexander Bolton - 03/30/14 02:00 PM EDT
A new political advocacy group has teamed up with former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to argue that the economic inequality agenda of Senate Democrats is a loser with swing voters.
That might be why some centrist Democrats facing uphill campaign battles have kept their distance from the Democratic leadership’s agenda items.
Fifty-nine percent of swing voters said reforming the welfare system would best reduce income inequality.
The survey of 1,200 voters nationwide was conducted earlier this year by Frank Luntz, a prominent GOP pollster, and has been shared with Republican and Democratic congressional offices.
“The idea is to get survey information that helps make the case and then help to educate policymakers about the benefits of wealth creation and success,” said Kyl, who is the honorary chairman of the effort.
While Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has tried to rally Democrats around a populist economic agenda centered on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Each American Dream is quietly talking with centrist senators about protecting the interests of employers and high-income earners.
Kyl says Democrats, including Schumer, are more receptive to his arguments than they publicly acknowledge.
“Last time I checked, Chuck Schumer represented Wall Street, and I don’t think that he would confess to the constituents on Wall Street that he has turned his back on them so that he can help raise the minimum wage of average workers,” Kyl said. “He understands as well as anyone the role that wealth creation plays in a healthy economy. It’s the essence of economic growth.”
Schumer joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democratic leaders in rolling out their 2014 agenda, “A Fair Shot for Everyone.”
The agenda includes the minimum wage boost; the Paycheck Fairness Act, which promotes equal pay between men and women; a plan to improve college affordability; and a tax hike on the wealthy.
Kyl said those proposals would have little impact on the economy, contrary to the promises of Democratic leaders.
“When you’re so narrowly focused, as my Democratic friends are, on increasing the minimum wage, on this sort of gender equality thing — that may appeal to some people but the reality is its not going to do very much for economic growth,” he said.
The Luntz survey revealed that 58 percent of voters, including 60 percent of swing voters, are dissatisfied with income and wealth distribution in the United States, a finding that corroborates other polling on the economy.
However, only 28 percent of swing voters said they believe the solution is to ensure broader access to good schools and college education, according to the Luntz poll. Only 21 percent of swing voters viewed raising the minimum wage as the most effective remedy.
The survey found that 43 and 42 percent of Democrats, respectively, saw improved access to education and a higher minimum wage as the best way to combat income inequality.
Schumer acknowledged this week that the Democratic agenda is designed to rev up the liberal base.
“Each of these issues, every one of these, will motivate our base but is also a great issue in red states leading up to the November election,” he said Wednesday.
Centrist Democrats facing tough reelections in November, however, have yet to embrace their leadership’s agenda.
“It’s not necessarily going to be the focus of my campaign,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who does not support a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), another vulnerable Democrat, has also been reluctant to back the wage hike, according to groups who have lobbied the Senate Democratic caucus.
“What we’re looking to do right now is, first and foremost, change the conversation. So, a big part of that is meeting with legislators, meeting with center-right opinion leaders as well as organizations in D.C.,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to Each American Dream.
“Income inequality is making Americans uncomfortable, but the solutions that Americans actually want to see aren’t higher taxes or bigger government,” he added. “This messaging we are sharing on both sides of the aisle.”
Cook-McCormac said his group, which is registered under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, does not have immediate plans to run ads in Senate races.
“That is something we’re leaving open as an option to do,” he said.
The Luntz survey found that 44 percent of registered voters see a decline in the cultural values of hard work and personal responsibility as the primary cause for poverty. Only 14 percent blamed education inequality, and only 5 percent pointed to a lack of government programs for the needy.
Kyl said he expects his former GOP colleagues to begin challenging the Democrats’ inequality platform more directly in the months ahead.
“You’ll see both parties sharpening their messages just as Schumer et al. tried to do,” he said.
Correction: Former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is subject to a two-year lobbying ban and has not personally lobbied his former colleagues about Each American Dream's agenda.