Democrats are not talking about their economic successes, so they should not be surprised when voters don’t give them credit for our improving economy.  Today, voters say when it comes to “dealing with the economy,” they prefer Republicans to Democrats by a nine-point margin, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Soon Republicans will begin to take credit for economic gains the Democrats have helped produce but do not embrace. Republicans may even do so before they pass a single significant piece of legislation. 

It is clear that 2014 was a tougher electorate for Democrats than 2012. It was also an election in which economic concerns dominated. In the Senate races where exit polls were conducted, candidates of both parties who won the election also won among voters who rated the economy their top concern. The exception was Senator Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE, who lost despite narrowly winning among economy voters. Democrats failed to address voters’ economic concerns by showing they know how to grow the economy to create new jobs that pay well. They also failed to tout the economic progress that is occurring under Democratic Party leadership such as lower unemployment, reining in health care inflation, reducing the deficit, energy independence, and low energy costs that are boosting American manufacturing. 


If Democrats want the public to trust them to improve the economy, they need to show they have been doing that.  This means Democrats need to fight to preserve policies that have been providing progress. Some say voters will find talk of progress tone deaf because wages are flat but voters see some progress. A majority says they are dissatisfied with the state of the economy today but voters give a more positive response when asked about their personal situation. An April Pew poll found that 62 percent expected their own financial situation to improve over the next year. 

There is no question that wage stagnation is both an economic and political challenge. Voters say the main way to address stagnant wages is to create more growth. In a nationwide poll we conducted earlier this year, we asked voters if they were more likely to vote for “a Democratic candidate who is focused on economic security” or “a Democratic candidate who is focused on economic growth,” and voters preferred the latter by a 47-point margin. We also offered a similar choice between a growth candidate or one focused on income inequality—voters preferred the growth candidate, 65 to 27 percent.  

Measures that distribute existing wealth more equitably such as raising the minimum wage and pay equity have considerable support, economic merit and they can galvanize core Democratic constituencies, but they do not represent a growth strategy. Similarly, proposals to reduce tax breaks for jobs that go overseas are popular but voters also do not see them as part of a growth agenda. Democrats focused heavily on these issues this election, but if they are looking to convince independent, moderate, and younger voters that the outcome of an election matters to their economic future, talking about minimum wage and outsourcing misses the mark.

There are plenty of ideas Democrats can and do support that represent a growth agenda that is both pro business and pro worker, including investments in education and job training, research and development, efforts to get innovations into the marketplace, lower energy costs, competitive business taxes, continued fiscal discipline, using tax dollars to support American-made products and standing up for US companies that are being harmed by trade agreement violations. While all of this is squarely in the Democratic agenda, it’s not always part of the message we convey to the public, and we are losing advantages we should have on standing up and fighting for jobs and building a stronger middle class. 

Republicans do not offer a compelling alternative. Voters support their efforts to increase energy supplies, but oppose their position on renewables. They support their efforts to reduce the deficit but oppose their desire to do it by slashing the safety net or education. They support lower corporate taxes, but oppose their intransigence when it comes to closing loopholes in the tax code, and do not share their theological opposition to revenue increases. But despite all of this, Republicans hold a 10-point advantage when voters are asked which party is focused on economic growth. 

Something beats nothing. If Democrats don’t start talking about their growth agenda—how far it has gotten us and where it can take us—they will not get the credit that they are due. 

Brodnitz is a partner and Gehrke is vice president at the Benenson Strategy Group.