To win in 2024, Democrats must become the party of economic renewal
Democrats bucked history in 2022 by holding the Senate and nearly keeping the House. They did so by riding an anti-MAGA wave of anger at the loss of Roe v. Wade, anxiety over attempts to weaken our democracy, and a fear of losing other freedoms.
Despite this success, battleground state polling from Way to Win shows that Democrats’ greatest vulnerability heading into 2024 is the economy. The most important issue to voters this past cycle was the economy, and Democrats lost voters who said the economy was a top issue, 62 percent–30 percent.
Even after saving the country from a pandemic and an extremist MAGA movement, voters believe Democrats don’t care about their economic hardships. Gretchen Barton, a political strategist with Worthy Strategy Group, who recently conducted qualitative research on voter’s perceptions of political parties for Future Majority and Way to Win, said:
“Voters like Democrats and their policies but don’t believe they have the ability or the know-how to deliver economically for the American people. They view Republicans as extreme, but see them as good for the economy, aligned with their priorities on kitchen table issues and willing and able to do what is necessary to deliver for them.”
Democrats and the Biden administration have a story to tell about their many accomplishments over the past two years that have and will help millions of Americans’ economic bottom line, including The Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the CHIPS Act. Yet a big reason voters have such a negative view of Democrats’ economic record is that voters do not yet connect President Biden’s economic achievements with improvements to their economic well-being. Part of this is because the Infrastructure bill, the IRA, and CHIPS have not yet fully taken effect. It could also be that no one knows what President Biden has done legislatively.
Seventy-eight percent of voters from exit polling could not name a single thing President Biden had done in the past two years. This is consistent across Black and Latino voters, critical segments of the Democratic base. According to the polling, 67 percent of Black and 78 percent of Latinos voters could not name anything the party or Joe Biden had done to help them. Worse, Black and Latino men’s top issue was the economy, and they were 6 percent and 10 percent more likely to vote for a Republican, respectively. This is especially worrying given that because of the policies of this administration, unemployment is at 50-year lows, and Black and Latino unemployment is currently lower than pre-pandemic levels.
Heading into 2024, an election cycle that will likely be a referendum on the past four years of the Biden administration, Democrats must reverse these trends. One person who is aggressively working towards addressing these dynamics is Rep. Ro Khana (D-Calif.), who evangelizes the concept of Economic Patriotism:
“The biggest challenge for the country is people think the American dream is slipping away. This is as valid for immigrant families as it is for families who have been here for generations. We need a bold roadmap, a moonshot to bring economic prosperity to places that are not Silicon Valley and New York. The goal is simple; every person must have the ability to have a house, a good-paying job, and meaningful work. We have to be aspirational. We must express people’s desire for a better life and economic security.”
We have already made significant progress in Khana’s vision of economic patriotism. Manufacturing is growing domestically, and with the passage of the CHIPS Act, we will see even more domestic production of goods and a lowering of costs for consumers. With the Infrastructure law, over the next couple of years, significant projects will come online, improving people’s lives, creating jobs, and greater prosperity. The Inflation Reduction Act is the single biggest investment in fighting climate change in modern history and will lower health care and energy costs for millions.
Democrats must take credit for what they have done; they must tell a story of renewal, centering voters as the heroes of this moment of growth. They must tell strong stories that unite around class, race, and gender — and contrast with MAGA GOP failures — to break through on the road to 2024.
Democrats have two years to position themselves as the party of economic renewal. Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, Way to Win Co-Founder, Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer, offers a way forward:
“Democrats need to focus on telling a compelling, straightforward economic story that lands with diverse voters — not one with more facts, lists of bills, incomprehensible statistics, or bland ‘kitchen table issues.’ We can position Democrats as being champions of economic mobility. We can do this while fighting for reproductive rights, climate issues, or any other important issue facing our community.”
The reality is Democrats outperform Republicans on nearly every economic metric, and all MAGA Republicans have offered is fighting on divisive social issues, blaming LGBTQ people, immigrants, and fuel for racialized grievances. To win, Democrats now have to actually tell that story in ways that meaningfully connect with voters. If not, they may face a tough 2024 cycle, in which they could lose.
Kristian Ramos is senior advisor for Way To Win.