Data for Progress's next generation

Marcela Mulholland, who since January has served as political director of Data for Progress, says it can be “nerve-wracking” to be in such a high-profile position at only 24, but she hopes to pave the way for other young people interested in politics.

“Definitely, imposter syndrome is real. I think that’s true in general when you’re a young person, and certainly a young woman, a young Hispanic woman — there are definitely feelings of being an imposter,” Mulholland said in a recent interview with The Hill. “That being said, I do feel a unique responsibility to succeed in the role and also to use the position of privilege that I’ve been given to open the doors for other young people who want to get involved.”

Mulholland said it also speaks well of Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm and think tank, that they actively seek to involve younger Americans in their work.

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“I think investing in young people who care about politics is one of the main ways that you can ensure that the Democratic Party and our politics more broadly reflects the needs of the generations that are going to be most impacted by the decisions that are made today,” she said.

Mulholland said she wasn’t particularly political when she was growing up in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area, but that she “lived in a place where the impacts of climate change are undeniable.” She decided to double major in sustainability studies and political science at the University of Florida following former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE’s election in 2016.

“The values that I was developing, the worldview that I was kind of growing into that was concerned about climate change and racial justice, was being really challenged at the national level and our politics at the same time that I was growing as a person and feeling connected to wanting to do something about those issues,” Mulholland said.

Mulholland interned in the NAACP’s climate justice program during the summer of 2018, and that fall she took a semester off from college to work for the Sunrise Movement as it sought to elect climate advocates during the midterm elections in Florida.

After college, she worked at the think tank Next100 before joining the climate team at Data for Progress (DFP) in April 2020 and eventually being promoted to her current job as political director.

Mulholland manages a team that focuses on white papers and policy memos. She also talks about DFP’s work with lawmakers, the White House, progressive groups and the press.

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“DFP obviously first and foremost is a polling firm. I don’t do the day-to-day data side of the polling, but I do represent that work to some of our coalitional and political partners,” she said.

DFP has focused much of its work in the past year on President BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE’s domestic policy agenda, including the bipartisan infrastructure package he signed this month and the Build Back Better Act, Democrats’ social spending and climate change package, which has cleared the House and could see a Senate vote by the end of the year.

“We’ve really done extensive polling and message testing on all of the key policy priorities for the infrastructure packages that are moving through Congress right now and have done everything that we can to make the political case for the popularity of especially the climate provisions in the bill but also other progressive priorities like home- and community-based care, child care, prescription drug reform,” Mulholland said.

House passage of Build Back Better came after months of negotiations between moderates and progressives, and the Senate faces steep challenges on the legislation, with the support of every Democrat required for its passage.

Mulholland said that not only do Democrats need to get the legislation to Biden’s desk, they also need to sell it to the public. DFP’s polling, she said, makes it clear that aspects of the package have strong support from the public.

“We are certainly committed to getting Build Back Better across the finish line … but the work only begins there,” she said. “We will continue to do polling and message testing to help support the president and Democrats in Congress to take the message home to their districts and to communities across the country to show them that when you elect Democrats, you see tangible improvements in your day-to-day lives.”

Democrats are pushing to enact the social spending bill at a time when Biden’s approval rating is underwater and many Americans have expressed concerns about inflation.

Mulholland noted that the president’s party typically faces political headwinds during the midterm elections, but she said Democrats can take steps to maximize their ability to fare well both next year and in 2024.

Mulholland said that she hopes that after the Build Back Better Act becomes law, media coverage of the measure “will be able to focus on more of the impacts on people as opposed to the more controversial, contentious points in Congress.”

She also said that “making sure that the White House and Congress and Democrats in general are doing what we can to address the concern about rising gas prices will be really key here.”

In addition to enacting the Build Back Better Act, DFP is calling for the Biden administration to take a series of executive actions to protect workers and the environment.

Mulholland, who is based in Brooklyn but regularly travels to Washington for work, said she recently started hosting a regular happy hour for climate professionals, similar to how DFP Executive Director Sean McElwee has hosted ones for progressives in general.

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“It’s been really successful and a bit of a passing of the baton from Sean to me,” she said.

McElwee offered praise for Mulholland, saying that “she is genuinely in my estimation one of the most talented progressive activists of her generation.”

“I would genuinely put her pound for pound against any political director in the progressive space,” McElwee said.