As the midterm election cycle enters its final week, The Wall Street Journal released a good report this weekend on the one issue with the potential to generate big gains for Republicans.
Economic pressures weigh on voters as they lock in decisions for next month’s election. … Voters often punish the ruling party in Washington when financial conditions are tough, and the economy is shaping up to be the main handicap for Democrats in the final stretch of the campaign. Reducing inflation and reviving the economy — the top issues for voters year-round who polls show are more reliable in the hands of Republicans — trump other concerns in importance.
The article quoted a Cleveland-area educator, who voted for President Joe Biden two years ago but is leaning towards supporting GOP candidates this year.
“I feel like at this point I have to vote with my wallet, which I hate to say,” said the 44-year-old father of three, whose wife also works in education. “There’s no reason for us to live paycheck to paycheck with two jobs.”
For Republicans, quotes like these are validation of months of political strategy: Here’s a Biden voter who’s willing to back the GOP, not because he necessarily agrees with the party, but because he feels his wallet should trump other considerations.
For many Democrats, the standard response to voters like these tends to be, “We hear you, and obviously inflation and the economy matter, but we also ask you to care about democracy, rights reproductive health, the climate crisis, health care, gun violence, and the future of social security and medicare.
At first glance, this may seem reasonable, because all these other issues are, of course, important, especially now.
But just below the surface, there’s a problem: Parties telling voters they should reorder their priorities don’t work. People will find important what they want to find important, and they tend to ignore those who tell them that their concerns are somehow out of whack.
Equally important, tactically, Democrats don’t need to tell voters to change their priorities because they have a better message at their disposal: Republicans won’t help their wallets.
It’s like some people say their main concern is fire safety, so they look to applicants with arson records, operating on a platform of playing with matches.
Let’s go over the basics:
Republicans barely pretend to have an economic program: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled his party’s Commitment to America blueprint last month, and it was comically vague on economic policy. Moreover, party leaders sometimes make it clear that the GOP has no credible plan to fight inflation.
Republicans have an economic goal, and that would make it worse: The only economic priority GOP officials are willing to fight for is making Donald Trump’s ineffective tax breaks for the wealthy permanent — which would make inflation worse, not better.
Republicans run on a platform of economic instability: As GOP leaders have clarified their plans, the party threatens a debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, which could make economic conditions in the United States enormously worse.
Republicans are sorely lacking in credibility: Timothy Noah of The New Republic wrote a great article in May noting that literally every relevant metric – economic growth, job creation, median household income, et al. – the US economy has fared better in recent decades under Democratic governance.
As we discussed shortly after, this is unquestionably true. In fact, over the past three decades, there have been three recessions – one under each Republican administration. Simultaneously, all of the GOP’s predictions about the economy turned out to be wrong: Republicans said Bill Clinton’s economic agenda wouldn’t work (he did), George W. Bush’s tax breaks would work wonders ( they didn’t work); Barack Obama’s agenda wouldn’t end the Great Recession (he did), Trump’s tax breaks would produce an economic utopia (they didn’t), and Joe Biden’s agenda couldn’t drive to the creation of 10 million new jobs and an unemployment rate corresponding to a low of 50 years (but this is precisely what happened).
It’s easy to see why many Americans intend to vote with their wallets. But Americans who expect Republicans to improve voters’ economic conditions are likely to be disappointed.
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