Data & Vibes Denial
Blueprint polling and Manchin strategy need to be louder on the campaign trail, but the 2020 losers say shhhhh
Giving advice is hardest when the recipient knows you’re right but doesn’t want to hear it.
That seems to be the Biden campaign problem with Joe Manchin: he’s saying the right thing, they know it’s the right thing, and they don’t want to hear it. This denialism snuck into this recent CNN piece on No Labels dysfunction:
“Manchin is hoping to get a meeting with Biden to urge the president to change the way he’s campaigning – for example, to focus more on how inflation declined after the more fiscally constrained Inflation Reduction Act that he forced Biden to retrench; or to talk less about climate change and more about energy security.
Some around Biden agree Manchin may have a point in how to make the pitch. Nervously, though, they wish he would say it more quietly, and further from the campaign trail.”
Look, there is a reason that Manchin wins a state Democrats lost in 2020 by nearly 40 points. He understands independent and Republican voters, the same voters Biden will need to win to beat Trump in 2024.
And there’s a reason why the campaign is nervous about it. Much of the Democratic establishment is now run by the losers of the 2020 presidential primary, as Welcome co-founder Lauren Harper Pope wrote last week.
This establishment, and the “shadow party” of nonprofits and firms surrounding it, drive the why “voters like what they don’t hear.” Democrats are quiet on the popular stuff, and loud on the extreme stuff.
Bad News about the Good News
Last month, the country got some great news in the form of more strong economic data: the Producer Price Index (PPI) fell for a third straight month indicating continued progress on fighting inflation. This is a huge policy win, and one that even Democratic-leaning economists thought was nearly impossible: slaying inflation without destroying the economy.
The problem is, Biden might not be well positioned to take credit for his success on inflation: new Blueprint polling suggests that the President is not doing enough to position himself as an inflation fighter. Instead of touting Biden’s bipartisan inflation-slaying achievements, people are paying more attention to his progressive policies that drive inflation up. Voters hear more about jobs numbers, government spending and student debt cancellation than they do on deficit reduction, health care cost control and domestic energy production achievements.
The strategy to right the ship is simple: Biden should again embrace the middle and tout his bipartisan policies to fix supply chains and reduce the deficit as well as his administration’s commitment to an all-of-the-above energy policy that is moving the country to clean energy while ensuring low gas prices.
What’s Going Wrong
While inflation has come down, Biden is currently not well positioned to capitalize on the change. The first problem is that voters think Biden is more focused on jobs (43% say it’s his top priority) than prices (23% say it’s his top priority), while they are more focused on prices (64% of voters say it's their top priority) than jobs (7%).
The second is that many of the policies that the administration most frequently touts are not viewed by voters as deflationary and aren’t viewed as benefiting them. Only 27% of voters believe tax rebates for EVs will benefit them, and only 21% believe tax rebates will reduce inflation, while 45% believe they will increase inflation.
Similarly, only 29% of voters believe canceling student debt will benefit them, but 45% believe it will increase inflation (20% believe it will reduce inflation). Even among young voters (those under 30), only half say student debt cancellation will benefit them, far fewer than believe that supply chains, junk fees, and deficit reduction will benefit them. As the chart below shows, the policies the administration has centered the most are the ones that people are least likely to believe will benefit them and most inflationary.
How to Fix It
The administration has a number of successful policy wins that it could tout, rather than EVs tax breaks and student debt cancelation. For instance, their investments in supply chain resilience are very popular, as is the provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Voters also believe that federal deficit reduction will benefit them and reduce inflation.
Declining gas prices represent another opportunity for President Biden to show how his administration is bringing down prices, but the administration is slow to claim credit for issuing permits for drilling, leaving voters with the mistaken impression that he has not increased drilling, and in fact has decreased it.
Voters don’t support a “drill baby drill” approach to climate change, but rather 60% of voters described their preferred approach to energy policy as “we should use an all-of-the-above strategy that includes fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.” Twenty-five percent said “we should end the use of fossil fuels and switch exclusively to renewable energy sources,” and just 15% said, “we should rely mostly on fossil fuels to power our economy.” This “all-of-the-above” strategy was the majority preference of Democrats, young people, and Black voters.
However, only 43% of voters believe Biden shares their “all of the above” vision (and only 33% of independents), and 47% believe Biden wants to switch entirely to renewable energy (including 59% of independents). On the other hand, 40% of voters (including 50% of independents) believe that Trump supports an all-of-the-above energy approach.
The reality on student loans and electric vehicles is obvious everywhere. It’s not just Blueprint saying this, non-partisan pollsters and even progressive firms consistently find that student debt cancellation and EVs aren’t driving Democratic gains.
But last week, the administration announced more student debt forgiveness and this week they announced they are looking for ways to find more, even as the Fed warns they need to see more progress on inflation to cut rates.
It’s time to listen to Manchin: touting the bipartisan policy victories the administration has had on prices is good politics, and good economics.
PS - here’s a bonus chart that sums it all up: student debt relief and EV’s in the bottom left, the policies you don’t hear about in the top right.