We have a legislative problem more than a messaging problem
by David Atkins
It's an old complaint: the Left just doesn't get its message through. You'll often hear progressives complain that the Democrats don't phrase their ideas well enough, or that the media is against us, or that the American people are too distracted by their electronic devices, etc.
But that's actually not true. There may be some failure in terms of deeper narrative framing, but at a policy level most Americans agree strongly with most progressive positions. Consider the minimum wage, courtesy Mark Mellman:
A year ago, every single Republican member of the House voted against increasing the minimum wage. More recently, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner one-upped his primary opponents by demanding a reduction in the minimum wage. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) went even further, backing complete repeal of the minimum wage. This isn't an issue where the media has snowed the public, or the public is too distracted, or the Left didn't message it well enough.
Yet, since November alone, no fewer than eight different nonpartisan public polls by six different pollsters have demonstrated overwhelming public support for increasing the minimum wage. Though the questions have differed, support has ranged from 65 percent to 76 percent. On average, Americans favored an increase in the minimum wage by a 43-point margin.
Indeed, in each of the polls for which a partisan breakdown is available, huge majorities of independents and at least pluralities, and often majorities, of rank-and-file Republicans join nearly all Democrats in supporting a minimum wage hike.
Even groups that are not congenial to the idea have been unable to find opposition. Reason, the self-styled magazine of “free minds and free markets,” which espouses libertarian views, conducted a poll in December that found 72 percent favoring a minimum wage increase, with just 26 percent opposed. In that survey, 88 percent of Democrats joined 70 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans in supporting a higher minimum wage.
Republicans revealed some interesting divisions, however, that could help explain the solid phalanx of “noes” among GOP politicians. Sixty-three percent of Republicans who make less than $60,000 a year support raising the minimum wage, while only 35 percent of Republicans making more than $60,000 a year favor an increase. Similarly, 64 percent of young Republicans support raising the minimum wage, compared to 43 percent among those over the age of 55. Republican opponents of the minimum wage who hold office tend to be older and richer than the party they lead.
The public is strongly in favor of our position. The public knows that we hold that position, not Republicans.
If more Democrats aren't getting elected, it's a matter of people either not believing that Democrats will follow through, or of people prioritizing other issues. Or the districts are gerrymandered.
This isn't exactly a trenchant observation, of course. But it's important to be reminded that elections really do matter, and that getting good Democrats who will actually vote to follow through on progressive policy really does matter.
When progressives on the street whine about the media, or about our "messaging", or about the "sheeple," etc., what they're doing is removing their own agency, and their own responsibility for helping to fix the situation.
If we want to raise the minimum wage, the people are with us. But Republicans and some small set of conservative Democrats are standing in the way.
The only way to get rid of them is with phone calls and shoe leather. With 2014 elections right around the corner, there's no time to start like the present.