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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

This Is What The President Needs To Say In His State Of The Union Address

In his State of the Union address next week, we expect that President Obama will discuss the Affordable Care Act, NSA reform, immigration reform, and climate change. More important, we anticipate that he will renew his commitment to mitigating economic inequality — a theme he began emphasizing last month. We have discussed here and elsewhere the perilous trend of rising inequality. Stan and James devoted much of their book It’s the Middle Class, Stupid to diagnosing and offering solutions for this defining issue of our time.

When the president turns to this theme next week, we hope that he does not dwell on the successes of the economy, which may be apparent in employment statistics, the GDP, and stock market gains, but are not felt at the grocery store.

When he talks about jobs, he should talk only about good jobs. The country needs more jobs, but not jobs that pay $7.25 an hour — a wage that falls short of the federal poverty level for a family of two. The president ought to renew his demand that Congress raise the minimum wage. But he should also demand much more.

Americans need opportunities — real opportunities for affordable education, high-quality job training, and jobs that will invest in their skills.

Americans need economic security. While the housing market has recovered and the credit crisis of 2008 seems long gone, Americans live with more long-term debt than in the past — a drag on middle-class mobility.

Finally, he should call on the private sector to once again invest in its employees and in the American economy — not by sucking all the rewards up toward the top few, but by seeking to decrease inequality with better wages and opportunities.

We know about this because we hear it in our focus groups. This is not the wisdom of people with PhDs, but the wisdom of people who clip coupons:

  • “Back six years ago, I was making double the income I’m making now.”
  • “Raises aren’t happening, the cost of living continues to rise, bills continue to go up, child care continues to go up.”
  • “Cost of food going up but raises aren’t happening in the workplace so it’s going to be really hard for people to afford food.”
  • “[The new jobs] are those jobs…you can live off of?  Does it balance with the cost of living…how many of those are actual livable wages?”
  • “Places are having two part-time workers versus one worker.”
  • “Most of my family and friends are…making ends meet, but they’re struggling so I would say they’re pretty much…average people in the economy.  They’ve got financial…worry in the back of their minds: ‘if something happens, what am I going to do?”
  • “The best word to describe my household finances is ‘precarious.'”

This is the wisdom of people who experience the economy not through macroeconomic data, but through their everyday lives. And these are the policies that will make a tangible difference for them.

We doubt, however, that John Boehner and the House Republicans will allow any of these policies to come to a vote on the floor of the House in 2014. We can only hope American voters will hold them to account for their inaction next November.

For more polling and expert analysis, visit DemocracyCorps.com

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Republicans, Take Some Free Advice: Raise the Minimum Wage

We do not expect House Republicans to take up an increase in the minimum wage during this Congress. But if they did, they would find themselves on the right side of history and public opinion.

A survey of American adults released last week by Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent — including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — support raising the minimum wage; 51 percent believe it should be raised to $10.10 an hour or higher.

Our own research has found that raising the minimum wage is consistently and increasingly one of the most powerful policies that we test on our national surveys. As we hear in focus groups across the country, “The minimum wage is way below the cost of living.” These people are not policy experts, but they know the price of gas and groceries.

In a few weeks, Democracy Corps will be traveling to Denver to conduct live dial-meter groups during President Obama’s State of the Union address. Last year, the president’s call to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour received strong approval from the Democrats and Independents in our group.

Carville-Greenberg minimum wage chart

And yet congressional Republicans cannot find the will to even allow this issue to come to a vote.

Meanwhile, in unrelated news, the Center for Responsive Politics announced on Monday that — for the first time in history — more than half of all members of Congress are millionaires.

Photo: Caroline’s eye via Flickr

Boehner’s Stance On Unemployment Insurance Must Be A Joke

Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bill to extend long-term unemployment insurance, a measure that would restore assistance to the estimated 1.3 million workers whose benefits expired at the end of December. And while just six Republican senators joined the majority, the bill was pronounced “bipartisan.” Apparently this is what passes for Republican participation these days.

House Speaker John Boehner’s response to the Senate’s action was that the UI extension would need to be paid for with cuts elsewhere, and also include incentives for the unemployed to get back to work. Instead of trying to extend unemployment insurance, Boehner said, the House should “remain focused on growing the economy.” As the Speaker himself might put it: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Economists widely agree that unemployment insurance does not have a deleterious effect on the economy. On the contrary, it is quite beneficial. Our very smart friends at the Economic Policy Institute “find that continuing the extensions through 2014 would generate spending that would support 310,000 jobs. If this program is discontinued, the economy will lose these jobs.” The EPI further reports that “insurance benefit extensions through 2014 would generate a $37.8 billion increase in GDP.”

Given this, one would think that extending unemployment benefits must be politically controversial, because clearly it is not bad for the economy. But according to a December poll conducted by our colleagues at Hart Research Associates, the opposite is true — just a third of Americans oppose extending unemployment insurance. Additionally, maintaining these benefits has a 2-to-1 intensity advantage (those who say they strongly support or do not support extension).

Hart poll unemployment insurance

We repeat: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

For more polling and expert analysis, visit DemocracyCorps.com

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

What Republican Rebound? New Battleground Survey Finds GOP Vulnerable

CGM battleground graphic

The final Democracy Corps battleground survey of 2013 belies the conventional wisdom that Republicans have enjoyed a major rebound over the last few months. On the contrary, our survey of the 50 most competitive Republican House seats and the 30 most competitive Democratic seats shows that there has been no movement. Furthermore, the second tier of less vulnerable Republican target districts has actually destabilized — meaning that there may be more Republican seats up for grabs than many believe right now.

While the disastrous ACA website rollout has taken a toll on the president’s approval rating and image, we do not find that voters are willing to punish Democrats — or, more importantly, reward Republican incumbents — for these failures. Instead, this poll finds that Republican members are damaged by their total focus on Obamacare. Voters increasingly believe that these vulnerable Republican incumbents are part of the gridlock in Washington, are too focused on battles with Obama, and are too aligned with Speaker Boehner, whose plans have not helped the economy or the jobs situation. We tested a series of messages and attacks (both for and against Republican incumbents), and found that battling on Obamacare is their weakest case for re-election. In fact, it undermines it.

This survey also confirms what we have been tracking all year: Seniors are moving more solidly into the blue column. In this survey, Democratic challengers have a 4-point advantage on the named ballot against Republican incumbents. As a reminder, Democrats lost seniors nationally by a 21-point margin in 2010.

Make no mistake, both frontline Democrats and frontline Republicans are made more vulnerable by what is now a total anti-incumbent wave. Both parties in Congress fare poorly in the public’s mind, but let us be very clear: Voters — even in Republican districts — reserve most of their anger for the party in power, which is now totally despised in terms of public image. When these incumbents are connected to the party and its leadership, voters’ trust in them takes a sharp decline.

Tomorrow, Congress will leave town for the year. We wish them all happy holidays. But we would not want to trade places with the Republican incumbents returning home to their districts tomorrow.

The full results of the Democracy Corps 2013 battleground survey can be found here (PDF).

Republicans Fall Further Behind The Times On Marriage Equality

This week, Hawaii became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. At Democracy Corps, we have been tracking voters’ attitudes toward gay marriage since 2010. Americans’ opinions on the issue have transformed over that period — and the pace of the shift is increasing. Just 37 percent of all voters now give gay marriage a negative rating (below 50 on our 100-point scale), a 9-percent decline since 2010.

cgm marriage graphic2

Republicans are the only group where negative attitudes toward same-sex marriage have remained relatively stable. We find that these views have shifted just 2 points (within the margin of error) since November 2010. By contrast, we find an 11-point shift among Democrats over that period, and an 8-point shift among independents.

cgm marriage graphic3

The conservative factions, which now comprise a majority of the Republican Party, are not only opposed to gay marriage, but believe homosexuality should be discouraged — two-thirds of religiously observant Republicans and 82 percent of evangelical Republicans hold this belief. Combined, these groups make up half of the Republican Party. In stark contrast, just over a third of moderate Republicans and just under a third of independents believe that homosexuality should be discouraged.

cgm marriage graphic1

It is difficult to see how the Republican Party can simultaneously sustain its opposition to gay marriage and remain a viable national party in the long term. Gay marriage is simply not controversial to young voters, just a fifth of whom have negative attitudes toward the institution. As one of the moderate Republican participants in our recent focus groups told us, “I just can’t sell my kids on this party.”

Seniors Turned Out In The Virginia Election — Which Could Be Great News For Democrats

In today’s Wonkblog, Ezra Klein writes that despite Terry McAuliffe’s victory in yesterday’s Virginia gubernatorial election, the exit polls point to a “demographic drift that could help Republicans next year.”

“A Republican looking at these numbers should feel disappointed by last night’s election but hopeful about next year’s,” Klein writes.

Central to his argument is the fact that seniors represented 18 percent of Virginia’s 2013 electorate — up 4 percent from 2012 — and can therefore be expected to make up a larger share of next year’s midterm electorate. While we accept that demographic trends in odd-year elections point to potential shifts in the off-year body of voters, we take issue with the idea — taken as fact by most pundits — that a high vote share among seniors is necessarily bad news for Democrats.

More important than the vote share among seniors was the vote choice among seniors last night. At Democracy Corps, we have been closely examining voting trends among seniors in our polls and noting that they are increasingly supporting Democrats.  But this is not a poll.  This is an actual election that confirms what we have been seeing in our data: Something is, in fact, happening among seniors.

In 2009, seniors voted for Republican Bob McDonnell by a 20-point margin, 40 percent to 60 percent. Four years later, Democrat Terry McAuliffe cut that margin by three quarters (down to just +6 for Ken Cuccinelli).

Virginia Seniors

So, while we accept Ezra Klein’s analysis that we should pay attention to the demographic trends apparent in last night’s election, we reject that these trends point to potentially bad things for Democrats in 2014. A strong turnout among seniors may, in fact, be a good thing for Democrats next year.

Inside The Divided Republican Party

Republican buttons

Our recent work for Democracy Corps‘ Republican Party Project has provided a deep and serious look inside the GOP. For all that holds the party together — disgust with President Obama and big government, rejection of taxes and regulations, etc. — we find serious fractures within the Republican Party. While individual representatives in very red districts will be able to hold on to their seats, the Republican Party must eventually reconcile its now deeply divided base.

Evangelical Republicans — a third of the GOP base — are consumed by social issues such as gay marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. They view their insular communities as being under serious threat from outside forces that bring “culture rot” into their homes, schools, and towns. As a result, social issues are at the center of their politics. Non-Evangelical, Tea Party Republicans — a quarter of the GOP base — are not interested in the social issues that drive Evangelicals, and they worry that social issues serve only to fracture the party. The alliance between the two groups is tenuous and uneasy. Moderate Republicans — a quarter of GOP partisans — are very conscious that they are a minority within the party. They have become increasingly uncomfortable with positions held by the conservative majority of Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans. Their distance begins with social issues, like gay marriage and homosexuality, but it is also evident in their positions on immigration and climate change.

As our focus groups reveal, Evangelicals see “culture rot” as the biggest threat to the country—and acceptance of homosexuals is central to their critique of the U.S. today. It feels invasive and inescapable — on TV and in schools:

Like it’s a normal way of life. There’s a minority of people out there are homosexual, but by watching TV, you’d think everybody’s that way. And that’s the way they portray it. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

Somebody’s got to say “the gay agenda.” That gets thrown around, a lot—that there’s this vast conspiracy of gays that are trying to push this. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

My daughter’s only one, and I already am making plans for her not to go to school and have that [homosexuals] in her life, because it’s not – Not only that it’s not just something that I agree with, but it’s not something that should have to be forced down her throat. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

It’s hard when the school is directly opposing what you’re trying to teach your kids. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

But in stark contrast, Tea Party Republicans are more apt to say, “Who cares?” about gay marriage.

Who cares? (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

I don’t want the government telling me who I’m sleeping with or whatever in my bedroom, so I just don’t think it’s the government’s business. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

I think it’s not important. I mean either way we have so many bigger issues to worry about. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

I don’t think the government as any say in it…I personally don’t agree with gay marriage, but I don’t think the government should say who can get married and who can’t. It’s not their business. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

And they worry that social issues distract the Republican Party—or worse, divide it.

The government, the media, the news media, you know. Of course – it’s gay rights, it’s abortion… What we need to be focused on is the financial situation. All the rest of it, I think they’re throwing stuff out, they’re feeding it to the media. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

The government is feeding stuff to the media to get us talking and arguing about gay rights, about abortions and stuff. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

I think the Republicans have lost so many people to the Democratic Party because of social issues, because of pro-life and more open ideas where if we could eliminate that from the conversation I think we’d have an entirely different electorate. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)

And moderates, in stark contrast to both, call the Tea Party “wacky.”

A little wacky. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

Extreme. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

It’s kind of, the Tea Party is being just as closed minded as the other group. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

Idiots. (Moderate man, Colorado)

Just something doesn’t smell right. (Moderate man, Colorado)

And they believe the GOP needs to be more forward-looking. They are very conscious that this is not a party of the future.

I can’t sell my kids on this party. I agree with…some of their positions. But the stupid things… for instance, the rape crap they were saying… I can’t sell them on my party. These kids are smart, they know these stupid politicians are saying crap. And these guys are representing us and they show their ignorance often. And just shut their mouth and do – again, get out of our bedrooms, get out of our lives and do what they’re supposed to do. (Moderate man, Colorado Springs)

I think of a white 54-year-old man in a business suit. And my mom. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

I just tend to be a little bit more moderate on social issues. However I’m a pretty staunch fiscal conservative so it’s kind of like at least among my peers there’s a change in kind of the conservative group. But it doesn’t necessarily seem like the Republican Party is changing with it. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

How long can the GOP hold on to this uneasy coalition? Right now, the conservative majority of Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans make up a majority in states and districts the GOP now controls. In Republican-controlled states, 22 percent are non-Evangelical Tea Party and 33 percent are Evangelical Republicans. In Republican-held districts, 30 percent are Evangelical Republicans, and 23 percent are non-Evangelical Tea Party. Moderate Republicans (many of whom are increasingly tempted to split their votes) are not required to hold these Republican-held jurisdictions. However, in the most vulnerable Republican battleground districts, we find that these fractures do matter.

Click here to read the full memo by Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Erica Seifert.

Photo: Newshour via Flickr

New Poll: Republicans In Big Trouble In 2014

Speaker Boehner cgm

Today we are releasing data from the latest survey by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund — and the numbers aren’t good for the GOP.

Our poll shows that the congressional vote is moving against the Republicans. In July, our survey showed Republicans with a marginal 1 percent lead among likely voters. Today’s poll shows Democrats up by 3 points among that group. Among likely 2014 voters, 46 percent say they would prefer Democrats to control Congress, while just 42 percent would prefer Republican rule.

The trends beneath these numbers are important. Voters are not punishing both parties equally for the current mess in Washington. Republicans in Congress are now at one of the lowest points we have ever recorded, with 51 percent viewing them negatively — a 5 point increase since March. Voters remain disdainful of how they are handling their job in charge of Congress, with over two-thirds (69 percent) saying they disapprove; almost half (48 percent) strongly disapprove, a 6 point increase since July.

And on the big issue of the day — health care reform — 49 percent say the Democrats have a better approach, compared to just 35 percent who say Republicans do. When asked whether the GOP’s position on the government shutdown makes voters more or less likely to vote for their Republican incumbent, voters in Republican districts say”less likely” by a 6 percent margin.

This does not bode well for Republicans in 2014, given voters’ strong disapproval of the Republican Party’s current course.  As this intransigence appears to have no end in sight, we should expect Republicans to pay next November.

Why The Tea Party’s Power Keeps Growing

Tea Party rally

Today, Democracy Corps is releasing findings from focus groups with evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans. Our conversations with these Republicans help explain why the GOP is committed to shutdown politics — and why in the future, its leaders likely will move more deeply into intransigent far-right conservatism.

While moderate Republicans want their leaders to seek what they call “middle ground,” they form only one quarter of today’s Republican voters. The most conservative factions in the party — evangelicals and Tea Party adherents — now comprise more than half of Republican partisans. These folks do not worry that Republican leaders’ intransigence has led to this kind of shutdown politics in Washington. Instead, they worry that current Republican leaders are too compromising:

The problem is there’s not a party that thinks like us. We don’t have a voice in Washington. Or where else? The Republican Party? They might as well just have a D beside their name, as far as I’m concerned.  (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

I don’t have a party anymore. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

And the Republicans – a lot of Republicans are just RINOs – Republican in name only. But we’ve really got to turn this ship around, or we’re in deep doo. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

Above all, they think that the Republican Party has proved too willing to “cave” to the Obama administration’s agenda:

They cave all the time. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

They’re rollovers. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

They turn to the Tea Party because it gives them hope that someone is finally “standing up” and “fighting back” against the forces of Obama and big government.

Well, I would say, the rise of the Tea Party, that people are getting involved, and they’re standing up… Grass roots. I’ve never been really into politics. And I’m getting more involved. And people I think are standing up. Like you were talking gun control. People are saying hey, this isn’t what’s in our Constitution, and it’s not what’s in our schools. And I think people are taking a stand now, and we need to, before it’s too late. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

America is rising back up and getting a backbone again, and making our voices heard one way or another, whether it’s Tea Party, or whatever else. People are being emboldened.  (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

They are a group to be reckoned with, because if we’re going to turn things around, The Tea Party’s going to need to be part of it. And less government and less spending, and throw the rascals out – to quote Ross Perot – is what they’re all about. I’m there.  (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

I would say that our greatest strength is…we do have a lot of rednecks in our country, and we have a lot of people who are stepping out and saying things now.  (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

As a result, they believe that the Tea Party should form the new core of the Republican Party.

I think [the Tea Party] is good [for the Republican Party.] I think that the rest of the GOP needs to get on board. We need to all agree on some of the basic stuff. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

I think it’s a good thing, because [the Tea Party represents] core Conservatives…So you’ve got the Republicans against the Conservatives, and they said, “You need to be more Conservative if you’re going to win the elections and get more people.” (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

These voters — a majority of Republican partisans — do not want their leaders in Washington to work for compromise. Instead, they support the kind of strong-arm government-by-threat-and-fiat that finds us now in a government shutdown — and possibly also heading for a default on the country’s debt. In the future, this majority looks to move the GOP farther to the right. It will do so at the expense of moderate and center-right voters, but in the interim, we should not look for more moderate Republican leaders to step forward to broker pragmatic solutions.

Read the full Democracy Corps report here.

Photo by ArtByHeather/Flickr

Moving In With Family Becomes A Safety Net In The New Economy

Occupy.Baltimore.000

Last week, our friends at Pew released a new report detailing the rise in the number children living with grandparents since the onset of the recession. According to the Pew report, 10 percent of children lived with a grandparent in 2011, and the vast majority of those (80 percent) also had a parent present in the household. While this trend is a result of long term economic forces that have left the middle class struggling to keep up, the recession exacerbated those underlying causes and led to a dramatic rise in the number of inter-generational households. As a previous Pew report found, “in the years of the Great Recession, the multi-generational household population shot up, increasing by 4.9 million, or 10.5 percent, from 2007 to 2009. During this time, the overall population grew only 1.8 percent. As a result, the share of the population living in multi-generational households increased to 16.7 percent in 2009, up from 15.4 percent in 2007.” That proportion continued to rise and by 2011 the number of children living in a household with a grandparent reached 7.7 million.

The economy of inter-generational households is not limited to grandparents taking in their children and grandchildren.  Family has become a new national safety net for college graduates facing declining job prospects and rising student loan payments, families facing unexpected unemployment, and older adults whose shifting fortunes forced them to move in with their grown children. The stereotype of basement-dwelling twenty-somethings does not nearly characterize the full extent of an economy that has reversed the long 20th-century trend of nuclear family households.

In our own tracking for Democracy Corps, we find that half of all voters (51 percent) say that they or their families have moved in with a family member or had a family member move in with them in the last year.

Democracy Corps began tracking multi-generational households last summer, when the issue emerged so poignantly in a series of focus groups we conducted on the economy.

We wrote:

They are consumed with the costs of things and how to adjust creatively to this new economy. That includes moving back in with an ex, moving in with a parent or the kids moving in with you. The creative economy of necessity has forced many people to adjust their living situations:

I live with my first husband, which is not the greatest thing in the world but anyways, I do have two children, 31 and 26. The oldest has three kids who lives with us…And I’m hoping to get this job so I can get out of the house.  (Non-college-educated woman, Columbus, OH)

Right now I live with my family. I moved to Columbus two years ago…And I’m unemployed right now.  (Non-college-educated woman, Columbus, OH)

Have two kids, one’s a high school junior, the other is 26 years old, both living at home.(College-educated man, Bala Cynwyd, PA)

My daughter is back with me at home, she’s 25 … Very expensive and in this day and age to try and get a college education, a lot of young people can’t afford to be on their own. (Non-college-educated woman, Columbus, OH)

When we returned to Columbus and Orlando this summer, we found that more and more middle-class families are adapting to the new economy by sharing housing with friends and families.  As one woman in Orlando told us, “I moved my mom in with me last month. I am currently supporting my mom; her factory shut down and she was on unemployment.”

Measuring the economy in this way—inter-generational housing—may well be a better indicator of our nation’s economic health than the stock market or GDP.  As last week’s anemic jobs report showed, the economy is still a long way from healthy—something we hope Congress will consider as partisans prepare for another potential showdown on the budget.

Photo: A. Currell via Flickr.com

Memo To Congress: Don’t Forget About Women

House Democratic Women

When Congress returns from summer recess next week, legislators will face big choices on military intervention in Syria, raising the debt ceiling, funding the government, and broadening Americans’ access to health care.

These are big issues, but we also believe that Congress shouldn’t forget the women’s economic agenda — “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” — which was announced by House Democratic women in July. This agenda contains a package of policies to address pay, work and family balance, and childcare. The proposed policies include paycheck fairness, raising the minimum wage, support for job training and education, paid family and medical leave, and affordable childcare, among other initiatives. These policies would address the most fundamental economic challenges for middle-class and working women.

While we find that the economy no longer works for working people regardless of gender, we also know that women face unique challenges. The ways in which American families earn income have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, but the laws, assumptions, institutions, and structures that govern the economy have not. This has left many women on the edge—or struggling to keep up with demands at work and costs at home.

In late July, Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund tested these policies and found that not only are the individual policies incredibly popular, they are even stronger as a whole package. This agenda has the power to move the vote and to motivate unmarried women to turn out next November.

Why? In our March survey, 60 percent of unmarried women said the national political debate was not addressing the issues most important to them. It’s no wonder — two thirds (65 percent) of unmarried women said they had to make major changes at the grocery store to make ends meet, 40 percent said they had received reduced wages, hours, or benefits at work, and 40 percent said they had been forced to move in with family or had family move in with them. But women rarely hear about policies to address these pocketbook realities. This agenda will do just that.

The women’s economic agenda has broad and intense support – and set out new areas for winning broad engagement. Among all voters and among unmarried women, 3 of the top 4 most popular Democratic policies offered were part of the women’s economic agenda (the fourth was Medicare, which is also central to women’s economic stability). It is incredible to note that Democrats have not put these policies together as a package until now, given how strong they are among all voters and among the voters whose support they most need in 2014.

In short, a Democratic agenda focused on pay, opportunity, and support for working moms outperforms a Democratic agenda that does not include these policies — and far outperforms the dominant Republican agenda. It can powerfully move voters’ perceptions of which party is better on the economy, better for the middle class and working people, and better for women.  This is true among all voters, all women, unmarried women, and the Rising American Electorate. It is not only the right thing to do for women, children, and families — it is the right thing to do politically.

North Carolina Is Damaging The Republican Brand

Photo by James Willamore/Flickr

Photo by James Willamore/Flickr

On Monday, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed into law a package of restrictive voting and election reforms that will disfranchise poor, elderly, and minority voters, while giving big money greater influence in judicial campaigns. Governor McCrory is not only on the wrong side of history, but on the wrong side of public opinion as well.

Among other effects, the law reduces the number of early voting days by one week, requires all voters to show government-issued identification, eliminates same-day voter registration, and repeals the “Voter Owned Elections” program, which allowed public funding of judicial campaigns to reduce the influence of special interests and big-money contributors, who might have business before the court.

A Public Policy Polling survey conducted over the weekend found that just 39 percent of all registered voters in North Carolina support these changes. Importantly, the law finds majority support only among self-identified conservatives. Moderates oppose the law by a 50-point margin, 70 percent to 20 percent.

An election night survey by Democracy Corps and Public Campaign Action Fund survey found significant opposition to the kind of changes just enacted in North Carolina:

  • Early voting: Among all voters in 2012, two thirds (67 percent) supported a plan to extend early voting to all voters. This included 58 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents.  Conservative Republicans were the only group for whom this was not a majority position. 
  • Campaign money: By a 41 point margin (56 percent to 15 percent), voters supported “a plan to replace the current campaign finance system of large private contributions with one that relies on small contributions and limited public funds.”
  • Expanding voting: By a 53 point margin (67 percent to 14 percent), voters supported “a plan to cut red tape from the voting process to make sure all eligible voters can vote.”

From a political perspective, we cannot help but wonder what this means for the Republican Party’s reputation among moderates, both in North Carolina and nationally. As our recent Democracy Corps work has found, extreme and regressive politics have become constitutive to the Republican brand — which alienates moderate voters. So while the right-wing Republican base might enthusiastically support policies that would disfranchise millions, restrict women’s health choices, and cut taxes for millionaires and food stamps for the working poor, these are minority positions among all voters.

In short, these kinds of policies jeopardize the GOP’s ability to continue as a national party. While Republicans may continue to win elections in the most conservative congressional districts, it will be difficult for Republican presidential candidates to make the kind of broad appeal required to win national office.

Why Seniors Are Turning Against The GOP

Grandma CGM

There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP. This is apparent in seniors’ party affiliation and vote intention, in their views on the Republican Party and its leaders, and in their surprising positions on jobs, health care, retirement security, investment economics, and the other big issues that will likely define the 2014 midterm elections.

We first noticed a shift among seniors early in the summer of 2011, as Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare became widely known (and despised) among those at or nearing retirement. Since then, the Republican Party has come to be defined by much more than its desire to dismantle Medicare. To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence, and economics that would make even the Robber Barons blush. We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens:

—In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent). Among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.)

—When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2011, 43 percent of seniors gave the Republican Party a favorable rating.  Last month, just 28 percent of seniors rated the GOP favorably. This is not an equal-opportunity rejection of parties or government — over the same period, the Democratic Party’s favorable rating among seniors has increased 3 points, from 37 percent favorable to 40 percent favorable.

—When the Republican congress took office in early 2011, 45 percent of seniors approved of their job performance. That number has dropped to just 22 percent — with 71 percent disapproving.

—Seniors are now much less likely to identify with the Republican Party. On Election Day in 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed a net 10 point party identification advantage among seniors (29 percent identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans). As of last month, Democrats now had a net 6 point advantage in party identification among seniors (39 percent to 33 percent).

—More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country. Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters.

—On almost every issue we tested — including gay rights, aid to the poor, immigration, and gun control — more than half of seniors believe that the Republican Party is too extreme.

What do seniors care about now?  Our Democracy Corps July National Survey found that:

—89 percent of seniors want to protect Medicare benefits and premiums.

—87 percent of seniors want to raise pay for working women.

—79 percent of seniors think we need to expand scholarships for working adults.

—77 percent of seniors want to expand access to high-quality and affordable childcare for working parents.

—74 percent of seniors want to cut subsidies to big oil companies, agribusinesses, and multinational corporations in order to invest in education, infrastructure, and technology.

—66 percent of seniors want to expand state health insurance exchanges under Obamacare.

All of these issues will be critical to the national debate as the 2014 election nears. The more seniors hear from Republicans on these and other issues, the more we can expect the GOP’s advantage among this important group to decline. And we can count on one thing in 2014: Seniors will vote.

Jobs You Can’t Live Off

dollar bills

While Wall Street aims for another record-breaking week, we would like to remind economic forecasters of the harsh reality facing the rest of the country.

Last month, we conducted focus groups among voters in Orlando, Florida and Columbus, Ohio. These voters were not talking about their investment portfolios.  Instead,  much of what we heard was about the quality of jobs available to middle-class and working people.  People believe that America is producing jobs “you can’t live off.” And they are right.

When we conduct focus groups on the economy, we almost always read the most recent jobs report to see and hear participants’ reactions. In the middle of the recession, when so many were unemployed, our focus group respondents would get angry and doubt that jobs had been created at all. When participants in our most recent groups heard the new jobs report, however, they were less angry than skeptically resigned. The discussion was totally focused on the quality of jobs. Participants tell us that they have had to replace “one career job” with two or more “disposable jobs.”  They understand that “you have to work twice as hard to make half as much as you used to.” And they ask, “how do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”

As a result, sacrificing in big and small ways has become part of their routine. One woman in Columbus, Ohio told us, “After we pay our bills we make sure that our children eat but there’s times my husband and I can’t afford it and we eat peanut butter, potatoes, or rice. We make sure our children are eating 4 food groups but we can’t.”  She works full-time.  Her husband has two jobs.

Unsurprisingly, they say “I can’t afford to lose right now.”

Despite big gains on Wall Street, more people tell us that they have moved in with family members. Or that they get by with the help of neighbors, family, friends, and the PennySaver.  But when three jobs per household are not enough, it is difficult to say that “getting by” is an appropriate level of economic security for American families. And when three jobs per household are not enough, it is difficult to say that there are not deeper structural problems with the American economy.

You can read our new memo about “The New American Economy” here.  Or check out a colorful display of quotes from those groups here.

Photo by Jeffrey Simms Photography/Flickr

‘They’re Just So Stuck’

As Congress returns from recess this week, we would like to believe that it will finally get down to the business of governing — but that would be too optimistic, even for us.  Instead, the Republican Congress remains unprepared to address the real issues facing students, working women, and underemployed families.  Most likely, the GOP’s top priority will be grinding government to a halt.

Republican leaders may believe that American voters don’t notice, or hope that their constituents will blame President Obama and the Democrats for the dysfunction in Washington.  But if they do, the GOP will have severely underestimated the electorate.

Our recent battleground survey in the most vulnerable Republican districts and focus groups in two Republican-controlled states find that the GOP’s approach to “un-governing” has marginalized the party, even in red states.

Take these examples:

—In our recent battleground survey, 69 percent of voters in the most vulnerable Republican districts said that they wanted their representative to work with President Obama to address our problems.  Just a quarter (26 percent) of voters in these districts would prefer that their representative try to stop the president from advancing his agenda.

—In the same survey, two of the top concerns among voters in the most vulnerable Republican-held districts were that the Republican Party is “so uncompromising that Washington is gridlocked,” and that the GOP is “only focused on blocking Obama’s agenda.”

In our focus groups, voters in Ohio and Florida were clear about their displeasure with the status quo. Here are some of the terms they used to describe the Republican Party and its leaders:

“Corrupted.”

Con show.”

“Inflexibility.”

“Argumentative.”

“Too concerned about fighting with the Democrats.”

And when it comes to the Republican Party’s approach to the economy, they say:

“Not willing to work together.”

“Unwilling to compromise.”

“Being inflexible.”

Looking to the future, Republicans are going to have a very difficult time with young people.  Here is what young voters in Florida think about the GOP:

“I think they’re just so far off the path that most Americans or people who generally identify themselves as Republicans look beyond.”

“They’re just so stuck.”

“I think it also goes back again to they’re just so… they have to do the opposite of what the Democrats are doing like it doesn’t matter like what it is, like they have to fight so they have to do the opposite.  So if they want this then they’re going to want this.”

“This is a prime example of Republicans fighting just to fight, in my opinion.”

Clearly, the GOP is in need of a course correction. With even red-state voters expressing frustration at the nonstop obstruction, Republicans will continue their inflexible approach at their own peril.

A Lifetime Of Debt

Student Loans

On Monday, federally subsidized student loan rates doubled because Congress failed to pass a permanent solution to relieve our debt-stricken students (or even to extend the current rates until they could agree on a plan). There are very few policy issues more deserving of our representatives’ attention.

As we hear in our Democracy Corps focus groups and surveys, middle-class and working people desperately want Congress to address the cost of higher education. Students who can afford the high and rising costs of board, tuition, and fees — which now average $22,261 at public schools and $43,289 at private schools — do not need to worry about student loan interest rates doubling.  This is only about those families who cannot afford to pay for the rising cost of higher education.

At one point or another in our careers, James, Stan, and I have all taught at colleges or universities, so this is a topic about which we feel strongly.  As James recalled in It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!, he was able to pay his law school tuition out of pocket in the 1970s, even though he was not wealthy. The result, James noted, was that state colleges and universities “functioned as a kind of equalizer.”

That is no longer true.  The average all-in cost of private colleges in the U.S. is almost equal to the median household income (which hovers around $50,000).  But as James noted, it was not always this way. Our very smart friends at the Economic Policy Institute note that while median household income increased 10.9 percent from 1983 to 2013, the average cost of public school tuition rose 130 percent — leaving many families in the dust, and very much reliant on student loans.

Add to this the ongoing economic stagnation for middle class and working Americans, and we are looking at a crisis that could be crippling. We all know that young people face diminished job prospects out of school.  But this crisis is not limited to 20-somethings.  It also hits those in their 30s and 40s — who pay their student loans from stagnant or diminishing incomes — and those in their 50s and 60s who struggle to pay mortgages, save for retirement, and put their children through school.

Next week, Democracy Corps will release a serious report on recent focus groups we conducted in Orlando and Columbus for the Economic Media Project.  One of the things that struck us in these groups was how much we heard about the student loan crisis — and participants did call it a crisis:

“People coming out of college are getting off on the wrong foot.  My husband has $58,000 worth of student loans and isn’t making even close to what he needs to be making to pay it off.  They’re saying that you need all this education to get these jobs to make more money but yet you come out of college with all this debt and you can’t ever catch up.”

“I have plenty of student loans that I’m paying.  I have a degree. I’m working as a bartender not by choice; not saying I love it but I make more money doing that than any position I could get with my degree so I pay my student loans as a bartender.”

“I can’t go to school because my credit is bad because of my previous school loans but I can’t afford to pay them. There’s not really anything I can do to better my education because I can’t afford it and I can’t get a loan.”

“It’s important to have an education but the cost …I wonder is it worth it?”

“When you come out of school you’re $50,000 or $100,000 in debt. You’re lucky if you’re making, you know, $30,000 or $40,000 a year. That’s paying your bills. That’s paying your rent. You’re not paying off your debt so you’re never getting ahead.”

“It’s more for the financial reasons where, you know, we have a student loan crisis basically where you’re getting into so much debt to get that degree, to get that better job, that that is becoming cyclical where you are working just to pay off your student loans so it’s almost, it’s a double-edged sword.”

When Congress returns after the holiday week, I hope they commit themselves to the students who would like to return to school next fall, but are having a hard time budgeting for it.

Photo by “thisisbossi” via Flickr.com

More Work, Less Pay: Why Working Women Hate The GOP

boehner cantor cgm

 

Photo by Republican Conference/Flickr

Several months ago, the GOP announced that it would begin a concerted outreach program to groups of voters, including women, who consistently vote for Democrats by large margins. So last week, just in time for Mother’s Day, House Republicans offered American mothers the “Working Families Flexibility Act.” The more appropriately titled “More Work, Less Pay Act” would essentially eliminate overtime pay, putting working families on a collision course with rising prices at the grocery store and mounting costs of childcare, rent, and education.

That is not an agenda that works for working women. It is little wonder that 60 percent of women say Washington is not addressing the issues that are important to them. As one women in Denver told us a few months ago, “Oftentimes I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don’t understand.

While Washington politicians focus on solving crises of their own invention and dreaming up new ways to squeeze working people, our research has found that working women are intensely concerned about their own pocketbook economies—concerns that somehow eluded supporters of the “More Work, Less Pay Act.”

Our most recent Democracy Corps survey found clear evidence that women want Washington to advance a serious working women’s economic agenda.  This agenda must address the cost of childcare, invest in education and job training, expand paid maternity and sick leave, and finally put resources toward enforcing pay equity.

If Republicans want to put forward policies that will actually work for working women, it should look more like this:

Jobs. Any working women’s agenda must include a plan for good jobs that provide good incomes, employment security, family leave, and health and retirement benefits. Pay equity and raising the minimum wage are necessarily part of this agenda; the Economic Policy Institute estimates that women comprise 56 percent of those who would be directly affected by an increase in the minimum wage. The “good jobs” agenda must also include job training and education to afford women the opportunity to get and keep those good jobs.

Cost of living. The working women’s agenda must address the cost of childcare. For middle-class families, the average cost of childcare is high—about 10 percent of monthly income. But for low-income families (a majority of which are headed by women), the average cost of childcare was 50 percent of monthly income in 2010. Addressing the cost of living also means expanding access to affordable healthcare, including preventive care for women.

Retirement security. Retirement security is critical for women because they live longer and because they are less likely to have jobs that provide pension and retirement benefits. Well over half (56 percent) of Medicare recipients are women. Older women are more likely than older men to pay for health care out of pocket and more likely to be low-income.  For many of these women, Medicare is a necessity.