According to Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner [pdf], this is the best message for Democrats this Fall:
“As people here know better than anyone, we can only get change if we get more common sense in Washington. In such tough times, Congress should not be voting to raise their pay. I want to end the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists and voted against my own party to crack down on powerful committee chairs. I supported eliminating special tax breaks for big oil companies and corporate subsidies that bust the budget. Republicans want business as usual – allowing corporate lobbyists to have free rein and permitting big corporations to regulate themselves, write their own rules and make unlimited campaign contributions. That’s not right, and I’ll fight to change Washington.”
Who knows what poll respondents are picking out of this mish-mash. I hope it’s the tax breaks and lobbying stuff, but it could just as well be the pay cuts and “voting against my own party”.
I found this because I was looking for the wording of the question GQR asked to get the 62% result on tax cuts for those making more than $250K. This is the most recent result I could find, from a poll taken at the beginning of September [pdf]:
It’s obviously suicide for Democrats to do nothing on tax cuts. The $250K issue seems to elicit differing degrees of enthusiasm based on who you ask and how the question is asked.
My take is that the $250K issue is serving as a proxy for what voters really want, which is some form of economic justice in the wake of the bank crisis and the bailout. My guess is that when polling firms formulate the $250K tax cut question in words that touch the voters’ feelings about the justice they desire, it polls better, because voters see the $250K cut as part of the way that we can recover the tax dollars spent on bank bailouts. Democrats are unable and/or afraid to really get to the nub of the issue and dish out some justice in the form of specific taxation of banksters. Instead, we get the $250K gambit, which might possibly satisfy a majority of voters if it is packaged correctly, just like some of the other Democratic messaging might possibly satisfy a majority if it is mixed together with old reliables like Congressional pay cuts and voting against party.
The reason this is unsettling is that the Democrats’ inability to directly address a short-term injustice, the banksters’ profits, is also true for the long-term issue of the decline of the middle class. If Democrats can’t get a coherent plan together to address that, a plan that will probably include long-term higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, then all the framing in the world isn’t going to help them. They’ll be whipsawed back-and-forth by the middle-class electorate who want fundamental change, don’t get it, vote them out, and then vote them back in when Republicans fail them, too.