I’m out in the Dakotas and as soon as I visit some diners, I’ll be able to let you all know what real Americans are thinking. But, in the meantime, let’s look at “popularism,” the stupid name for what pollster David Shor thinks Democrats should do, as told to Ezra Klein in a much-too-long Times piece over the weekend. Basically, Shor thinks that Democrats need to run on popular ideas (such as Medicare negotiating prices for drugs), and be careful about their messaging around police reform and climate change. Here’s the justification for toning down the climate change:
Shor showed me, as an example, a set of environmental talking points he’d tested, in which the ones that mentioned climate change performed worst. “Very liberal white people care way more about climate change than anyone else,” he said. “So when you talk about climate change, you sound like a weird, very liberal white person. This is why policy issues matter more than people realize. It’s not that voters have these very specific policy preferences. It’s that the policies you choose to talk about paints a picture of what kind of person you are.”
I should say that the polling differences here struck me as modest: The best environmental message on Shor’s list increased Biden’s approval rating by 1.7 percentage points, while the worst-performing message cut it by 0.4 points. On the other hand, a percentage point here, a percentage point there can be the difference between winning the White House and losing it.
Anyway, it really is a very long story, which is a testament to how receptive the Times thinks its white, liberal audience is to pieces explaining how you’re saying it wrong to the rubes. And I’m sure the white, liberal audience doesn’t have a big personal stake in issues like immigration, for which Shor’s prescription is to simply not talk about it, as the Obama campaign decided, because just talking about it caused white middle-class suburban women in focus groups to be more likely to vote for Romney. Shor’s general view:
[…] There was an old conventional wisdom to politics in the ’90s and 2000s that we all forget. We collectively unlearned those lessons over the past 12 years. We’ve told ourselves very ideologically convenient stories about how those lessons weren’t relevant — that tax phobia isn’t real or we didn’t need to worry about what conservative white people thought. And it turned out that wasn’t true. I see what I’m doing as rediscovering the ancient political wisdom of the past.
I guess if you think that the road to Democrats’ success is to tone down your messaging so white conservatives will consider voting for them, this makes sense. I take a view more like Steve M’s, in a piece titled “If Your Voters Think the Other Party is the Antichrist, You Don’t Need ‘Popularism'”. Steve points out that Republicans are motiviated by negative partisanship — they vote Republican because they hate Democrats. Lacking Fox News, and not constitutionally inclined to run a hate-filled campaign, the Democrats are already at a loss when battling Republicans.
Let’s face it: if you took a poll of Fox Republicans, and worded the questions to avoid trigger words used by Carlson and Hannity, they would probably agree with a lot of the issues that Democrats promote. But it would make no difference when they vote, because they will only vote for someone with “R” after their name. Such is the utility of issue polling and focus groups with that audience.
I think the lesson here is for Democrats to do popular, somewhat polarizing things, and hit the Republicans who oppose them, hard. One example is taxing the rich. Another is increasing access to affordable healthcare in any and all ways possible. We need to preserve voting rights, and I would really like to see some Democrats go hammer and tongs against DeathSantis, Abbottoir and the other stone killers. I don’t think suggestions like these are a panacea, because the problem we’re trying to solve is hard. But they involve fighting rather than hiding, and I think voters who will have to stand in lines for hours will appreciate that.