Third Way study warns Democrats: Avoid far-left populism
Voters wait in line outside a polling place at the Nativity School on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016, in Cincinnati. Now-President Donald Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points after then-President Barack Obama carried it in both 2012 and 2008.
By GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI
Center-left think tank Third Way is urging the Democratic Party to rebrand itself as “the jobs party” in a report Tuesday that warns of the risks adopting the policies and rhetoric of the far left.
Landing as the left wing of the party claims ascendancy, the report wades into some of the philosophical disagreements now dividing a Democratic Party that is further from power than it has been in decades. Based on extensive, three-day online focus groups with battleground state voters, the publication aims to diagnose Democrats’ current problem. But it also knocks the kind of economic populism often pushed by prominent figures like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The study, conducted by polling firm Global Strategy Group, involved interviews with persuadable voters who backed Barack Obama and then Donald Trump, as well as with persuadable African American, Latino, and millennial voters. Third Way’s resulting document warns that key voters believe Democrats prioritize poor citizens, and some rich ones — but not the middle class.
It says voters intuitively see the Democratic party as standing against business, and it urges party leaders to put less emphasis on social issues and “recognize that voters want to see a rebalancing of the Party’s priorities.”
“Even as the economy approaches full employment, there remains a real economic anxiety, and people will always aspire to new and better job opportunities. Trump spoke to this — and voters responded,” the report reads. “To rebuild the Party and regain the power to enact their priorities, Democrats need to craft a broad path that’s inclusive of a diverse coalition and sustainable across election cycles. Reclaiming its status as the party of jobs is a unifying way to do just that.”
ubscribe at any time.
Voters in the focus groups repeatedly insisted that Trump was focused on jobs after his talk about securing more, better jobs for Americans on the campaign trail, write authors Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way’s vice president for social policy and politics, and Ryan Pougiales, the group’s senior political analyst. “Almost without fail, focus group participants in both groups identified the issue as Trump’s top priority. There’s a lesson in this for Democrats,” the report states.
To remedy that situation and the related belief that Democrats work for “somebody else,” the report recommends that party officials avoid proposals that can be branded as “handouts,” in addition to staying away from attacking businesses.
“Rallying around proposals like free college or universal basic income just exacerbate this resentment,” the authors warn, referring to the education policy pitch at the center of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. “Effective policy solutions to bolster economic security are vital, but they must begin with job creation and be tethered to the values of hard work and earning your way that underscore America’s economic compact.”