Hoping to somehow stave off a Republican surge in the 2014 Congressional midterm elections, Democrats seem resigned to go with what they know. Typically handicapped in “off-year” electoral cycles by lackluster turnout from their base voters – young people, blacks and Latinos primarily – Democratic strategists assume they are forced to essentially lay out a passel of low hanging policy fruit that amounts to subtle graft.
It’s an enticing package of socio-economic common sense in the wake of a recession: From the promise of perpetual healthcare and increased minimum wage to greater overtime pay and extended unemployment insurance. Just the right dose of everything you an average struggling person needs. The hope is that Democratic constituencies are juiced enough by the prospect of the above that they race to polls on Election Day. Even if there is less than a snowball’s chance in hell that minimum wage hikes and greater OT will pass through a stingy House Republican caucus, it’s the overall impression that Washington is in their corner that counts.
But, will that work? Republicans seem more successful, at the moment, in fomenting more rage from mostly white red-state folks who are the majority of social program beneficiaries than Democrats are at energizing their underserved mostly urban base around those same initiatives. Even with the epic government shutdown fiasco still somewhat fresh in the public consciousness, Republicans miraculously rebranded themselves away from it – and in a quick period of time. That led to a GOP turnaround post-shutdown that’s allowed them to now dominate the messaging game which mobilizes voters in November.
At this rate, not only are they poised to keep hold (and possibly expand their grip on) the House, but they’ve got sights on the Senate. Democratic fundraisers might be spinning early obituaries as a reverse psychology technique to light fire underneath the asses of wavering donors, but insiders, pollsters and contributors know it’s not looking all that good.
A key question is whether Democrats can effectively shove back with populist proletariat themes like the minimum wage, healthcare and overtime. At first glance, they appear to be great themes to run on. But are they necessarily attractive middle class themes that will turn out middle class segments also? The economic populism strategy assumes the bulk of Democratic base voters will be low income to working middle class individuals struggling through recovery and in desperate need of economic support.
Yet, it’s not entirely clear if – generally speaking – poor people vote that much, at least compared to people who aren’t poor. And it’s not really clear if middle class voters are all that sympathetic to those specific populist themes.