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“We’ve Got to Connect the Dots”: Navin Nayak on Democratic Messaging

Everyone says Democratic messaging is bad. This insider knows exactly how bad—and how to fix it.

Illustration by The New Republic

It’s one of the most frequent and familiar complaints of rank-and-file liberals: Democratic messaging, especially on the economy, stinks. A new poll from NBC News will surely only add fuel to the fire, as it shows the Republicans with the largest lead on the question of which party can better handle the economy since 1991—at 49 percent to 28 percent. Everybody has ideas and suspicions about why Democrats struggle to break through. Navin Nayak, the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has studied the question intensely with his staff. And the situation is … not good.

Nayak has put together a PowerPoint presentation that is a hot commodity in progressive Washington. He’s been showing it to groups of insiders and elected officials, and here, in this edition of Tomaskycast, you’ll get to see some of the slides yourself. Nayak and his team looked at every press release, Facebook post, and tweet put out in 2022 by Democratic candidates for federal office—some 570,000 pieces of communication. And they found that, “to our surprise, only 5 percent mentioned the words ‘economy’ or ‘economics.’” Even including words like “workers,” “wages,” and “jobs” only raised the number to 11 percent. Small wonder the Republicans come out ahead in those polls.

There’s a feast of useful information in this interview for anyone who really wants to understand the details on the hole in which Democrats find themselves. The news isn’t all bad: By 68 percent to 32 percent, people say they do support the core Joe Biden message of investing in the middle class over the Republican message of investing in businesses and letting them spread the bounty. But as Nayak says, among Democrats there is “a real recognition that there isn’t message clarity, and there isn’t a simple thing that Democrats from across the country and from top to bottom repeat.”