Apparently, Democrats actually focused more on so-called pocketbook issues than Republicans in the final months of campaign.
Analysis from the Winning Jobs Narrative Project shows that, across nine “pocketbook” topics—including health care, prescription drugs, and Social Security—Democrats aired 200,000 more advertisement spots than Republicans.
These figures contradict a media narrative that arose during the lead-up to election night, which held that Democrats’ messaging was substantially out of touch with voters’ economic concerns. This conventional wisdom contributed to the premature consensus that Democrats were set to drown in a red wave. The thinking went like this: Republicans were hitting the Democrats on inflation; Democrats were focused too much on democracy or “social issues;” the energy around abortion peaked too soon; student debt cancellation was a mistake.
And then the red wave fizzled into a red ripple.
Democrats held seats they were defending and won elections on which they’d pinned their hopes—from Pennsylvania’s Senate seat and governorship to Michigan’s governorship and state legislature—all while staving off a number of Republican challengers who were thought to be in the ascendance. While some elections, like Arizona’s Senate and governor’s races, are still undeclared, Democrats overperformed expectations in sum.
The analysis did show Republicans having an advantage over Democrats in focusing on taxes, the economy, and energy. But that might have been for naught: As the researchers behind the study reported, “The data suggest that Republicans’ generalized criticisms of the economy may have fallen short against Democrats’ communication advantage on key, specific pocketbook concerns.”
In other words, Republicans amorphously blithering about inflation (let alone about some nondescript necessity to cut taxes for the rich) may not have been enough to overcome Democratic messaging on items such as health care or drug prices or manufacturing—issues that tend to localize the “economy” to voters. This becomes all the more powerful when Democrats counter Republicans’ indiscriminate gripes about inflation with explanations that offer price gouging as an alternative.
This dynamic surely may not be universal, and is not the only factor that contributed to the election results. Massive turnout spurred by benefactors of student debt cancellation, as well as those concerned about losing the right to an abortion or the impending threat of climate change also factored into the exit polling—especially among young people and women. If Democrats want to replicate such success in the future, they ought to reflect on how speaking to “social issues” and “pocketbook issues” are not mutually exclusive—and that attention given to both issue categories is a winning combination.