Dems can win economic debate, says Clinton’s pollster

The current Republican political pitch to voters is powerful, but Democrats can win back perhaps 20 to 45 seats in the House if they offer a forward-leaning message to voters, according to an extensive analysis by Stan Greenberg, who worked as resident Bill Clinton’s primary pollster.

“If Democrats gets it…there’s a potential for immense dividends,” Greenberg said Thursday.

Greenberg’s pitch, dubbed “The Path to Democratic Ascendancy on the Economy,” is based on an extensive poll of 1,500 people, as well as focus-groups where he interviewed voters to assess their concerns. Greenberg says he is now pitching his strategy to Democrats, and they’re receptive. Greenberg is co-founder of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a successful Democratic polling firm.

The voters’ attitudes are being battered by four major factors, including a painful decline in incomes and employment, a sense of betrayal by U.S. companies and political leaders, a judgement that inside-the-Beltway corruption will make economic change impossible, and growing fear of expanding debts, burden and overseas competition. “The Middle Class is smashed,” and only 19 percent of people have a “warm attitude” towards the economy, he said. Sixty-six percent of people have a cold, or negative attitude towards the economy, he said.

No president has been reelected for decades when the unemployment rate exceeds eight percent, he said. Today, the rate is at nine percent, and by alternative estimates, well over 10 percent.

Most Democrats and Republicans see these circumstances as a warm-up to an economic recovery, where each party’s economic prescriptions will be validated or discredited, he said. But the four factors are the new reality, and neither party will gain by citing past problems, he said. “The past is a trap, the debate over the past and financial crash and recovery and what was handed to the country by the Bush administration, is something the country has almost no interest in,” he said.

For example, he said, GOP candidates who use a message that looks back to blame Democrats for the failed stimulus, or slam the president’s medical-sector law, persuades only a minority of voters — roughly in the mid-40s — to look favorably at the candidate.

Backward-looking messages from Democrats also do poorly, he said. The pitch that Democrats “were handed a mess, but are working to get back” scores a favorable rating of 44 percent. The alternative pitch to voters –“don’t go back, things are getting better” — wins a favorable reaction from only 32 percent of voters, he said.

The main Republican narrative, he said, focuses on the need to aid the economy by reducing government spending and the deficit. That wins favorable reactions from 56 percent of people, but once pushed, it deeply damages the GOP’s prospects, he said. For example, the GOP’s embrace of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan has pushed its poll ratings down from 51 percent to 44 percent in only a month, he said. The Democrats’ numbers have remained stuck at 35 percent, he said.