Celinda Lake: Effective Messaging On the Sequester


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Pollster Celinda Lake prepared this presentation for the Campaign for America's Future highlighting recent polling and the best messaging progressives can use in arguing against the federal budget sequestration scheduled to go into effect March 1.

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Celinda Lake: Effective Messaging On the Sequester

  1. 1. Stopping the SequesterFebruary 19th, 2013Celinda LakeWashington, DC | Berkeley, CA | New York, NYLakeResearch.com202.776.9066
  2. 2. Strategic Summary: Context• We have seen major wins with the public on taxes. Voters still believe the wealthiest 2% and big corporations are not paying enough in taxes. We have seen losses in the budget debates with increased salience around deficits and support for across the board cuts.• Voters still believe the budget can be balanced by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse.• We are paying a price for the lack of a comprehensive progressive economic narrative.• When we have candidates that do implement progressive economic policies, they do not talk about them enough. This vacuum of information is filled by Republican talking points on “big government” and “wasteful spending.”• In the near future, we can not allow the sequester and other short term budget gimmicks from Republicans deal fatal blows to Medicare and Social Security. 2
  3. 3. Strategic Summary: Policies• On the idea of reducing the deficit, the public sides with Republicans, but when specific proposals are mentioned they are on our side.• When the public is faced with actual choices to reduce the budget deficit, the only ideas that gain majority approval involve raising taxes on the wealthy, like limiting deductions or raising the tax on investment income. We should not just refer to revenue. The only budget item that voters support cutting is foreign aid.• Reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits for higher income retirees is a much more popular proposal than raising the retirement age, but it would set a dangerous precedent. Voters do support lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.• Cutting defense spending is also an unpopular option, largely driven by resistance from women. Women are very skeptical that the defense budget can be cut without posing a threat to national security in general, but more specifically they worry about the impact on troops and their families.• People like balanced approaches with budget cuts and taxes. 3
  4. 4. Strategic Summary: Strategies• In the big picture, it is important to remember that the debate over the budget deficit is part of a political strategy by the Republican Party.• They made attacking the deficit a political strategy to attack President Obama from the beginning of his first term, when only the most cynical observers would deny that the deficit was left on Obama’s doorstep following the Great Recession and the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush Administration.• They continue to raise it as an issue because it neutralizes the trust the public has with Democrats on protecting Social Security and Medicare.• It is important to shift away from an austerity debate, not only to protect America’s seniors, but also to devote attention and political capital to progressive priorities like the environment, immigration reform, and strengthening gun laws. 4
  5. 5. Strategic Summary: Message• Going forward, there are several key ingredients made up the message frames that led Democrats to victory this cycle and should remain as a component of the Democratic messaging on the economy: – Economic fairness: juxtaposing the windfall profits of a handful of millionaires and billionaires with the steady erosion of America’s working middle class. The best budget arguments contrast tax breaks with a focus on education and protecting Medicare. – Job creation: outlining plans to rebuild the middle class through a Made- in-America agenda and cracking down on job outsourcing, unfair trade deals, and corporate tax loopholes, and making bold investments. – GOP’s wrong priorities: drawing a strong contrast with Republican plans to gut Medicare and education in order to subsidize tax breaks for millionaires. 5
  6. 6. In a survey fielded this past summer, LRP tested two variations of a populist message theme. The “Jobs” message focused on unfair trade deals and corporate loopholes, while the “Fairness” message called for raising the minimum wage and requiring millionaires to pay their fair share of taxes. This was at a time when Democrats were 6-7 points behind Republicans on who would do the best job on the economy. Both messages performed strongly with the Democratic base and swing women. Democratic Populism Messages vs. Republican Economic Frame Populism and Jobs Populism and Fairness 47 47 42 41 +5 +6 33 31 11 32 12 27 Democrats Republicans Undecided Democrats Republicans UndecidedDarker colors indicate intensity. 6Lake Research Partners designed and administered this online survey of 1,581 likely voters nationwide. The survey was conducted across two wavesbetween August 16 -22, 2012. The margin of error is +/-2.5%.
  7. 7. A message attacking the GOP’s plans to cut taxes for millionaires while gutting Medicare and education performs the strongest for voters under 30, while the “Investment” message focusing on education and infrastructure performs especially well with independent voters. Additional Democratic Message Frames vs. GOP Alternative GOP’s Wrong Priorities Long-Term Investment 48 48 41 +7 40 +8 32 11 29 29 12 28 Democrats Republicans Undecided Democrats Republicans UndecidedDarker colors indicate intensity. 7Lake Research Partners designed and administered this online survey of 1,581 likely voters nationwide. The survey was conducted across two wavesbetween August 16 -22, 2012. The margin of error is +/-2.5%.
  8. 8. Democratic MessagesPopulism and JobsDemocrats say that to fix our economy, we need to rebuild the middle class.Republicans want more tax cuts for the rich and companies that ship jobs overseas.That doesn’t work. Instead, create good jobs by making things in America again. Putmultinational corporations on notice – you want to sell here, you’ve got to producehere. End the unfair trade deals and crack down on offshore tax dodges. Invest inareas vital to our economy–innovation and research, education, rebuilding ourdecaying infrastructure–and pay for it by getting millionaires and big corporationsto pay their fair share. Rebuild the middle class and revive the economy.Populism and FairnessDemocrats say the middle class is disappearing, while the richest clean up.Republicans want billions more in tax breaks for the wealthy, paid for by cuts inMedicare and education. That’s wrong. We need to take on the special intereststhat are rigging the rules. Raise the minimum wage. Stop rewarding CEOs forcooking the books. Empower workers to bargain for a fair share of the profits theyhelp produce. Invest in areas vital to our economy–innovation, education, rebuilding our decaying infrastructure–and pay for it bygetting millionaires and big corporations to pay their fair share. This economy needsto work for Americans who work hard and play by the rules. 8
  9. 9. Democratic MessagesGOP’s Wrong PrioritiesDemocrats say our choice couldn’t be clearer. Our top priority should be good jobs torebuild the middle class. But Republicans want to give millionaires another taxcut, and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class and gutting Medicare andeducation. That’s just plain wrong. We should invest in areas vital to our economy–research and innovation, education–and rebuild our decaying infrastructure: ourroads, bridges, schools, and sewers. Pay for this by closing tax loopholes and askingmillionaires and corporations to pay their fair share. Our choices should reflect ourvalues: if you do well in America, you should do right by America.Long-Term InvestmentDemocrats say we need to move on a bold strategy to get this economy goingagain, not short-term schemes that only help corporations and the wealthy. But theRepublican call for slashing spending while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy hasfailed before. We need to start now to make investments vital to a strong economy–innovation and research, education, rebuilding our decaying infrastructure–roads, sewers, schools, and our outdated energy grid. Let’s take half the money wewere spending on war and put millions back to work right here in the United Statesof America, making our country a center for innovation and growth again. 9
  10. 10. Republican MessageRepublicans say Obama has failed. 23 million people are in need ofwork because he’s burdening the economy with wasted spending, bigdeficits, more regulations, and higher taxes. No wonder businessisn’t creating jobs. We say it’s time for new leadership. We needmore freedom, not more regulation. Lower deficits, not morespending. More jobs, not more taxes. We need to roll back theregulations blocking production of oil, coal, gas, and other energyright here in the U.S. Repeal Obamacare, lower taxes, and free upbusinesses to create jobs. Cut spending and move to a balancedbudget. It’s small business, not government, that will get Americagoing again. 10
  11. 11. A series of tracking polls in key swing states shows widespread opposition to the austerity proposals on Medicare and Social Security being discussed in Washington. President Obama did not just win re- election; he won a mandate to protect America’s social safety net. TOTAL OH CO IA NH Proposal Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Ending traditional Medicare 15% 73% 16% 74% 16% 70% 13% 75% 13% 74% Replacing Medicare with a voucher 19% 61% 19% 62% 21% 60% 20% 60% 18% 62% system Privatizing Medicare 26% 55% 22% 59% 28% 54% 28% 52% 27% 54% TOTAL OH CO IA NH Proposal Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Fav Opp Cutting Social Security benefits 9% 84% 5% 89% 12% 79% 9% 82% 8% 85% Cutting Medicaid 13% 78% 15% 77% 12% 80% 14% 77% 10% 79% Cutting Medicaid, the program that provides health insurance and 16% 76% 15% 79% 21% 72% 15% 74% 15% 79% nursing home care for low-income families 11Lake Research Partners designed and administered these surveys, which were conducted by telephone using professional interviewers. The surveys reachedapproximately 400 adults in OH, CO, IA, and NH, 18 years or older, who were registered and likely to vote in the 2012 General Election. The surveys wereconducted between October 18th and November 4th, 2012. The margin of error for each poll is +/-4.9%.
  12. 12. A narrow plurality of the American people say reducing the budget deficit is moreimportant than spending to help the economy recover. Fifty-two percent ofindependents and nearly one-third (30%) of Democrats favor reducing thebudget deficit. There is a consensus across party lines on using a balancedapproach. 12
  13. 13. Republicans made a strategic choice to undermine Obama’s agenda by attacking him for the budget deficit very early in his term, and it worked. His approval rating on the federal budget deficit went down his first year in office and has never recovered. Quotes by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during Obama’s first 100 days: “We have been on an incredible spending spree…we’re spending money at a very, very rapid pace, far beyond anything in history.” -February 23rd 2009 "In just one month, the Democrats have spent more than President Bush spent in seven years on the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina combined." - February 27th 2009 in a speech at CPAC "The nations debt is at its highest level ever, but under the administrations budget, the amount of public debt will double in five years and triple in 10.” -April 20th 2009 13Source: Gallup
  14. 14. As the Presidential campaign winded down and the self-imposed deadlines like the fiscal cliff and sequestration took up more attention, the public naturally reacted to the deficit being a more important problem. 14Source: Gallup
  15. 15. The pubic trusts Democrats more on Social Security and Medicare, and even gives them the advantage on the historically Republican turf of taxes. However, the parties are in a statistical tie when asked who can handle the deficit. The Democrats’ advantages on Social Security, Medicare, and taxes will all be irrelevant if the public trusts Republicans to cut the deficit. 15Source: Pew
  16. 16. There is a large partisan split on methods to reduce the deficit, although it is notable that even the conservative ideas barely register majority support among Republicans. 16Source: Pew Research Center
  17. 17. Obama outperformed Democrats in Congress on who would do better on Social Security against Republicans in Congress, particularly among seniors and independents. Who Would Better Handle Social Security? Republicans in Congress Republicans in Congress Democrats in Congress President Obama All Voters 34 40 All Voters +6 31 42 +11 Independents 28 Indepednents 34 +6 21 34 +13 Under 30 32 42 Under +10 30 27 36 +9 30 to 39 24 42 30 to+18 39 25 40 +15 40 to 49 27 41 40 to +14 49 23 51 +28 50 to 64 38 40 50 to +2 64 37 40 +3 Over 65 46 31 Over -15 65 36 44 +8 17LRP designed and administered this pre-election and election night omnibus survey, which was conducted by phone using professional interviewers.The survey reached a total of 1,200 likely, registered voters nationwide. The sample consisted of 1,000 interviews among voters who were reachedon landline phones & 200 interviews among voters reached on cell phones. The survey was conducted November 4th through November 6th, 2012.
  18. 18. Older voters were more divided on Medicare and gave Democrats less of an advantage, but younger voters and independents believed Obama would better handle Medicare by large margins. Who Would Better Handle Medicare? Republicans in Congress Republicans in Congress Democrats in Congress President Obama All Voters 35 40 All Voters +5 32 42 +10Independents 31 Indepednents 29 -2 21 36 +15 Under 30 33 41 Under +8 30 20 40 +20 30 to 39 25 37 30 to+12 39 25 42 +17 40 to 49 32 43 40 to +11 49 27 47 +20 50 to 64 40 38 50 to -2 64 42 41 -1 Over 65 46 36 Over -10 65 43 42 -1 18
  19. 19. It is likely Republicans will try to exploit the narrow approval for reduced benefits for “high-income” seniors as justification for larger cuts. It is imperative to emphasize that the government has an obligation to protect seniors who have paid into these programs their entire lives. 19Source: Pew Research Center
  20. 20. Three-quarters of voters believe we are spending too much on foreign assistance, and a plurality believe we spend too much on the Pentagon budget. There is more traction for reducing the Pentagon budget than the defense or military budget. Right Amount 12 25 33 35 18 28 12 16 28 18 Not enough Too much *Split sample question 20Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting designed and administered this survey which was conducted by phone usingprofessional interviewers. The survey reached a total of 800 likely voters nationwide. The survey was conducted April 17-22, 2012.Please tell me if you think the federal government spends too much, not enough, or spends about the right amount on each of the following?
  21. 21. A majority of voters say it is not possible to cut military spending without negatively impacting troops and their families, and nearly half say it is not possible to cut the Pentagon budget. Women are more unsure about the impact cuts will have. Net DK -18 9 -15 6 -21 12 -8 12 -7 5 -10 18 No Yes *Split sample question 21Is it possible to cut military spending and not negatively impact the troops and their families?Is it possible to cut the Pentagon budget and not negatively impact the troops and their families?
  22. 22. Voters express deep concern about cutting funding that directly impacts the troops. Men Women Total +73 +74 +73 Across every demographic and attitudinal subgroup, at least a majority of voters are very concerned about cutting funding that directly impacts troops. *Split sample question 22How concerned would you be about cutting funding that directly impacts the troops -- very concerned, somewhatconcerned, a little concerned, or not concerned at all?
  23. 23. The sentiment that it is personally important to protect our troops and veterans from cuts is near universal. Men Women Total +91 +89 +93 Across every demographic and attitudinal subgroup, at least two-thirds of voters believe it is very important to protect our troops and veterans from cuts. *Split sample question 23If we reduce military spending, how personally important is it to you to protect our troops and veterans from cuts -- veryimportant, somewhat important, a little important, or not important at all?
  24. 24. Beyond the damage it would due to America’s most vulnerable citizens, unnecessary focus on the budget deficit is already diverting attention away from progressive priorities like immigration reform and strengthening gun laws. 24Source: Pew Research Center
  25. 25. Washington, DC | Berkeley, CA | New York, NYLakeResearch.com202.776.9066Celinda Lakeclake@lakeresearch.com