An influential analysis of national polling data by Professors Ellis and Stimson suggests that the most effective candidate in a national election would combine the most popular feature of the Democratic Party, progressive economic policies, with the most popular feature of the Republican Party: the invocation of conservative ideology and values like patriotism, family and the “American dream.”
But are candidates free to mix and match their policies with their symbolic politics? If a Democratic candidate pursued such a mixed strategy, would it work? Or would it make him or her seem hypocritical or incoherent?
To investigate these questions we conducted two experiments, one using a nationally representative sample of Americans, in which we looked at Americans’ support for “Scott Miller,” a hypothetical 2020 Democratic nominee. The participants in our studies were presented with excerpts from Scott Miller’s speeches — but we systematically varied the content of the speeches to analyze the effects of policy platform and symbolic politics.
We found that the most effective Democratic candidate would speak in terms of conservative values while proposing progressive economic policies — with some of our evidence suggesting that endorsing highly progressive policies would be best.
In our studies, we varied Scott Miller’s economic policy platform, portraying him to some participants as moderately progressive and to others as highly progressive. The highly progressive version of Scott Miller proposed a large minimum wage increase, generous paid family leave, a huge jobs program and the expansion of Medicare to cover all uninsured Americans. The more moderate version favored smaller versions of the minimum wage increase, family leave program and jobs program, and wanted to defend the Affordable Care Act in its current form.
We also varied how Scott Miller talked about his candidacy and his policies, portraying him to some participants as expressing “liberal values” and to others as expressing “conservative values.” In the “liberal values” version, he emphasized his commitment to “principles of economic justice, fairness and compassion,” saying that his policies would be effective in stopping “corporations from exploiting working people.” In the “conservative values” version, he celebrated family and community as “sacred,” vowing to promote freedom and the dignity of hard-working Americans and to “restore the American dream.”
Our studies found that the degree of support for Scott Miller wasn’t much affected by whether his policy platform was highly progressive or more moderate. Overall, people showed a slight preference for the highly progressive candidate, but this result was small and statistically significant only in one of our studies.
What mattered far more was how Scott Miller talked about those policies. We found that when he spoke of his platform in terms of conservative values like patriotism, family and the American dream, he consistently drew more support than did the Scott Miller who couched those same policies in more liberal values like economic justice and compassion.
Interestingly, most of the increase in support for the Scott Miller with conservative values came from participants who identified as moderate as well as those who identified as conservative. Notably, liberals were inclined to support the candidate regardless of which rhetorical approach he took.
These results suggest that the most effective Democratic challenger to President Trump in 2020 would invoke conservative values while offering progressive economic policies.
The Democratic Party needs a nominee, but right now it has a train wreck instead. The front-runner seems too old for the job and is poised to lose the first two primary season contests. The woman who was supposed to become the front-runner on the basis of her policy chops is sliding in the polls after thoroughly botching her health care strategy. The candidate rising in her place is a 37-year-old mayor of a tiny, not-obviously-thriving city.
Meanwhile several seemingly electable alternatives have failed to catch fire; the party establishment is casting about for other options; and not one but two billionaires are spending millions to try to buy delegates for a brokered convention … which is a not-entirely-unimaginable endgame for the party as it prepares to face down Donald Trump.
The state of the Democratic field reflects the weaknesses of the individual candidates, but it also reflects the heterogenous nature of the Democratic coalition, whose electorate has many more demographic divisions than the mostly white and middle-class and aging G.O.P., and therefore occasionally resembles the 19th-century Hapsburg empire in the challenge it poses to aspiring leaders.
The theory of the Kamala Harris candidacy, whose nosedive was the subject of a withering pre-mortem from three of my colleagues over Thanksgiving, was that she was well suited to accomplish this unification through the elixir of her female/minority/professional class identities — that she would embody the party’s diversity much as Barack Obama did before her, and subsume the party’s potential tensions under the benevolent stewardship of a multicultural managerialism.
That isn’t happening. But it’s still reasonable for Democratic voters to look for someone who can do a version of what Harris was supposed to do, and build a coalition across the party’s many axes of division.
And there’s an interesting case that the candidate best positioned to do this — the one whose support is most diverse right now — is the candidate whom Obama allegedly promised to intervene against if his nomination seemed likely: the resilient Socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
Like other candidates, Sanders’s support has a demographic core: Just as Elizabeth Warren depends on very liberal professionals and Joe Biden on older minorities and moderates, Bernie depends intensely on the young. But his polling also shows an interesting better-than-you-expect pattern, given stereotypes about his support. He does better-than-you-expect with minorities despite having struggled with them in 2016, with moderate voters and $100K-plus earners despite being famously left-wing, and with young women despite all the BernieBro business.
This pattern explains why, in early-state polling, Sanders shows the most strength in very different environments — leading Warren everywhere in the latest FiveThirtyEight average, beating Biden in Iowa and challenging him in more-diverse Nevada, matching Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire and leading him easily in South Carolina and California.
Now, I have stacked the argument slightly, and left out a crucial axis of division where Sanders does worse than you expect: He struggles badly with his fellow Social Security recipients, the over-65. This weakness and Biden’s strength with these same voters are obvious reasons to doubt the case for Bernie as the unifier, Bernie as the eventual nominee.
Especially since Sanders has thus far ignored my advice (I know, the nerve) that he reassure skeptics by telling them that he has a record as a dealmaker, that he can moderate on certain issues, so they can feel safe supporting him even if they aren’t ready for the revolution.
But still: If you are a wavering Democrat concerned about both party unity and ultimate electability, about exciting all the diverse factions of your base while also competing for the disaffected, both the relative breadth of Bernie’s primary coalition and his decent polling among non-voters and Obama-Trump voters are reasons to give him another look.
That decent polling, I suspect, reflects a sense among voters drawn to populism that Bernie is different from not only the more centrist candidates — latecomers Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick especially, but Buttigieg as well — but also from his fellow left-winger, Warren, who has fully embraced the culture-war breadth of the new progressivism while Sanders remains, fundamentally, an economic-policy monomaniac.
He’s still a social liberal, of course, and he isn’t in the culturally conservative/economic populist quadrant where so many unrepresented voters reside. But for the kind of American who is mostly with the Democrats on economics but wary of progressivism’s zest for culture war, Sanders’s socialism might be strangely reassuring — as a signal of what he actually cares about, and what battles he might eschew for the sake of his anti-plutocratic goals. (At the very least he’s no more radical on an issue like abortion than a studied moderate like Mayor Pete.)
This is why, despite technically preferring a moderate like Biden or Amy Klobuchar, I keep coming back to the conservative’s case for Bernie — which rests on the perhaps-wrong but still attractive supposition that he’s the liberal most likely to spend all his time trying to tax the rich and leave cultural conservatives alone.
Included in the question of supporting M4A, is there a question of whether you would support taxes going up to support it?
We find that Medicare for All could be financed with:
A 32 percent payroll tax
A 25 percent income surtax
A 42 percent value-added tax (VAT)
A mandatory public premium averaging $7,500 per capita – the equivalent of $12,000 per individual not otherwise on public insurance
More than doubling all individual and corporate income tax rates
An 80 percent reduction in non-health federal spending
A 108 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase in the national debt
Impossibly high taxes on high earners, corporations, and the financial sector
A combination of approaches
Regardless of its impact on national health expenditures, Medicare for All would shift substantial costs from the private sector to the federal government. By most estimates, a comprehensive Medicare for All plan that expands coverage to every U.S. resident for nearly all medical services and eliminates premiums and cost sharing would cost the federal government roughly $30 trillion over a decade.
Policymakers have a number of options available to finance the $30 trillion cost of Medicare for All, but each option would come with its own set of trade-offs.
In this preliminary analysis, we estimate the cost could be covered with a 32 percent payroll tax, a 25 percent income surtax, a 42 percent value-added tax, or a public premium averaging $7,500 per capita or more than $12,000 per individual who wouldn’t otherwise be enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP. Medicare for All could also be paid for by more than doubling individual and corporate income tax rates, reducing federal spending by 80 percent, or increasing the national debt by 108 percent of GDP. Tax increases on high earners, corporations, and the financial sector by themselves could not cover much more than one-third of the cost of Medicare for All.
Rather than adopting any one of the proposals above, policymakers could also consider a combination of approaches to finance Medicare for All. Reducing the cost, scope, or generosity of Medicare for All would also reduce the magnitude of needed financing.
In deciding how to finance Medicare for All, policymakers must consider the distributional, economic, and policy consequences of replacing premiums and cost sharing with various alternatives. Most of the options we put forward are more progressive on average than current law but would shrink economic output and bring the top tax rate up to its revenue-maximizing level – leaving little capacity for further taxes.
Moreover, do you have proof the DNC would rather lose to Trump than support a progressive?