What Should Democrats Say About Jobs?


Greg Sargent reports today on work by Priorities USA to figure out why so many people who voted for Obama in 2012 turned around and voted for Trump in 2016:

One finding from the polling stands out: A shockingly large percentage of these Obama-Trump voters said Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy — twice the percentage that said the same about Trump. I was also permitted to view video of some focus group activity, which showed Obama-Trump voters offering sharp criticism of Democrats on the economy.

….The poll found that Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are working-class whites and were pivotal to Trump’s victory, are economically losing ground and are skeptical of Democratic solutions to their problems.

I’m afraid I can’t find this very interesting without answers to a few questions:

  • How many voters switched from Obama to Trump? Are we talking 5 percent? 1 percent? Less?1
  • How does this compare to other years? Is it unusually high?
  • How does this compare to other years after a party has held the White House for eight years?

That said, let’s assume this is a problem. What should Democrats do about it? Here’s my take: above all, these folks want steady, secure jobs. Health care is great. Free college is great. Childcare is great. All that stuff is great, but it’s not fundamentally what drives the votes of these party switchers. What they want to hear about is jobs. They want their old-time good jobs back.

Trump had a good message on jobs: the Chinese stole them from you and I’ll get them back. This is not an especially correct message, but it’s both plausible and galvanizing. It works.

So what should the Democrats’ message be? What policy would plausibly and directly impact the likelihood of these “left behind” folks getting good, steady jobs again? There’s trade, of course, which Bernie Sanders raised in the primaries, but I think Trump has that one covered. It needs to be something else. But what?

If it takes more than a sentence or so to explain, it’s no good. If it’s couched in liberalese, it’s no good. If it’s not viscerally plausible, it’s no good. If it’s about “retraining,” it’s no good. If it’s gobbledegook about the changing world, it’s no good. If it’s not directly focused on getting a good job, it’s no good.

Any ideas?

1Please note my admirable restraint in not mentioning that if it weren’t for James Comey, Hillary Clinton would have won and the number of vote switchers would probably have been minuscule.