Someone once asked humorist Will Rogers about his politics. Rogers replied, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. . .I’m a Demmycrat!”
The joke was that Rogers was a Democrat, but that the party was never very well “organized.” It has been that way for most of history, on the national scene, although there have been effective “political machines” on the local level.
Republicans, on the other hand, always have a plan. For instance, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was a clear program of what the party wanted to achieve. More recently, in a response to the election of Barack Obama, a segment of Republicans formed the “Tea Party,” which burst onto the scene in 2010, with clear ideals. They are still strong in the party, forming the Freedom Caucus in Congress.
Now, for the first time in decades, Democrats have some energy. Let’s call the Democratic version of the Tea Party–the “Pot Party.” Many Republicans are rubbing their hands, excited by what they see as suicidal extremism. They foresee a repeat of the Barry Goldwater loss in 1964 or the George McGovern loss in 1972. But the difference is that in those two cases, the candidate was a leader—without a strong following. This year’s progressive movement is more like the Tea Party—with significant grassroots support and mass public approval.
We find that the punditry has vastly underestimated the potential of an unabashedly left progressive agenda. Four issues stood out in our polling as issues that have strong and durable support.
–Creating generic versions of life-saving drugs has a whopping net 30 percent support among eligible voters (51 percent support, 21 percent oppose).
–A public option for internet, a proposal that Abdul El-Sayed has campaign on in Michigan, has net 39 percent support (56 percent support, 16 percent oppose).
–A job guarantee, which is supported by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders is quite popular, with 55 percent of eligible voters in support and only 23 percent opposed. . .
–ending cash bail has a net positive support of 21 points (45 percent in support and 24 percent opposed). Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders have both unveiled legislation that would end cash bail, which leads hundreds of thousands of people to be locked out despite never being convicted of a crime.
Surprisingly, progressive policy popularity is not limited to big cities. Some of the issues are strong with Trump supporters. Even non-voters.
Perhaps most importantly, these four policies are popular across urban, suburban and rural geographies. Two of the key policies, generic pharmaceuticals and a public option for internet are actually more popular among rural voters than urban and suburban voters. . .
Our generic drugs proposal is popular with Trump voters (47 percent support, 31 percent oppose), a rare example of Trump supporters expressing positive views of a proposal that would most likely be associated with Democrats. Public internet also had support among Trump voters (43 percent in support, 28 percent oppose) and is one of the most broadly popular policies we have polled. . .
These four policies have potential to win over persuadable voters, but they also have immense potential among non-voters. All of these policies have net support among non-voters, suggesting that Democrats could walk and chew gum at the same time – winning over persuadable voters while engaging with non-voters who might be interested in some new policies.
Even the “universal basic income” is popular among unexpected groups. The concept was once promoted by Richard Nixon, in 1969, and is popular today.
The universal basic income is most popular among working class people of color, followed by college educated people of color. The proposal has net support among working class whites (among whites, the lowest education group had the highest support for universal basic income), but was rejected by college-educated whites.
Meanwhile, doing something about student debt is even more popular, as well as increased spending on education.
The Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey asked Americans to prioritize six educational policy areas, and according to a bipartisan majority—79 percent—”finding ways to lessen student debt” should be the top priority. That belief was backed by 87 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans who said tackling student debt was “extremely important.” . . .
The poll also revealed strong support for “increasing spending on K-12 public education.” Overall, 76 percent of respondents said it was an extremely important priority, landing it the number two spot. That strong backing came from 88 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans.
On a series of issues, the public is tilting left.
• Racial and religious tolerance: 86 percent of Americans believe a significant part of being “truly American” is accepting people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds, according to a poll released this month by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic.
• Acceptance of nonwhite people: 78 percent say that being of Western European heritage is not important to being American, according to that same PRRI survey.
• Ending mandatory minimum prison sentences: 75 percent of Americans back this idea, according to the PRRI survey.
• The U.S. is a “nation of immigrants”: 73 percent of Americans hold this view, according to a January 2018 HuffPost/YouGov poll.
• Allowing felons to vote after they have finished their sentences: 63 percent of adults “strongly” or “somewhat” support such a policy, according to a March 2018 HuffPost/YouGov survey.
• Programs to increase racial diversity on college campuses are a good thing: 71 percent of Americans agree with that notion, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll.
• Optimism about bridging racial divides: 66 percent of Americans are optimistic that people of different racial and religious backgrounds can work together to solve the country’s problems, according to the February 2019 PRRI report.
• Allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens: 62 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship if undocumented immigrants meet certain requirements, according to that same PRRI survey.
• The country has not done enough to give equal rights to blacks: 61 percent of Americans hold this view, according to the 2017 Pew poll.
• Muslims have a disadvantage for getting ahead in the U.S.: 60 percent of Americans agree with that statement, according to a 2018 Associated Press-NORC poll.
• White people do have some advantage for getting ahead in the U.S.: 60 percent agree, according to that same AP-NORC poll.
• Separating children from their parents at the border is a human rights violation: 60 percent of Americans agree with that statement, according to a July 2018 Quinnipiac University poll.
More than anything else, Democrats say they just want to beat Trump, so they may be flexible on issues. That’s important, since many frustrated Bernie fans sat out the 2016 election, or voted for Jill Stein–one out of ten Bernie fans voted for Trump. Thus, progressives may be willing to vote for a centrist this time. But, is that the winning way?
Americans always want change. In 1960, when Richard Nixon correctly told people, “you’ve never had it so good,” the public still threw out the Republicans, in favor of the attractive, young JFK.
For the first time in decades, there’s real energy on the Democratic side, thanks to what we just dubbed “The Pot Party.” Bernie Sanders grabbed the imagination of a lot of the public in 2016. It may be that an “outrageous” progressive candidate (a left version of Donald Trump) may be the winning candidate in 2020.