Washington Post: “Can Democrats Sell Biden’s Agenda? New Ads Test a Different Approach.”

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Sargent: “The ads seek to directly address voter concerns about inflation, and then quickly pivot to a specific recitation of how Biden’s agenda will bring down costs on multiple fronts”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on a new, nearly $2.5 million TV ad campaign from Building Back Together highlighting how the Build Back Better Act will lower the cost of living for American families — cutting health care costs, lowering the price of prescription drugs, saving Americans money on their utility bills, and more. The ad, “Looking Out for Working Families,” comes as the President continues to work to bring down costs for families, including by pushing to pass the Build Back Better Act as swiftly as possible.

The story underscores how the ad campaign “seek[s] to directly address voter concerns about inflation” while communicating that the Build Back Better Act is funded by “getting the wealthy to pay what they already owe.”

Read the story below:

The Washington Post: Opinion: Can Democrats sell Biden’s agenda? New ads test a different approach.
Greg Sargent
December 7, 2021

With President Biden’s approval rating languishing, Democrats have been asking themselves for weeks: How can Biden get credit for an economy that is clearly recovering but that voters have nonetheless gone sour about?

An ad campaign from a Democratic group attempts to answer to this question. At its core, the dilemma is how Democrats can connect with voters amid an economic story that is complicated, sending conflicting signals and still in flux, with Biden’s agenda on the verge of passage but still bogged down in Congress.

The ads come from Building Back Together, a Democratic group whose mission is to sell the Build Back Better agenda. Backed by nearly $2.5 million, the ads will run mostly in major markets in states with big 2022 Senate contests, such as Arizona, New Hampshire and Nevada.

The ads seek to directly address voter concerns about inflation, and then quickly pivot to a specific recitation of how Biden’s agenda will bring down costs on multiple fronts:

Note that the ads don’t directly say inflation is a problem. But they clearly speak to the difficulties it is creating for people. It then discusses how BBB will reduce health care and prescription drug costs (via expanded Affordable Care Act subsidies and allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices) and give people a tax cut (with the expanded child tax credit).

The ads also tout provisions that would fund that agenda by getting the wealthy to pay what they already owe (via beefed up IRS enforcement), to defuse the GOP attack that Biden will raise taxes on ordinary Americans.

You can think of these ads as an effort to answer a conundrum: How to address the fact that the economy is in many ways rebounding, even as this is being obscured for voters by inflation and snarled supply chains.

As Neil Irwin reports, this is the fundamental contradiction of the Biden economy. Wealth and income are rising, job prospects are brightening, and workers feel a newfound sense of mobility, yet people remain scarred by inflation and a kind of PTSD from the covid-19 deep freeze.

This has created a tough messaging challenge. Democratic strategist Dan Pfeiffer notes that the Biden economy is “narratively complicated”: It’s making historic levels of progress after that deep freeze, yet people feel deeply unsettled by difficulties that flow in large part from the very fact that the economy has been getting up and running so quickly.

Matt Hogan, a pollster at ALG Research, which did the polling that informed these ads, straightforwardly notes the challenge. It’s to acknowledge voter concerns — since you can’t pretend those don’t exist — while simultaneously making a bullish case that Biden’s agenda is in the process of improving people’s lives.

“Rising costs are obviously a dominant concern among voters right now,” Hogan told me. “That’s why this agenda addresses those concerns. We wanted to make sure with these ads to highlight to folks how it goes about doing that.”

All this speaks to another complexity. Largely because two centrist Democratic senators have held up BBB, its overall story has been one of ugly congressional sausage-making and bitter factional party infighting rather than delivering concrete benefits to people.

Hogan noted that voters aren’t sufficiently aware of those benefits; while they understand a bill is being debated, they’re not clear on its specifics. So the ads are designed to make sure they know that BBB will address “their most pressing economic concerns,” Hogan said.

If and when it passes, it will indeed confer benefits on millions and millions of people. As Ron Brownstein shrewdly observes, when this happens, it will test a core political assumption of Biden and Democrats: “that delivering material benefits to economically strained families will win back voters drawn to conservative Republican messages on cultural and racial issues.”

The trouble, of course, is that the very fact that Republicans are laying down such dense fog-of-war messaging on cultural and racial issues — along with their daily drumbeat about how inflation is destroying the country — is surely another reason that the concrete specifics of Biden’s agenda are failing to break through.

If and when Democrats pass that agenda, it will surely help matters. But it will still require an epic push to punch the truth about it through all that noise.