Should Democrats Use Class Warfare to Win the Midterms?

June 17, 2018

 

 

In a word—no. The reason I raise this subject is because many democrats have positioned themselves as candidates driving an “us vs. them” narrative. While I agree with the view that there is an “us vs. them” dynamic in regard to political elites versus the average voter, corporations versus the individual, and even the Trump administration versus establishment republicans, democrats need to be wary of using such strategies this fall.

 

Why?

 

Because of the so called "American Dream." While few will admit it, the narrative of the American Dream can be quite deceptive. It tells us that as long as we work hard and play by the rules, we can get ahead financially. But this simply isn't true. Maybe it once was, but not in today's America. The only reason it has prevailed generation after generation is because it gives hope, albeit false hope, to those at the bottom of the income spectrum. 

 

We see it in opinion polls. Take, for instance, taxes—specifically the estate tax and personal income tax. While the estate tax only applies to slightly more than 11,000 households annually (households being pre-2017 estates valued at over $5.5 million—now $11 million as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act), 60% of voters favor eliminating the estate tax. The same goes for income tax progressivity. Many voters believe personal income taxes are unfairly high even though our effective rates are in line with, or lower than, other developed countries around the world. Even the disproportionally rich-friendly Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is supported by 40% of voters—with voters citing “increased after tax income” as their primary reason for support, despite any noticible increases in take home pay.

 

My point is that, during campaigns, perception is reality. As long as voters believe they will one day be rich, they won't support political attacks on the currently rich. And while democrats would like to portray recent tax legislation as giveaways to the wealthy at the expense of lower and middle income taxpayers, this isn’t the view of many lower and middle income voters. Rather than deploying a Marxian political strategy that frames Trump and republicans as the bourgeoisie getting rich on the backs of the hard working proletariat (even if true), democrats would be better served by highlighting republicans’ recent policy injustices such as decreasing Medicaid coverage, failing to propose reasonable solutions to illegal immigration, and ignoring the long-term fiscal impact of tax cuts. This strategy isn't sexy. But, it will be more effective in persuading independents and liberal republicans to vote democrat this fall.

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