Biden needs a new economic distress message

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It’s time for a change. Not in presidents but in the incumbent’s economic message. There are less than five months left until Election Day, and the first presidential debate is June 27. There’s still time for President Biden to hone a new economic theme on the road in the battleground states before the great debate.

Biden’s approval rating for handling the economy is the biggest obstacle he faces on the way to a second term. That’s the reason the president finds himself in a closely contested race against a convicted felon who nearly destroyed the economy and democracy while he was in the White House.

A new national poll for The Economist indicates that barely over a third of the voters and only a quarter of independent voters approve of President Biden’s handling of jobs and the economy. That’s after he’s created more than 15 million jobs during his presidency. Are Americans ingrates? No. Does the Biden campaign need to do a better job of selling his economic messages? Yes.

He has moved mountains to turn the economy around after it went belly up during the failed Donald Trump presidency. But voters still suffer while Biden’s message team lurched from “Build Back Better” to “Bidenonmics” without much improvement in his presidential performance rating to show for it.

Trump’s indifference to the COVID-19 pandemic left the economy in the gutter. Despite a razor thin majority in the Senate, his successor convinced Congress to enact three ground-breaking laws to jump start the moribund economy. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act helped create more than 15 million jobs, made key investments in America’s economic future and reduced inflation. 

On the stump, the president, a former long-time U.S. senator, brags on his litany of legislative accomplishments and the historic job gains. But he often sounds like the senator he was rather than the president he is.

The Biden economic message is a laundry list full of facts and figures designed to stimulate intellects. Democrats should have learned by now from Trump that emotional appeals stimulate votes.

Americans are angry and pessimistic. There’s little room for unbridled optimism when two out of every three Americans feel the nation is off on the wrong track. Democrats will lose if they dismiss voter concerns about the economy. Democratic empathy and anger are key to the party’s fortunes this year. 

The empathy comes from an acknowledgement from the president that people are still hurting. The anger is needed for an unrelenting attack on corporate monopolies that make record profits while Americans struggle. 

Hillary Clinton ignored the voter financial distress that Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) capitalized on in 2016. President Biden must not make the same mistake that the Democratic presidential nominee made that year.

Much of the impact of the three new laws won’t come for years down the road. The impact will leave the president with a lasting legacy but doesn’t address voters’ immediate concerns about the high cost of living.

He must couple his boast of accomplishments with an acknowledgement that consumers still struggle with sky-high prices for gas and groceries. The inflation report for May was encouraging but the president is still paying the political price for runaway inflation during the first two years of his presidency. 

The president’s fresh economic distress message might go like this: “I know you’re still struggling but we have made lots of progress in the last two and a half years. I feel your pain and if you give me a second term, I’ll redouble my efforts to repair the economic damage that Donald Trump did to you while he was president.” In essence, we have done much but there’s much more to come.

He can drive home his new message with speeches, debate appearances and media ads that demonstrate his empathy with and understanding of the financial struggles that Americans still endure. A new approach would help President Biden in particular and Democrats in general gain support from the many working families that support Trump and Republicans.

Instead of ads with lots of facts and figures, the Biden media and message team could produce a Harry and Louise-style spot which doomed the Clinton health care reform proposal back in the 1990s. The new commercial would portray a couple that got new jobs during the Biden presidency. The pair might talk about their struggle to feed their family but also recognize they are much better off than they were during Trump’s tenure.

Scranton Joe has always done empathy well. He’ll need to do much more of it to win in November.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster, CEO of Bannon Communications Research and the host of the popular progressive podcast on power, politics and policy, Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon.

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