Home Budget, Economy “Dems are winning the war of substance but losing the vibes war”

“Dems are winning the war of substance but losing the vibes war”

The U.S. economy, for instance, is a "miracle of high wage growth, GDP growth, markets up, unemployment down, inflation tanking, spending & consumption through the roof" - yet many voters aren't aware of this.


One of the great frustrations in following  – or being heavily involved in – U.S. politics is the relentless, even maddening, phenomenon whereby blame and credit for actual, empirical, real-world events is not appropriately allocated by the media (or by voters) to political parties.

For instance, here in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin was somehow elected in November 2021, despite being a member of an increasingly far-right/outlier party, not to mention embracing Donald Trump, who just 11 months earlier had literally tried to OVERTHROW OUR DEMOCRACY in a violent insurrection, and despite espousing many hard-right views (on women’s reproductive freedom and pretty much every other topic). Of course, the media almost COMPLETELY failed to convey those realities to its readers/viewers/listeners, allowing Youngkin to run millions of dollars in ads pretending to be a normal, suburban basketball dad and “nice guy.” And it worked, thanks largely to massive “mainstream media” failure.

In the U.S. as as whole, right now we see this phenomenon playing out yet again, on a wide range of issues.  The result is that polls show Donald Trump, who is a menace to our democracy and increasingly unhinged/extremist, actually running neck-and-neck with Joe Biden. Wildly disturbing. And this, despite the fact that if it really were “the economy, stupid,” and if Trump’s extreme danger to America were fully understand by most Americans, Joe Biden should be ahead by 30, 40, 50 – hell, 100! – points. And yet…that’s not the case, thanks largely to failures by the “mainstream media.”

Case in point: as explained by economist David Rothschild over on Threads:

“by any objective measure, faced with twin crisis of COVID & Russian invasion of Ukraine, compared with every other developed country: US economy is miracle of high wage growth, GDP growth, markets up, unemployment down, inflation tanking, spending & consumption through the roof. You can find people suffering in any economy, important to consider their struggles, but overall **Mainstream Media misinforming US about state of economy by exclusively highlighting negative anecdotes & sentiment**”

In short, when it comes to the economy where U.S. public opinion is badly out of step with objective, verifiable, demonstrable reality. Here’s David Roberts on this bizarre and highly damaging phenomenon:

“Substantive accomplishments — even the ones the public says on polls they want/like — are not enough, in & of themselves, to win political approval. They don’t advertise themselves or tell their own story. The channels through which the public has traditionally been informed about political accomplishments have become fragmented, polluted, and dominated by lavishly funded right wingers. They can’t be relied on. Evidence for 1 & 2 are everywhere. Most Americans are simply unaware of what Dems have done. They think Dems are doing nothing when they’ve accomplished a historic amount; they think everything sucks when every econ indicator is moving in the right direction.”

How bad is the disconnect? Check this out:

Thus, for a while now, we’ve had U.S. unemployment rates near 50-year lows, with the core personal consumption price expenditures index having fallen “near the Fed’s 2% target,” etc. Or, as President Biden posted this morning, “Inflation was 0% last month – and our economy grew by more than 5% last quarter.”

So why are Americans’ views of the economy not reflecting this highly encouraging reality? Part of it is that people are still frustrated due to higher prices resulting from COVID-related supply-chain bottlenecks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, etc. Which means that although inflation has largely fallen close to Federal Reserve target levels, prices are still higher – although of course, so are wages – than pre-pandemic. Not that this should be surprising, since unless we have actual DEFLATION – which, by the way, is a very bad thing (normally the result of a massive economic collapse, depression, Great Recession, etc.) – we almost never have prices broadly going down (see this chart, which illustrates the point). And, of course, interest rates are higher than they were pre-pandemic, which makes items (e.g., homes) bought on credit/a mortgage more expensive, although higher interest rates ALSO are good for earning money off of Certificates of Deposit, bonds, etc.

In sum: although obviously there are always going to problems – income inequality (which got worse over the past few decades thanks in large part to right-wing economic policies such as “trickle-down” economics and making the tax code much less progressive), poverty, etc. – right now, looking at the U.S. economy from a historical (or international) perspective, we’re in a very strong situation. That’s even more impressive when you consider the mess we were in back in 2020, with the COVID pandemic-induced sharp economic downturn, and the post-pandemic supply-chain and other issues that caused inflation to spike around the world (e.g., it had nothing to do with any one country’s macroeconomic policies), on a short-term basis, but still painful. So why the disconnect with Americans’ views of the economy – and what can be done about it? Here’s more on the subject from David Roberts, with whom I strongly agree.

“Most Americans are simply unaware of what Dems have done. They think Dems are doing nothing when they’ve accomplished a historic amount; they think everything sucks when every econ indicator is moving in the right direction.

In other words, Dems are winning the war of substance but losing the vibes war, largely because they don’t seem to realize that those two fights have drifted almost entirely apart. The connection between them is attenuated at best.

Thus (the point of this thread & the whole debate): ***Dems need to engage in the vibes war in earnest***. Policy accomplishments (while, to be clear, I quite enjoy!) are not sufficient or even particularly good weapons in that war. They do not win the argument.

The vibes war must be fought on the battlefied of vibes. That means thinking seriously about where people get their information/views/mood & *getting in there*. It means consistent, long-term party branding: Dems good; Rs bad. It means telling emotional stories.

I don’t have any clever capsule summary of how to win the vibes war. All I (and others) are trying to do is orient people to it, get people thinking about it, break people of bad & ineffective habits of thinking & communication. Step one to winning it is fighting it!

Tiktoks, Facebook groups, memes, Twitch channels, YouTube dating advice, bro-y tech podcasts … it’s time for grownups in the Dem coalition to stop dismissing all that stuff as a silly sideshow. That’s where worldviews are being formed! It’s where vibes happen. Get in there.”

Unfortunately, far too many Democrats – despite massive evidence to the contrary – STILL seem to think that the “mainstream media” is somehow going to report the news accurately, in a non-biased-against-Democrats way, and that the public will absorb that accurate reporting and allocate credit (to Democrats) appropropriately. For more on why THAT theory won’t work, see the excellent book, Democracy for Realists, which explains how, in fact, “voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues.” And, as the book shows, most voters don’t really know which party did what exactly, who should get credit or blame, etc. Plus, of course, the media is constantly downplaying Democratic accomplishments, while doing the opposite when a Republican (e.g., Trump) is in the White House. In short, the entire theory of many Democrats regarding how Democratic accomplishments will be properly recognized and rewarded is just…wrong, or at least hasn’t been working for many years now. Time to change, before it’s too late.





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