Messaging Economics: How to Win, How to Lose


Felicia Wong, Joseph Stiglitz, Rana Foroohar and Stan Greenberg

While at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I attended an event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute. The institute explains its mission on its website:

Inspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor, the Roosevelt Institute reimagines America as it should be: a place where hard work is rewarded, everyone participates, and everyone enjoys a fair share of our collective prosperity. We believe that when the rules work against this vision, it’s our responsibility to recreate them.

The event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute at the DNC was a panel discussion between Joseph Stigliz and Stan Greenberg, moderated by Rana Foroohar. The primary part of the discussion centered on looking at two economic messages put forth by Hillary Clinton and how these ideas polled relative to election outcomes. The two messages were not all that different; they just took two different approaches. Interestingly, one will win the election, and the other will lose. And, if one is implemented, it could potentially change the course of American economics.

Below, on a slide from the full presentaion, are the quotes used in the polling.


Both “Rewrite the Rules” and “Build on the Progress” are from speeches Clinton made the same week. The “Nationalist Platform” is Donald Trump’s view of the economy. The two Clinton messages were each added to the “Stronger Together” message and polled by Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Part of that polling involved breaking out respondent groups including, but not limited to, Millennials, minorities and unmarried women. The bottom line was that “Rewrite the Rules” polled far better than “Build on the Progress,” especially resonating with the aforementioned groups. It should be noted that the only group in which the “Nationalist Platform” initially performed better was with non-college-educated men and women.

I strongly recommend that you read the full presentation — it’s fascinating. You’ll find out that the more populist message. “Rewrite the Rules,” can give Hillary Clinton a winning margin, while the other message can lose her the election.

The polling indicated what Joseph Stiglitz has been saying for years: that it’s critical not only to rewrite the rules of the current economy, but also to change the rule-writers. We need to reimagine what our economy can be because the current economy doesn’t work the way that we’ve been told it should. Inequality has been a choice of the 1% to prevent full economic participation by everyone else. For example, when we consider “deregulation” of an industry, we see that it is basically the replacement of government regulation with re-regulation by a small group of winners.

Improving the economy is not a zero-sum game, and progressives have a strong argument to talk about economic change that will resonate with the electorate. Then, if people who believe in the new reimagined economy can get nominated, their election can produce a mandate to change the economy for the good of all.

Overall, Stan Greenberg pointed out, the DNC drew 25% more viewers than the RNC, indicating that more people were interested in the Democrats’ message. There is a complete economic disconnect between what the numbers and statistics tell us (unemployment numbers, job growth, etc.) and what people feel about their lives. If we can speak to the electorate in terms of rewriting the rules, in lieu of continuing the current course, even more voters will be attracted to the position.

One of the concrete suggestions for Democratic messaging includes rewriting the bankruptcy law. Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy under the current law. In some states, like New Jersey, a graduate can die and his/her parents will still be liable for the loan. However, Donald Trump can just leave a wake of destruction behind him, declaring business bankruptcy multiple times. Proudly.

Another suggestion is to remove the current first order of derivatives in the bankruptcy law. Wall Street should not be saved at the expense of Main Street.

Next, the best way to deal with deficits is growth. More jobs equals more income to the government that can fuel additional growth. Further, working on climate change can help the economy. One of the ways to help stem climate change is through public transportation, which is lacking in too many places. Often there is a distance from workers to jobs: poor people often cannot get to their jobs because of transportation deficits. Building out infrastructure, such as rail lines, not only creates jobs immediately, but helps to get people to and from jobs along the routes.

One of the most striking points raised at the Roosevelt Institute event was that we’ve had Reaganomics for more than a third of a century — thirty-five years. It hasn’t worked, and it was based on the myth of tax cuts. We need to talk about this epic failure, and look at other options that are more inclusive and will work for the betterment of all.

Donald Trump talks about bringing jobs back to America, although he doesn’t actually have a real plan. His greatest support comes from the least educated people in America, who don’t understand that saying “more jobs” is not the same as having a plan to create them. But people who are more educated, specifically college-educated voters, will likely back Clinton: for the first time in recent history, the majority of their votes are expected to go to the Democratic candidate. Whether enough moderate Republican, college-educated voters will help carry states like Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, and will offset the uneducated voters of both parties in places like Iowa and Ohio remains to be seen. But proper messaging can make the difference.


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