On the eve of “(Possibly) Decisive Tuesday”, whether a campaign sets a poverty goal probably doesn’t matter.
Yet, it’s helpful (for our work) to continue this dialogue about
whether it was a good plan for Senator Clinton to announce her goal to
cut poverty at all.
Is it a good strategy? Shawn suggests that Senator Clinton needed to
have a plan in the primary and cites a Huffington Post commentary
written by a former Edwards campaign staffer as evidence.
A few reactions:
- Voters are not clamoring for this – even in the primary, and even
in the hard hit areas of southeastern Ohio, where poverty rates are
relatively high. In February, the Gallup Poll asked voters about “the most important problem facing the country” and just 2 percent named poverty/hunger/homelessness.
The dynamic might (possibly!) be different if the primary had
come down to a race between Clinton and Edwards. In that case, the
target for cutting poverty might have been used by Edwards to
illustrate a difference between the candidates. But, that isn’t where
we ended up. Moreover, in that scenario, the campaign would likely have
undermined the party and the policy goals…given what we know about
opposition to the policies and voter preferences.
- We know that some people (democrats and low-income voters) are persuaded by the sympathy frame (the one that the word “poverty” calls up for voters) to support a limited set of policies. But, this language actually decreases support for a living wage. Moreover, we also know that an economic lens moves these same voters and others to support more of our policy goals!
So, if there is no true demand for a goal to cut poverty and it
won’t help add new voters, why not use an economic case to promote the
same larger policy agenda without a damaging poverty
headline? (In fact, the Clinton campaign appears to have included most
of the same policy in an earlier announcement about her economic plans.)
- Why does this matter at all? Maybe it doesn’t. But, I’m afraid it
could. And I’d prefer a candidate who is thinking beyond the next
primary and stays focused on the goal of building political space and
public will for the policy goals. Or at the very least, one who doesn’t
take the risk of underming the policy in order to win.
Some time ago, Rachel Gragg (one of inclusion’s co-founders)
co-authored an article outlining a topic we’ve all discussed at length:
the advantages of “winning by losing well.”
The poverty debate provides a classic example of this imperative not to
sacrifice our larger policy goals for the sake of an incremental or
different advance, particularly when that advance actually undermines
the shared agenda for the long term. By advancing a plan to set a
target for cutting poverty, Senator Clinton sets up a problematic
future, and one that threatens to undermine the policy goals.
Let’s assume (for the sake of this posting) that Senator Clinton
were to win the nomination. She could then be forced to campaign on her
poverty goal in the general election. This would allow opponents to
raise the arguments outlined by the Heritage Foundation in response to her announcement last week.
And if she ended up in the White House, we can expect that some
advocates would demand that she make good on her plan to call for a
target to cut poverty. And that would likely fail, as we’ve outlined before.
In the process – a lot of the policy we need to implement could be
undermined by the debate over whether these policies are the ones our
government should adopt to “cut poverty”.
No other leading candidate remaining the race has adopted a goal to cut poverty. I hope it stays that way.