Media Worry Faith in American Dream May Hurt 2020 Dems

On her 9:00 a.m. ET hour show on Thursday, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle highlighted a recent New York Times article about a study finding that, despite facing economic challenges, southerners in the U.S. still believe strongly in the American dream of lifting oneself out of poverty without major government intervention. The article fretted that such attitudes “could complicate Democratic efforts to frame the 2020 presidential election as a referendum on a broken economic system.”

Ruhle emphasized the same concern in her reporting: “You’ve heard it from the vast majority of Democratic candidates, the economy is only working for a relative handful of Americans while millions of working people are left out....But a new study shows a ton of those very same working people now believe they’re gonna be okay, even if the odds are against them.”

 

 

She went on to detail the findings and again worry that such economic optimism was a real problem for 2020 Democrats:

In fact, research from Harvard shows that a huge number of southern Americans, including those in states with the highest poverty rates in the nation, tend to be the most confident when they are now asked if they think they can make the jump from the bottom of the economic ladder to the top. In states like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, the number of people that think they can achieve the American dream is double or even triple the number that actually can. So why does that matter? It means even voters struggling to make ends meet might not be swayed by the Democratic case for reshaping the economy.

“For moving from the bottom of the income ladder to the top, the South offers the worst odds in the United States. But it’s also the region where people are most optimistic about the prospects,” the Times article similarly pointed out. Referring to Harvard’s findings, reporter Patricia Cohen warned:

The kind of audacious hope they uncovered could hinder the Democratic case that fundamental changes are needed to enhance economic opportunity.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her presidential campaign with an indictment of a “rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has rallied crowds with attacks on the “rigged economy.” And former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has talked of the “rigged labor market.”

They, and other Democratic contenders, have proposed ambitious programs for easing the upward trek confronting children from poor families, like free college, universal health care and childhood savings accounts or bonds.

On MSNBC, Ruhle discussed the topic with Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones and wondered if President Trump’s campaign message was reflective of the optimism of southern voters: “So does the ‘Make America Great’ slogan, mantra, is that the one thing working for them and are they believing it?” Jones admitted:

Well, you know, look, I think you have to understand a little bit about the culture of the south and people. This is a very proud people, it’s a hard-working people. They believe in the American dream. And it’s gonna take a lot to shake their confidence in the American dream. The American dream is that you work hard, you have grit, you have determination, and you pull yourself up....And despite the fact that they’ve got policies that are not always helping them, they see an overall picture, too.... I don’t fault anybody for trying to have an optimistic view. If you can’t reach for the dream then you lose everything.

Ruhle agreed that “optimism is everything,” but saw danger for Democrats: “How do Democrats play this, those who are running for office? The President went to those voters and said, ‘You’re getting screwed by the system, I’m going to fix it for you.’ And they’re giving him the time.”

In the Times, Cohen noted that, “Liberals are generally more pessimistic than conservatives about the ability of poorer Americans to hoist themselves up economically, and they are more inclined to support government programs meant to ease the route.” She then seemed surprised that, “For conservatives, none of that is true,” observing that right-leaning voters have a very different perspective: “Learning that they have overestimated the odds does not increase their support for government intervention, but causes it to drop even further....they think government will make the problem worse.”

While most would be happy to hear that faith in the American dream remains strong for millions across the country, the Times and MSNBC immediately began asking how Democrats could overcome that optimism to push radical left-wing economic policies.

Here are excerpts of Ruhle’s July 11 segment:

9:38 AM ET

(...)

STEPHANIE RUHLE: You’ve heard it from the vast majority of Democratic candidates, the economy is only working for a relative handful of Americans while millions of working people are left out. And if you remember, when President Trump was running, we heard the exact same message from him. But a new study shows a ton of those very same working people now believe they’re gonna be okay, even if the odds are against them.

In fact, research from Harvard shows that a huge number of southern Americans, including those in states with the highest poverty rates in the nation, tend to be the most confident when they are now asked if they think they can make the jump from the bottom of the economic ladder to the top. In states like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, the number of people that think they can achieve the American dream is double or even triple the number that actually can. So why does that matter? It means even voters struggling to make ends meet might not be swayed by the Democratic case for reshaping the economy.

And we have got the perfect guest to lend some insight into the situation, Alabama’s Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who is running for reelection in 2020. Senator, thank you for joining me.

This study is amazing to me because many of these Americans, voters in your state, are the ones who said, “I am getting screwed by the system, I’ve been forgotten, I’ve been left out.” And they voted for President Trump. But the data doesn’t show that their situation has changed in any way. So does the “Make America Great” slogan, mantra, is that the one thing working for them and are they believing it?

SEN. DOUG JONES [D-AL]: Well, you know, look, I think you have to understand a little bit about the culture of the south and people. This is a very proud people, it’s a hard-working people. They believe in the American dream. And it’s gonna take a lot to shake their confidence in the American dream. The American dream is that you work hard, you have grit, you have determination, and you pull yourself up. And despite the fact that they’ve got policies that are not always helping them, they see an overall picture, too. They see an economy that has got low unemployment, they see businesses coming into the state of Alabama. And so you like for people to be optimistic. Now, at some point I think that could catch up and they’ll become a little more realistic about things, where things are. But I don’t fault anybody for trying to have an optimistic view. If you can’t reach for the dream then you lose everything.

RUHLE: Absolutely. Optimism is everything. How do Democrats play this, those who are running for office? The President went to those voters and said, “You’re getting screwed by the system, I’m going to fix it for you.” And they’re giving him the time.

JONES: Well, I think you have to look at this on a state by state and region by region basis.

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RUHLE: Well, let’s go national for a moment. Have Democrats, particularly candidates who are running for office, spending too much time and energy reaching out to people who are on the margins, to help them, and not enough time talking to the bulk of the middle class people? Not that they shouldn’t, but when people of the state of Alabama watch the debates and they watch so much content talking about people at the southern border and health care there, does it affect them? Do they start to say who’s paying attention to me?

JONES: No, I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think they do at some point. But make no mistake, we care about people at the border.

(...)

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