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Matt Bennett, Vice President for Public Affairs
202.775.3768 x212
mbennett@thirdway.org

Press Release

05/05/06

Third Way Charts Economic Path Back for Progressives with Middle-Class

In New Study, Group Calls for a Politics of Opportunity and Optimism

Washington: In a new paper released today, Third Way explains why Democrats handily win in public opinion polls on economic issues but are repeatedly trounced at the ballot box by middle class voters, and the group offers progressive leaders a new approach to issues relating to middle-class economics. In the study, entitled The Politics of Opportunity, Third Way argues that pessimistic progressive messaging is discordant for the overwhelmingly optimistic middle-class and that most signature progressive economic ideas do not benefit middle-class families. The group urges progressives to use a more optimistic message and to develop a new economic agenda that promotes economic aspiration as much as economic security. The paper also defines a sharper attack on conservatives for economic policies that damage America’s middle class. The new progressive message, the authors say, can be boiled down to: “A new era of middle-class opportunity.”

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), an honorary co-chair of Third Way and Chair of the Third Way Middle-Class Project, said of the study: “This study lays out a path for Democrats to revamp our approach to the economy and recapture the middle-class. Under the leadership of Minority Leader Reid, our caucus has staked out a new direction on economic issues, one that I believe matches up well with the recommendations in this paper. I am going to make sure I get a copy of this study to all of my colleagues in the Senate, as well as all of our outstanding Senate candidates.”

The Politics of Opportunity has five main sections:

1. What’s the Matter with the Middle-Class? The paper begins by addressing the question of why the middle-class has been trending so sharply toward conservatives. Third Way challenges the conventional wisdom, that national security and cultural issues (like abortion and gay marriage) are solely responsible for driving middle-class voters away. The group concludes that the opinion polls which show Democratic dominance on economics are dangerously misleading, and that “progressives dismiss at their peril the likelihood that they are failing to reach…middle class Americans.”

2. Five Degrees of Separation: The paper then lays out five “disconnects” – specific areas of separation between progressive messaging and middle-class Americans:

o Pessimism vs. Optimism – Progressive economic messaging is pessimistic, while Americans are optimistic about the nation’s economic future and their own.

o Economic Decline vs. Strength – Progressive messaging implies a nation in decline, despite many signs of America’s strengths.

o Economic Security vs. Individual Opportunity – Progressive messaging focuses almost exclusively on security (preventing middle-class people from falling back); Americans care as much or more about having the opportunity to get ahead.

o Most Progressives Ideas Don’t Benefit the Middle-Class – Many signature progressive initiatives speak to those seeking to enter the middle-class, not to those already there with aspirations for themselves and their children.

o An Off-Target Critique – Progressives focus too much on attacking business and the wealthy instead of the failures of conservative economic policy.

3. Defining a New Message: Third Way notes that the message of “a new era of middle-class opportunity” is confident, forward-looking, critical of the current regime and well-suited to the global world of the 21st century.

4. New Ideas: The paper lays out a number of policy ideas to serve as examples of the type that the new message would support. These proposals, which include ideas like expanding the tax deductibility of college tuition, promoting innovation, tax simplification, creating incentives for telecommuting, and revising the way that IRAs and 401(k)s work are designed to help individuals take advantage of opportunities and manage risk.

5. Redefining the Critique: Third Way argues that progressives should shift their focus away from attacking the wealthy and American business and instead concentrate their fire on the conservative economic policies that have profoundly hurt the middle-class.

Anne Kim, a co-author of the study and Director of the Third Way Middle-Class Project, noted: “With public skepticism about the direction that conservatives have taken this country at all-time highs, we have a genuine opportunity for change. We think that changing both the tone and substance of traditional progressive messaging could play a huge role in building a durable progressive majority.”

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Contact: Matt Bennett (202) 775-3768 x212


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