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Dear Democrats: Only 10% of People Even Know What You Are Fighting For

Even if Democrats can pass their big bill, they won’t be able to sell it.
October 12, 2021
Dear Democrats: Only 10% of People Even Know What You Are Fighting For
(Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Quick: What is in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better,” “Human Infrastructure,” “Reconciliation,” “Unicorn Boner,” “Bed Bath & Beyond” legislation?

Can you tell me?

I’m guessing that you can. Well maybe you don’t know everything that’s in it. But I bet you can name a couple things. Because you, dear reader, are an engaged citizen. You participate in our rollicking national civic dialogue. You subscribe to a few substacks.

But do you understand just how rare you are, person who knows what is in the BBB plan? You are like the recherché and retired Batty the Bat beanie baby or the sweet Nikola Jokic double behind the back dribble TopShot NFT.

Because when CBS News asked the American public how much they know about the “Build Back Better” plan only 10 percent replied “a lot of the specifics.”

10 percent!

And let me tell you a secret: Even that number is wrong, because a bunch of those people were lying.

There is copious political science research which demonstrates when people are asked whether or not they voted, those who didn’t will often report that they had. It’s human nature. You don’t want to sound like a laggard to the stranger on the phone!

So we have 1-in-10 as our absolute ceiling when it comes to the share of Americans who know what is in the bill that is cock-blocking the done-and-ready infrastructure bill.

This seems like a problem!

In addition when the pollsters listed out the specific elements of the bill to ask if people had “heard about” them, the aspect of this giant reconciliation bill that most people were familiar with was the $3.5 trillion price tag.

So they know about the cost—not any of the specific programs.

Also seems like a problem!

Now there were some green shoots in the poll. It found that when people learn about elements like “Paid Family Leave” the legislation’s popularity goes up.

Which might seem great for Democrats.

But here’s the thing: People don’t just gain this knowledge via osmosis. They have to be sold. And in order to sell them, it is helpful for them to exist—yet many of the elements of the BBB plan wouldn’t go into effect before next year’s midterms. And even when they would go into effect, you can’t assume that humans would connect the existence of new benefits to Joe Biden and Democrats.

Because those sorts of synaptic connections don’t happen organically in voters.

The voters—and I say this with love—need to be banged over the head with your story over and over and over again.

And here’s some real talk: When it comes to this massive piece of legislation I’m not sure Democrats are capable of making this sale.

There’s been no evidence to date that Democrats have a coordinated—or even uncoordinated—plan to sell this legislation. If anything they are playing into the Republicans hands by litigating the top-line spending number rather than the more popular particulars of the bill.

One potential benefit of the current negotiations with Manchin is that narrowing the scope of the bill might actually help the Democrats sell it better. If the Democrats whittled the bill down to something like:

+ Paid Family Leave

+ Child Tax Credit for Working Class

+ Lowering Prescription Drug prices


Funded by taxing rich bankers

Now . . . that’s still pretty complicated for your average bear. But at least it includes a manageable list of items that are both popular and easy to explain.

Regardless of what the actual particulars are, Democrats need to recognize that time is short and massive marketing campaigns don’t deploy—and persuade—overnight. And unlike many corporate marketing efforts, Democrats are going to have to contend with a rival brand trying to destroy them that has an even simpler, two-word, message: INFLATION and SOCIALISM.

So if any of the benefits that many progressives assume will accrue to their candidates are going to be realized before the midterms, they need to undertake this effort immediately, and not just assume the policies polling popularity will take care of themselves.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.