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What The 2022 Midterms Tell Us About the Modern Economy

November 10, 2022 — Modern Economy Project

Long before Tuesday’s election results rolled in, national polling consistently showed that concerns about the economy were at the top of voters’ minds.

That’s because Americans’ day-to-day lives are shaped by the strength – or weakness - of the economy. Inflation and supply chain challenges, combined with evolving discussions among employers and employees about the job market, labor policies, and workplace benefits, made this election no exception.

Even with votes left to tally, it’s clear that Americans voted for a modern economy that offers increased opportunities, upward mobility, and the chance to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Whether with Democrats pointing to a surprisingly strong showing, or Republicans anxious to claim control of at least one chamber of Congress, Tuesday’s results show that any candidate or party wanting to sustain popular support needs the right economic message.

Related: Click HERE to watch MEP’s conversation from earlier this year with leading moderate U.S. Rep.s Stephanie Murphy and Kurt Schrader, moderated by former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

And a closer look at this year’s high-profile campaigns across the country reveals something about that message.

When it came to campaigns in many competitive battlegrounds, candidates’ success was connected not only to whether those candidates focused on economic issues. It was also connected to how they talked about those issues.

Just as notably, the candidates who performed best broke out of tired rhetoric and assumptions. Instead, they emphasized the importance of rallying behind practical solutions.

In Maryland, Democrat Wes Moore clinched a historic victory after running on a platform to promote economic opportunity with proposals to eliminate child poverty and invest in affordable housing.

That came after Moore, a first-time candidate, won a crowded Democratic primary earlier this year over candidates more familiar to the political establishment like former Labor Secretary and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez while staying laser-focused on the economy.

“People are looking for someone who has worked across sectors to get big things done,” Moore told The Washington Post. “Right now, people are not necessarily looking for the same people with the same ideas. They want us to be bold."

And in Michigan, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) – who prevailed in a Democratic primary over progressive Rep. Andy Levin in August and went on to win reelection on Tuesday – emphasized the need for investing in manufacturing through research and development and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy in southeast Michigan. We need a federal government that strategically invests in research and development that supports the great innovation taking place here at home,” Stevens said.

Republican Mike Lawler unseated Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, by focusing in large part on the need to make the economy work better for Americans struggling with inflation.

“Inflation is often talked about as a political issue, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a human issue; it can dramatically alter the way we live and plan our lives,” Lawler wrote.

Lawler added that “genuine economic relief” will require “proactive policy decisions hammered out by leaders of goodwill from both parties.”

From coast to coast, many of the candidates in both parties who won competitive elections had this in common. They talked about the need for leaders in Washington to break out of political gridlock and move beyond stale, us-vs.-them talking points – and instead develop bipartisan policy solutions that reflect and strengthen our modern economy.

Their success shows that everyday Americans may not be following every twist-and-turn of intrigue in the D.C. bubble – but they know that the economic conversation in Washington, D.C. is out of touch with their own experiences.

Voters know that it’s time to reconnect the D.C. debate with our modern economy.

With the elections behind us, Washington has an opportunity to translate those lessons into policymaking, and reconnect policy debates with the realities of our ever-modernizing economy.

Achieving that goal starts with leaders in both parties breaking out of old, rigid political debates and seeking commonsense, bipartisan solutions rooted in current data.

The stakeholders in our coalition – including small, women and minority business advocates, industry associations, and large employers – believe that diversity of thought leads to policies that can stand the test of time. And we are leading research into important questions at the heart of what drives our economy, which we believe will be a useful guide to help advance Washington’s economic dialogue.

These questions include, but are not limited to: What does a “good job” really mean? How do we ensure our economy has more of them? How can we best support entrepreneurs? And what can we do to tap into existing resources to support employers and workers?

Decision makers must also recognize that new ideas are not enough if the government is too slow to react to changes in our economy and ensure its benefits are realized by all. A modern government is just as important to our economic prosperity as modern jobs and modern employers.

There’s so much more we can do to rise above the partisan gridlock and shape our economy to be more reflective of our modern realities.

American voters just reminded Washington that this is a priority. And the Modern Economy Project is ready to get to work to help achieve that goal.

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