Press Releases

MEMO: Winning on Democracy in 2024

Mar 14, 2024

Democrats win when we run on democracy. As we head into another election with Donald Trump and his declaration that he’d be dictator on day one if he wins, voters know that democracy is on the line. In order to win up and down the ballot this fall, Democrats need to once again run on being the pro-democracy, anti-corruption party.

Voters know that democracy is under threat and it will be a top issue in 2024

Americans have made clear that they see 2024 as a watershed election for the future of our democracy. A recent AP-NORC poll found that 62% of Americans–including 72% of Democrats– say democracy in the U.S. could be at risk depending on who wins in 2024. Nearly nine in ten Americans are concerned about threats to the Constitution and democracy, and in House battleground districts, over 8 in 10 voters agree that democracy is under threat while nearly two-thirds believe that it’s more threatened than it was five years ago.

It’s crucial to understand that “threats to democracy” mean different things to different voters. Overt assaults on democracy such as election denialism, political violence, attacks on the freedom to vote, and MAGA authoritarianism are still major concerns for voters–particularly the Democratic base. Yet voters also see attacks on rights and freedoms–especially the overturning of Roe–and government working for special interests, not regular people, as being threats to democracy. Persuadable voters in particular view the largest threats to democracy as politicians taking away individual rights and freedoms (55%), government corruption (52%), and politicians listening to lobbyists and wealthy donors, instead of voters who elected them (37%). A NYTimes/Siena poll found that voters–especially Independents–view government corruption as the largest threat to democracy.

Not only do voters know democracy is under threat in a myriad of ways, it will be a driving force for their vote in 2024. Preserving democracy in the United States is the most important issue for Democrats’ vote (37%) and it is the second most important issue for Independents (30%). For single-issue voters, democracy and abortion are the top priorities. Roughly 50% of battleground voters say democracy issues–protecting the freedom to vote, improving transparency and accountability in Washington, and getting big money out of politics–are top priorities in 2024 and are as important to voters as kitchen table issues like cutting health care costs and taxes.

The good news for Democrats is that when democracy is a priority and our candidates speak to voters’ concerns, we win.

Democrats win cycle after cycle when we run on democracy

Pro-democracy, anti-corruption messaging has consistently led to Democratic wins over the past 3 cycles. It rallies the Democratic base and persuades Independent voters. Democracy messaging draws a stark contrast between Democrats and MAGA Republicans. Donald Trump and his MAGA allies are the party of election denialism, attacks on free and fair elections, rampant corruption, and stripping away Americans’ long held rights and freedoms. The Democratic Party, alternatively, is the party of protecting freedoms, cleaning up Washington, and putting the voices of regular Americans ahead of special interest donors and lobbyists. Offering voters these two options led to Democratic wins in 2018, 2020, and 2022.

The 2018 Democratic Blue Wave was spurred on by candidates placing democracy front and center. Candidates won in battleground districts by waging a war on corruption, prioritizing democracy reform, and offering a check to Trump’s extremism. Democrats made clear that if they took back the House, a sweeping anti-corruption bill would be our top priority. Voters listened and gave pro-democracy Democrats the majority.

In 2020, President Biden and congressional candidates made labeling Trump and his MAGA agenda an existential threat to our democracy a core campaign issue. There was a clear choice between MAGA’s corruption, chaos, and attacks on rights and freedoms and Democrats’ commitment to democracy, accountability, and work for regular Americans. Once again, the voters’ voices were heard and Democrats won the presidency, held the House, and took back the Senate.

After winning on democracy in ‘18 and ‘20, pundits criticized Democrats for focusing on democracy in the 2022 midterms. The pundits were wrong. Democrats significantly outperformed expectations by highlighting several threats to democracy. Democratic candidates up and down the ballot won Independents and persuadable Republicans in 2022 by highlighting threats to democracy. Democracy issues were extremely important (69%) to Independent and Republican battleground voters who ultimately voted for the Democratic candidates for Congress.  And although most Independent voters ranked the economy/inflation as their top concern in 2022–and trusted Republicans more on those issues–Independents went for Democrats by over 4 points largely because of threats to democracy and freedoms being under attack.

Democrats also aggressively called out Big Lie conspiracy theorists and beat election deniers handily. In 6 battleground states, all 13 election deniers running for governor, attorney general, or secretary of state lost. And in Senate battleground states, voters rejected election deniers two-thirds of the time and held the majority in the Senate against all expectations.

The last three election cycles have driven home the point that democracy is a top winning issue for Democrats.

Democrats must be the pro-democracy, anti-corruption party in 2024

Pundits are already questioning whether President Biden’s messaging on saving democracy will resonate with swing state voters. The pundits are wrong again.

Out of the gate at the State of the Union, President Biden set the stakes for this year’s election: the future of democracy here and abroad. Biden called out MAGA Republicans’ all-out attack on our democracy from voter suppression and election subversion to unlimited dark money and extreme partisan gerrymandering. He called on all Americans to defend our democracy by standing up for free and fair elections, rejecting political violence, and passing the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And voters were overwhelmingly persuaded by Biden’s pro-democracy messaging across partisanship and age.

Highlighting Trump and the MAGA movement’s existential threat to democracy and their unrelenting attacks on Americans’ freedoms are proven winning messages, but Democrats must also convince voters that we are the party to trust when it comes to taking on government corruption.

Persuadable voters see government corruption and the influence of big money in politics as the biggest threats to democracy right now. Yet those voters view both parties as corrupt and beholden to special interests and do not know which party to trust. In fact, voters trust Republicans to crack down on corruption slightly more than Democrats.

If there’s any question how valuable it will be in 2024 to be seen as the anti-corruption party, a quick look at the Republican playbook should get rid of any doubt. Republicans have gone on the offensive on corruption–pouncing on any connection Democrats have to lobbyists or special interests. We have even seen Republican candidates pledge to reject corporate PAC money to try to demonstrate their anti-corruption bonafides.

Democratic candidates urgently need to fight back on corruption by countering Republicans’ messaging and establishing their own anti-corruption credentials.

First, Democrats need to understand voters’ appetite for change. Voters see corruption and special interest money as impediments to things getting done on the issues that matter most to them. Voters want politicians to tackle corruption so Washington will actually work for them. For example, when discussing inflation, voters responded more positively to messaging on the need to tackle the corrupting influence of money in politics before directly addressing costs, rather than focusing exclusively on getting rising costs under control. Democrats need to make reforms that will address corruption a core of our platform to show that we will make Washington work for regular Americans, not special interests. We need to recommit to passing the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act on day one of the 119th Congress.

Second, Democrats need to fight back against Republicans on corruption. Democrats should highlight Republicans’ votes against anti-corruption policies and the money they receive from special interests to show that Republicans work for big corporations and the wealthy. Hits on Republicans for their opposition to popular policies like gun safety reforms, measures to address climate change, and lower prescription drug prices are powerful–but connecting those unpopular Republican positions with the special interest money and lobbyists that are bankrolling Republicans to oppose progress intensifies the hit.

Third, Democrats need to tie Republicans’ attacks on Americans’ rights and freedoms to government corruption. For example, rightwing dark money groups spent $1.1 billion capturing the Supreme Court with anti-choice extremists and lobbying for draconian abortion bans. Democrats should also call out how corrupt, unelected MAGA Supreme Court Justices have listened to their billionaire, dark money backers in striking down Americans’ rights. In order to fight back against Republicans’ attacks on freedoms, Democrats need to call out the corrupting force that dark money plays in Washington.

Democrats must once again make 2024 a referendum on the future of democracy. But we need to go a step further and show voters that Democrats will take action once in power to make our democracy one where all voters’ voices–not just special interests–are heard. If we do that, Democrats will be successful this November.