Economic Policies Hillary Clinton Could Use To Energize Voters


Hillary Clinton 2016

With Hillary Clinton slated to announce her formal candidacy for the White House this weekend, the country may soon learn what the former Secretary of State’s economic policy platform will be — and how it will align with what voters want.

Disillusioned by a slow, unequal economic recovery and a government that is only responsive to the concerns of the rich, voters who want Washington to care about the poor have turned out at declining rates in recent cycles. Energizing that base and reversing the downward trend in voter participation will be important to any Democratic nominee.

Expanding Social Security

Facing a retirement savings crisis measured in the trillions of dollars, voters want to expand Social Security after years of threatened cuts to the program. Eight in 10 voters polled last August want Social Security to pay more generous benefits and finance the increase by getting rid of the payroll tax cap for high-income Americans.

Worker Populism

Some of the electorate’s economic priorities will be familiar to anyone paying even a little attention to the news in the past few years. Polling on a higher minimum wage consistently finds broad support for a major increase. A January poll reported 75 percent overall support for raising it to $12.50 and 63 percent support for gradually raising it all the way to $15.

That figure is significant in light of another unignorable economic story of the past couple years, as workers with the “Fight for $15” campaign have made that large ask central to their rapidly spreading campaign of strikes and protests.

Popular support for a dramatic increase to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 is so strong and so noisy that it has leapfrogged the more modest$10.10 goal set out by congressional progressives and President Obama. 2016 candidates will announce their minimum wage positions in a landscape defined by the more ambitious $15 number, and be judged against a new standard set by years of low-wage worker activism.

Work-Life Balance

Requiring employers to offer paid family leave and some form of paid sick days for workers gets the same kind of broad consensus support in polling, and have acquired a similar outside-the-beltway momentum. As an idea that enjoyed huge support in national polling many years before being realized in a wave of state-level advocacy pushes, paid sick leave illustrates the electoral value of economic populism for would-be presidents.

Republicans continue to laugh paid family and sick leave off in terms better suited to the George W. Bush era, deeming it too European to be any good. Clinton herself has said that she doesn’t think a federal mandate for paid family leave is politically feasible now even though she personally supports it. Redefining what is feasible is a core purpose for any presidential campaign.

Early Childhood Education

Republican opposition has rendered Obama’s universal preschool proposals unfeasible, but the idea has had roughly 70 percent support in polling for years.

Economic Inequality

On the most important issue facing the U.S. economy, however, solutions aren’t nearly so clear-cut. Americans are dissatisfied with the current maldistribution of wealth — which is more dramatically skewed in favor of a tiny sliver of the population than voters seem to realize — and describe an ideal distribution that is radically different. But tamping down inequality to the more reasonable levels that are conducive to stronger overall economic growth isn’t simple either as policy or as politics.

As Clinton’s team crafts a slate of interlocking policies to redistribute the fruits of capitalism in a more socially and economically sustainable fashion, they’ll grapple with a messier form of populism than the one that attends wage laws and work-life balance policies. In a hint that she is at least considering an aggressive platform on income inequality, Clinton sent advisers to a meeting of progressive think tanks, activists, and economists in Washington this month. The group that hosted the summit said its purpose was “creating an agenda to combat inequality that goes further than anything we’ve seen so far and rewrites the rules of how our economy and markets are structured.”

Corporate America

It remains to be seen how far Clinton herself will go toward such structural approaches to rewiring the core relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. Some pundits are treating a January report from the Center for American Progress-convened Commission on Inclusive Prosperity as a preview of the former Secretary of State’s economic platform.

That document largely adheres to established Democratic party priorities — boosting union protections, using the tax code to help the middle class, and making new investments in infrastructure, housing, and education — but does not call for breaking up the largest banks, putting a micro-tax on financial transactions to discourage Wall Street abuses, or restoring the simpler, tougher banking regulations that Presidents Reagan and Clinton gradually tore down. Such a gentle, technocratic approach toward curbing financial industry abuses is in keeping with Clinton’s own history of working closely with high finance powers to steer their energy and capital toward social goods rather than simple profits.

Instead, the Commission laid out a series of policies meant to discourage corporate executives from the short-term thinking that makes boom-bust cycles more volatile and that pushes ever more wealth into the hands of the already-rich at the expense of everyone else. Economists have batted such ideas around for a while, but they would be politically novel if Clinton were to campaign on them. But the balance of the package is more deferential toward the financial industry than what prominent progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would like to see.


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress