One of the great informative moments of the 2018 midterm elections came in Missouri, where voters overwhelmingly chose to approve a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage from $7.85 to $12, along with a referendum that reduced gerrymandering, banned lobbyist gifts, and reduced the limit for campaign contribution limits. Meanwhile, in a seeming paradox, centrist Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, lost her seat to a Republican by six points.
How was it that voters could simultaneously approve of seemingly progressive policies, but also elect a Republican over a Democratic incumbent in a critical election?
1. Progressive policies are popular, no matter where you are in the country.
2. Claire McCaskill did not endorse very many progressive policies, and hence she didn’t stand out enough to overcome the red bias of her home state. Instead, she lost, and spent her final days taking shots at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and insisting that compromise candidates were the way to go.
It’s helpful to keep this example in mind while we consider the results of a new poll, which show that far from gasping in conservative shock, the majority of Americans—59 percent of them—think that raising the highest tax rates in our country to around 70 percent is a good idea. The survey, by Hill-HarrisX, shows that it’s popular everywhere, including conservative bastions like rural America and the south. Even Republicans, as a group, come close to supporting it by a majority (45 percent for, 55 percent against).
This idea is in the news lately because of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who raised the topic in an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. As I wrote at the time, every Democrat in Congress should agree with her—not only is the idea not every radical, as some Republicans have tried to argue, but it’s been done in our own country as recently as the 1970s. If you believe in a humanistic society that takes care of its citizens—even the non-wealthy ones—it’s the only answer.
This poll jibes with other recent polls on progressive policy. The vast majority of Americans are in favor of universal health care; most support free public education; almost all support the green new deal.
Progressive policies enjoy this kind of popularity because they benefit the majority of Americans, and the ideas are simple and clear enough that the majority of Americans understand them. All that’s left is for our politicians to find the courage to support to adopt them with enthusiasm. Victory awaits those who do.