Biden 2024: Freedom – For The People

How Democrats can (and must) reclaim the freedom frame from Trump's Republicans

Biden 2024: Freedom – For The People
Joe Biden Tweet on March 18, 2024

The 2024 election — and the fate of the American democracy — may depend on a simple question: Which political party protects freedom and stands for the people?

A recent poll conducted by Change Research for is the latest survey to show that freedom is the most powerful value in the minds of “movable” voters — those who have not yet decided how they’ll vote. The poll recommends the following arguments to help frame the case for voters:

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  • “Joe Biden fights for the people. Donald Trump fights for himself.”
  • “Democrats deliver for the people. MAGA Republicans are extremists.”
  • “Democrats stand for freedom, democracy, and a better future. MAGA Republicans stand with Trump and Putin.”

See the entire poll: “Pulse of the Nation Report: Analysis of Movable Voters

“This election is going to be unique in a lot of ways with a president running against a former president, both of which have large unfavorable ratings,” said Stephen Clermont, who directed the poll, during an interview of the FrameLab podcast.

That’s why Biden and Democrats must articulate a clear message centered on freedom.

Reaching ‘movable’ voters

Reaching movable voters will be key to victory. Who are the movable voters? For one thing, the group is young and mostly women.

“It's over 60 percent or more under the age of 50,” said Clermont. “It's less white and it's more Hispanic and Black than decided voters are. They are much more female. I think in every poll that we've done, about 60 percent are women.”

Ideologically, these movable voters would seem to lean toward the Democratic Party, but they’re not totally convinced yet.

“Ideologically, almost none of them identify as conservative,” said Clermont. “Zero percent identify as MAGA. It's sort of a mix of progressives, liberals and moderates. And in terms of party ID, about 20 percent identify as Republican. The rest, about half, identify as Democratic. And then about 30 percent, purely independent, not leaning towards either party.”

In addition, the poll shows these movable voters are part of a generation that’s more likely to get news from social media rather than traditional outlets. They get their news from Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube, not the New York Times or cable news.

Freedom and the future

While online political discourse and campaign ads tend to focus on attacking Trump, Clermont said those tactics don’t really interest movable voters. They want to know how the election will affect their pocketbooks and their personal freedoms. And they want to vote for someone who has a compelling vision for the future, not just snarky attacks on the other candidate.

“Debates centering on politicians do not work,” says the poll. “Voters want solutions to the issues. Voters will need local validation. Democrats should utilize the Freedom Frame and propose ideas to create more opportunity.”

This matches what Dr. George Lakoff, the co-founder of FrameLab, has been saying and writing for decades. Freedom is the most important American value because our nation was founded on the idea. Yet Democrats have too often allowed Republicans to own the “freedom frame.”

“Perhaps no idea has mattered more in American history than the idea of freedom,” he wrote in 2008’s “Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea.” Wrote Lakoff:

The traditional idea of freedom is progressive. One can see traditional values most clearly in the direction of change that has been demanded and applauded over two centuries. America has been a nation of activists, consistently expanding its most treasured freedoms:

The expansion of citizen participation and voting rights from white male property owners to non–property owners, to former slaves, to women, to those excluded by prejudice, to younger voters.

The expansion of opportunity, good jobs, better working conditions, and benefits to more and more Americans, from men to women, from white to nonwhite, from native born to foreign born, from English speaking to non–English speaking.

The expansion of worker rights—freedom from inhumane working conditions—through unionization: from slave labor to the eight-hour day, the five-day week, worker compensation, sick leave, overtime pay, paid vacations, pregnancy leave, and so on.

The expansion of public education from grade school to high school to college to postgraduate education The expansion of knowledge through science from isolated figures like Benjamin Franklin to scientific institutions in the great universities and governmental institutions like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The expansion of public health and life expectancy The expansion of consumer protection through more effective government regulation of immoral or irresponsible corporations and class action suits within the civil justice system.

The expansion of diverse media and free speech from small newspapers to the vast media/ Internet possibilities of today.

The expansion of access to capital from wealthy landholders and bankers to all the ways ordinary people—more and more of them—can borrow money today.

Yet Democrats have never consistently framed these issues in terms of freedom. That needs to change — and there’s reason for optimism. The Change Research poll is just the latest to show that Democratic leaders need to talk to voters about freedom. And key Democratic leaders seem to be paying attention.

Framing democratic freedom

In 2024, Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Joe Biden have declared that “freedom is on the ballot.” That’s a good start, but framing takes more than just a pithy slogan with the word “freedom” in it. To actually frame the case requires Democratic leaders to constantly talk about their ideas and policies in terms of freedom.

There are some obvious issues, such as Reproductive Freedom. Polls show abortion rights are a key issue for movable voters, and they understand the dangers posed by a Supreme Court stacked with Trump appointees. The FutureMajority poll shows that 66 percent of young movable voters believe Trump Republicans threaten democracy, and 61 percent believe Republicans threaten their personal rights and freedoms.

“Reproductive Freedom is the cornerstone of this argument,” says the poll. “Among under 40 voters, more than 80 percent oppose the Dobbs Supreme Court decision and more than half of Movable voters identify ‘abortion and reproductive freedom; as a top issue for them in 2024. Among the same group, 79 percent say that MAGA Republicans threaten democracy. Center these issues around protecting freedom. This includes keeping MAGA Extremists from the Supreme Court, and making meaningful action on policing reform, climate change, gun safety, and so many other issues.”

The key phrase: Center these issues around protecting freedom.

Below are some simple ways to frame different issues as a freedom issue:

  • Voter Freedom: If you can’t vote, you’re not free.  Democrats support the expansion of voter rights and believe every eligible voter should have the freedom to vote. Republicans seek to take away voter freedom by suppressing participation and making it harder to vote. Voting is a freedom issue.
  • Health Freedom: If you get sick and don’t have access to health care, you’re not free. Democrats support access to affordable health care for all, under the belief that freedom includes the right to medical care without the fear of financial ruin. The Affordable Care Act is a key example, aiming to expand healthcare coverage. Republicans want to strip away health care freedom by repealing laws that guarantee health care access. Health care is a freedom issue.
  • Education Freedom: If you don’t have access to an affordable education, you’re not free. Democrats advocate for free or affordable education, including support for public schools and proposals for free community college and debt relief for student loans. They believe education freedom should be accessible to everyone, regardless of financial background. Republicans want to make education more expensive and harder to obtain, stripping millions of Americans of this crucial freedom. Education is a freedom issue.
  • Student Loan Debt Freedom: If you’re trapped by excessive student loan debt, you’re not free. The Democratic Party and President Biden have freed thousands of Americans from crushing and unjust student loan debts. Republicans oppose student loan debt freedom and would keep millions of Americans struggling to pay back excessive and unfair student loan debt. Student loan debt is a freedom issue.
  • Economic Freedom: If you live in fear of dire poverty, you’re not free. Democrats support minimum wage increases, labor rights, and social safety nets (such as Social Security and unemployment benefits) to ensure that people have the economic freedom to live with dignity and security. Republicans want to destroy the social safety net and enact policies to serve only the wealthiest Americans. They only care about economic freedom for the wealthy, whereas Democrats care about economic freedom for the majority. The economy is a freedom issue.
  • Freedom from Discrimination: You can’t be free if you’re limited or oppressed by discrimination and prejudice. Democrats fight for the rights of minorities, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, and against systemic racism and discrimination to ensure freedom and equality for all citizens. Discrimination is a freedom issue.
  • Climate Freedom: You can’t be free if your future is limited by unchecked global warming caused by the greed of fossil fuel companies. Democrats advocate for policies to combat climate change and protect the environment. Climate is a freedom issue because it impacts the freedom of future generations to live in a healthy and sustainable world. Republicans generally don’t care about the future — they deny or downplay climate change. But climate change is a freedom issue.
  • Freedom from Injustice:  Freedom requires a fair system of justice. Democrats advocate for a criminal justice system that addresses racial disparities, ends mass incarceration, and ensures fair treatment for all under the law, reflecting a belief in the freedom of individuals from unjust systems. Republicans push failed tough on crime policies that unfairly target the poor and people of color.  Justice is a freedom issue.
  • Freedom from Gun Violence: You can’t be free if you must live in constant fear of preventable gun violence. Democrats supporting measures to reduce gun violence, including background checks and restrictions on certain types of firearms, with the argument that people should be free to live without fear of gun violence. Republicans only care about freedom to increase gun violence, opposing sensible laws that would save Americans lives. Gun safety is a freedom issue.

These are not perfected or poll-tested phrases. But they show how easy it is to emphasize the fact that nearly every issue is a freedom issue. Try it for yourself! Take an issue we didn’t mention and think about how it’s a freedom issue. Then put a freedom frame on it.

Biden: More Freedom, please

It’s great news that President Biden and his team understand the need to speak directly to freedom and the future. Now they need to do a better job of making sure that’s what voters are hearing every day, both in the press and on social media (where a lot of movable voters get their information).

Biden opened his re-election campaign with an ad that emphasized freedom, but freedom frame messaging has been sporadic so far. Freedom can’t just be a slogan or catchphrase peppered lightly into speeches and social media posts. Freedom must be the constant frame — the word used constantly when talking about the future the Democratic Party seeks to build. Only through intense and overt repetition will the message get through.

Democrats generally struggle to impose such obvious framing on their agenda. They prefer to believe that their policies speak for themselves. But freedom is on the ballot in 2024 — literally, not figuratively. With polls showing that movable voters care about the “F” word, it’s time for Democrats to own the freedom frame and also make it clear how the Democratic agenda stands For The People.

“The freedom to be healthy, the freedom to be economically secure, the freedom to learn, the freedom from hunger, the freedom to be safe from harm … 56 percent would support a candidate who says that versus 21 percent who support making America great again by getting inflation under control, getting people back to work, cracking down on crime, banning critical race theory and securing the border,” said Clermont.

In 2024, it’s a choice of freedom for the people — or not.

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