50-State Strategy: Arkansas

Power-Building Strategy: Use ballot initiatives to implement progressive policy in a tough state for Democrats.

There are few immediate electoral prospects for Democrats in Arkansas. We expect the state to remain solidly red in statewide elections, and all four of its congressional districts are solidly red, too. At the state legislative level, Democrats have seen a net loss in seats in both chambers since 2016 and we struggle to find any substantial opportunities for pick-ups in the near term.

A recent bright spot in Arkansas, though, was the successful 2018 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. When the Republican-controlled legislature refused to take up the issue, a coalition of labor and religious groups successfully put the question to voters, who approved of the measure with 68% of the vote. On this progressive issue, the conservative Republicans who govern the state were clearly out of step with the majority of voters.

As we discuss in the Red States section of our 2040 Project, we believe that a key next step in successful ballot initiatives like these is to then have organizers ready to spring into action to take this message directly to voters: your representative is out of step with your concerns, and you should vote for someone else next time. This approach is modeled after the Idaho model that we discuss in the 2040 Report, which we’ll highlight in more detail next week.

In some places, the candidate who can then take up the mantle as an alternative to Republican opposition to popular policies might be a Democrat. In other places, we believe that Democrats and progressives should be open to Independent candidates, especially in districts where the Democratic brand is broadly unpopular. An Independent candidate with a focused message who can make change aligned with voters’ priorities would be much better than the Republicans currently governing the state.

Republicans have now recognized the ways that progressives have successfully used ballot initiative campaigns to implement policy that they disagree with, and a slew of bills have been introduced in legislatures across the country to limit ballot initiatives and make it harder for such campaigns to get on the ballot. Democrats will need to use what little leverage they have in these state legislatures to try to stymie these efforts, and failing that, redouble our efforts to continue to use ballot initiatives even if the process becomes harder in some states in the future.

As we enter the 2022 cycle, EveryDistrict will expand our fundraising platform into red states like Arkansas to highlight Democratic candidates who are working to make progressive change, even in tough places. We’ll also be taking a close look at how we can help to cultivate and grow consistent organizing in red states around ballot initiatives and popular policies to help make change where immediate legislative progress is not on the agenda.

How you can advance a 50-state strategy in Arkansas:

  • Use ballot initiatives to build support for both policy change and political rebuilding.

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