May 17, 2022

How Democrats can avoid an electoral disaster in 2022

View Original Notice ? How Democrats can avoid an electoral disaster in 2022

The Democratic Party is headed for an electoral disaster in 2022. Absent a major shift in the party’s agenda and approach, Democrats could suffer one of the greatest midterm election losses of any party in recent history.

U.S. political party preferences shifted 14-points in the G.O.P.’s favor in just the last year, going from a 9-point Democratic advantage at the beginning of 2021 to a 5-point G.O.P. edge in at the end of the year, according to tracking by Gallup.

President Biden’s approval rating is also underwater —just 33% of Americans approve of his job performance, while a majority (53%) disapprove, per a recent Quinnipiac poll. Biden’s ratings are also at record-lows on key issues, including the economy (34%), foreign policy (35%), and the pandemic (39%).

To that end, Democrats’ 2022 prospects are bleak: Republicans lead in the 2022 generic congressional vote, 44% to 43%. Notably, Republicans winning by a margin of just one- or two-points overall would likely be enough for them to take back the House, given Democrats’ narrow majority as well as the anticipated outcomes of redistricting processes, which will mostly net out to a G.O.P. advantage.

Indeed, a handful of light-blue seats were created through redistricting, though the advantage to Democrats is negligible, given that they already held many of these seats. On the other hand, Republicans converted light-red seats into safer seats in states like Indiana, Oklahoma, and Utah, per FiveThirtyEight’s analysis. There are also 28 Democratic retirements in Congress—a historically high number.

When it comes to the Senate, most projections show a scenario for Democrats that is ominous at best, in which Republicans have a much better chance of defending seats currently held by G.O.P. representatives and picking up several seats presently held by Democrats.

These trends beg two questions: how did Democrats dig themselves into this political hole? And how can they dig themselves out of it?

Throughout the first several months of 2021, most polls showed a majority of voters approving of Biden’s job performance. During this time, the administration had one goal—widely distributing Covid-19 vaccines and passing additional pandemic relief legislation—which they accomplished successfully.

But over the summer as the Delta variant surged, Americans grew frustrated with the administration’s mixed-messaging on both the effectiveness of vaccines and the pandemic’s trajectory. Inflation and consumer prices rose, and supply-chain bottle-necks undercut the services that Americans are accustomed to.

Meanwhile, the crisis at the Southern border metastasized, and it became clear that Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked with managing the situation, was out of her depth in this role. In the Fall, Republicans like Glenn Youngkin found success in statewide elections partially by taking control of the narrative surrounding parents, choice, and public schools, which became a hot-button issue.

While this was unfolding, Biden remained almost singularly focused on advancing his “transformational” progressive piece of legislation, the Build Back Better plan, while seeming to overlook the basic issues that were of primary importance to voters: controlling rising prices, having a clear public health directive, controlling crime, and keeping schools open.

At that point, voters began turning against a Democratic Party that had become fixated on the priorities of the left, and less focused on addressing the basic needs of the country at-large.

On top of that, Democrats’ misguided efforts to pass progressive policies failed to come to fruition. The Build Back Better plan did not pass in the Senate because key moderates didn’t get on board. And just last week, in an ostensibly desperate attempt to score a legislative win, Biden tried to rally Senate Democrats around an effort to weaken the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation—a measure that was also dead-on-arrival.

An important note: Joe Biden won the 2020 election as a moderate who pledged to bring normalcy and problem-solving to Washington. He did not win with a mandate to enact a progressive and divisive agenda—and neither did Democrats in Congress, who won the Senate by the narrowest possible margin and kept control of the House by a handful of seats.

Some Democrats have drawn erroneous parallels between Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and F.D.R.’s “New Deal.” They fail to recognize that, during the mid- to late-1930s, when much of the New Deal was passed, Democrats controlled more than 300 House seats, and as many as 76 Senate seats. Clearly, that is not the case today—the Senate is split 50-50, and Democrats control the House by just five seats.

Going forward, the Democratic Party needs to dedicate themselves to crafting, promoting, and passing a centrist agenda—one that uses a limited and focused amount of government to deliver targeted and practical economic and social policies, public health policies, stronger borders, fiscally responsible welfare expansion, and education policies that give parents choice.

If the party cannot find a way to do this, President Biden’s ratings will continue to plummet, and Democrats may find themselves in the minority in Congress—and as the minority party—for years to come.

Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

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