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Code Red on the Democratic Brand
A party can’t hold or grow political power with double-digit deficits on the issues that matter most to voters.
Politics is not a complicated game to win. Either your party fields compelling candidates that voters mostly like or your party offers a compelling and relevant enough agenda that voters mostly support. The one thing a party can’t do and expect to win is suffer double-digit deficits to the other party on the issues that matter most to voters.
Yet this is exactly where Democrats find themselves today according to fresh new polling from Impact Research and Fabrizio Lee for The Wall St. Journal.
For starters, the head of the Democratic Party is not a popular guy in a very unhappy country. President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump now receive virtually identical negative ratings from voters—56 percent and 55 percent unfavorable, respectively—and each would receive 45 percent of the vote if the 2024 election were held today in a rematch of 2020. More than 6 in 10 voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction and a roughly similar proportion feels that way about the national economy. Making matters worse, the Democratic Party is rated more negatively than the Republican Party (55 percent unfavorable to 51 percent unfavorable, respectively) and Republicans lead the generic Congressional vote by a 46 percent to 41 percent margin.
A grimmer picture emerges when examining the big economic and social issues facing the country. Although many voters give Biden credit for “trying to do the right thing”, nearly 6 in 10 voters say President Biden is not focused on the issues that are most important to them. What are those issues? Topping the presented list of four major priorities for Congress and the President is “inflation and the economy”—scoring well above others at 50 percent—followed by “the conflict between Russia and Ukraine” at 25 percent, “immigration and border security” at 15 percent, and “the coronavirus pandemic” at a distant 5 percent.
More specifically, the WSJ poll breaks down which party voters think would best handle a variety of important issues. On almost all of them—save health care, Covid, and prescription drug costs—Republicans are favored over Democrats often by double-digit margins: +8 on having a better economic plan to make life easier; +8 on keeping children in school; +13 on rebuilding the economy; +15 on holding the line on taxes; +17 on getting inflation under control; +20 on reducing crime; and +26 on securing the border.
Democrats cannot expect to hold Congress, or even keep their losses reasonable, if Republicans are viewed as better on nearly every issue of concern to voters. Biden is doing relatively well in voters’ minds on the war in Ukraine, even as Republicans maintain an edge on which party is best able to handle the situation in Ukraine and foreign policy generally. But other domestic issues centered on the economy and inflation are more immediate concerns for voters. If the President and Democrats in Congress can’t put aside other legislative desires to rebuild trust on the national economy and household costs—and connect the state of the economy to wider geopolitical conflict in a credible manner—voters will likely turn to a Republican Party that is not wildly popular by any means.
Perhaps the GOP will put up a bunch of extreme, out-of-the-mainstream candidates and botch the fall elections. But no party should pin its hopes on the other one making dumb errors.
Politics is a simple game to win and the Democrats are currently playing to lose.