Path to a Democratic Victory in 2022
The DC chattering class convinced themselves a remarkably long time ago that the Democrats were doomed, doomed, doomed in the 2022 elections. The pundits happily ignore any actual facts contradicting this narrative in their rush to judgment.
In this memo, we intend to offer a contradictory view, supported by real data.
The Pundits Are Usually Wrong
The first thing to note is that the DC purveyors of conventional wisdom, the pundits and prognosticators, are usually wrong. They were wrong in July 1992 when they said Bill Clinton could never win. They were wrong on election morning 1998 when they said the Democrats would lose 20-30 seats in the House, and we picked up four that night. They were wrong when they accepted Karl Rove’s pronouncements about a “permanent Republican majority” in 2005, and then we swept to control both houses of Congress the next year. They were wrong when they said Hillary Clinton could not be beaten in the Democratic primary in 2008, and when they said there was no chance a Black man with the name of Barack Hussein Obama could ever win the presidency. They were wrong when they said Hillary would easily beat Trump in 2016.
The DC pundits just don’t get what is really going on in America. But let’s discuss the reasons they give for their certainty of Democratic losses this year.
History. The first is history, that a president’s party usually loses big in the midterms. The reliance on this historical likelihood is problematic because too much weight is given to the past, ignoring the unusual times we are currently living in… an attempted coup by Donald Trump, the coverup by his enablers, the stripping of reproductive rights from women by an increasingly radicalized Supreme Court, the escalation of gun violence, an ongoing pandemic that was exacerbated by the rule of the GOP, … you get the point.
The party of the sitting president winning the midterms is unusual, but certainly not impossible. It’s happened four times since 1934, close to 20% of the midterms since, and twice since 1998, a third of the midterms since that year. The party in power tends to do better in the midterms when it is an unusual year historically, when the opposition party has overreached and been discredited, and when there has been a historically significant event threatening our democracy. Check, check, and check.
The other thing to note: since 2016, every election has been counter to long term historical trends. 2016 was the election of Trump, the kind of candidate who would have never won in previous cycles, and a candidate who lost the popular vote by a bigger margin than any Electoral College winner ever. 2018 had the highest turnout surge in history: the 13.6% surge above the historical average was almost twice as high as the previous highest surge in history (which, by the way, was in that 1934 election where Democrats gained seats in the midterm.) And 2020 saw the first president lose re-election since 1992, another record-breaking turnout by a huge margin.
Biden’s approval rating. The second thing the pundits say spells doom and gloom for the Democrats is Joe Biden’s approval rating, which is stuck in the high 30s. Historically, the sitting president’s approval rating tracks closely with how that president’s party does in the midterms.
But again, we live in ahistorical times. Neither major party and very few politicians are popular right now. Voters are discouraged with, and cynical about, both parties and most politicians. Elections are a choice between candidates on a ballot, not an up or down vote on whether you like someone.
Think about the recent presidential election in France. On Election Day and in the lead-up, Macron’s approval rating was as bad as Biden’s, ranging from 37% to 41% in the polls -- yet he beat Le Pen 59-41. Why? Because the large majority of voters knew she was a right-wing lunatic.
Here’s another thing to look at: most of the loss in Biden’s approval number has come from Democrats, Democratic-leaning Independents, and demographic groups that have historically leaned Democratic. There is no evidence to suggest that those voters are going to vote Republican. They may not vote if they feel like our party has let them down, but we need to be laser focused on turning discouraged Democrats out to vote. It is also clear that recent events are motivating them: Democrats have been trailing Republicans in enthusiasm for most of this election cycle, but the latest polling now shows Democrats with a three-point lead in thinking that voting in 2022 is very important (92-89).
Inflation. Finally, pundits note that inflation is the number one issue for voters, and that will doom the Democrats. They are right about the first part of that sentence, but wrong about the second.
In polling and focus groups, it is clear that voters are very upset about inflation and that the issue is the number one thing about which they are thinking. But their first instinct is not to blame Biden: they understand that the supply chain problems caused by Covid and the war in Ukraine are major causes of the problem. They also blame big businesses that are profiteering and price gouging, and they believe that the Democrats are more likely to do something about it than Republicans.
Democrats must focus on the price gouging inflicted by oil companies, food companies, and prescription drug companies; and that Republicans will do nothing to stop it .
The polling is far more competitive than the narrative saying the Democrats will get swamped.
As we know well, polling is not the end all and be all: polls are wrong quite a bit these days. But they are one source of information, and can at least tell us whether we are in the hunt.
In the four Senate races with vulnerable Democratic incumbents, according to the latest public polls, we are currently ahead in all four:
In AZ, Kelly is ahead 48-39 over the leading Republican candidate
In GA, Warnock is ahead 48-44 over Walker
In NH, Hassan is up 49-40 over Bolduc
In NV, Cortez Masto is up 46-43 over Laxalt
In the Senate races for open seats or those held by Republicans, we are also ahead or very competitive:
In PA, Fetterman is up 50-44 against Dr. Oz
In WI, the Democratic frontrunner is ahead 46-44 over Ron Johnson
In OH, Ryan is up 46-36 against JD Vance
In NC, Budd is ahead of the Democratic candidate Beasley only 44-40
In FL, Demings was behind 50-44 in a poll taken before the Roe decision
In MO, the leading Democratic contender, Lucas Kunce, is in a statistical dead heat with the leading Republican, Eric Greitens 45-44, with a long time Republican who just announced he is running as an Independent.
In Iowa, the 300-year-old Chuck Grassley (okay, only 88) is ahead only 49-44
On the generic ballot test for House races, where we had been averaging three points behind, since Roe those numbers have been moving in our direction, we are now in a statistical dead heat. Some polls, such as this Morning Consult poll have Democrats with a big lead in the Congressional number.
In the meantime, since May, the generic rating for the Republican Party as a whole has dropped 10 points, and is now 39-56, with Independents dropping even more dramatically, a -24 shift in the same time period. The generic rating for the Democrats has stayed more steady and is currently at -8 (it was -5 in May).
This data is taken from a poll commissioned by the Research Collaborative and ASO Communications, Lake Research Partners conducted a nationwide survey of 800 likely 2022 general election voters from July 13-17.
The Democratic Agenda versus the MAGA Republican Agenda
The Republican agenda is stunningly extreme and highly unpopular. Think about what Republican leaders are saying what they want to do:
Pass a national law banning abortion with no exceptions
Give more tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations
Slash regulations on Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Big Food companies
Sunset all government agencies and programs including Social Security and Medicare
Raise taxes on 100 million low and moderate income people
Stop all action to combat climate change
Make it more difficult to vote
Make it easier to buy assault rifles
All of these proposals are opposed by at least 60% of the American people, many of them by a lot more.
The Democratic agenda is a whole lot more popular:
Guarantee the right to abortion, birth control, and to marry whomever you love
Ban military style assault rifles
Lower the prices of prescription drugs, health care, and child care
Make wealthy corporations and individuals pay their fair share in taxes
Crack down on corporate price gouging
Bring jobs home by buying American and boosting American manufacturing
Make it easier for workers to join and form unions
Raise the minimum wage
All of those policy ideas have over 60% support, some of them much more.
So if we keep reminding voters of the unpopular things Republicans want to do, while reminding them of the popular things we will do if Democrats keep control of the House and add to our majority in the Senate, we can win this election.
Keep in mind this fundamental dynamic: voters hate it when you take away things they like. The Republicans on the Supreme Court have taken the right to abortion; Republicans in Congress, if they were in control, are planning to take away many more things voters love. The contrast in agendas is a powerful factor. Democrats want to save the right to abortion and birth control; they will fight to stop any attempts to sunset Social Security and Medicare.
The Outrageous Awfulness of Republican Candidates
The large majority of the people winning Republican nominations in Senate, governor, and House races love Donald Trump and have truly extreme agendas, but it’s not just that: a lot of them are truly awful candidates.
Don’t take it from me; read this quote from a leading Republican strategist quoted by the Washington Post: “there are massive problems on the candidate front.”
Here’s just a small sample:
GA Senate candidate Herschel Walker lied about serving in law enforcement, and lied to his own staff as well as the public about the children he fathered. His answers to questions on a wide range of issues have been comically incoherent.
WI incumbent Senator Ron Johnson has a long list of outrageous rightwing quotes, and only had a 37% approval rating even before recent evidence that he was helping further the president’s coup attempt.
PA governor candidate Doug Mastriano is a Christian Nationalist who brags about being at the Capitol riot on January 6, and says he will use the power of the governor’s office to overturn any presidential election results he doesn’t like. Meanwhile, celebrity Senate candidate Dr. Oz had to move in with his mother-in-law because he does not live in PA, and after a brutal primary has been running a terrible campaign.
Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance is the worst possible combination of a Bain Capital style hedge fund millionaire and Trumpian stooge enthusiastically supported by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. He has called abortion the equivalent of slavery.
These are only a few examples, there are so many more running all over the country in races all over the ballot. Democrats should be able to make up all kinds of ground running against these jokers.
The January 6 Committee Dynamic
The January 6 hearings have been watched by far more people than anyone initially predicted: 86% have heard a lot or some about the hearings, an extraordinary number for congressional hearings. Independent and surge voters are among the groups that are paying extra attention.
20% of Republicans, along with a vast majority of Democrats and Independents, now believe the January 6 riot was a criminal conspiracy, and that Trump shares a big part of the blame. More and more voters believe that Republicans who supported or enabled Trump should not win reelection. 70 percent agree, 60 percent strongly that they would not vote for anyone who supported or encouraged the attack on our country on Jan 6, including 97 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Independents, and 39 percent of Republicans -- which is significant given the number of Republican candidates who have bragged about being at the insurrectionor aligned themselves closely with Trump and the Big Lie. (All poll numbers come from polling done by Celinda Lake.)
Democrats’ messaging still needs to make the link between Republican extremism on Jan 6 and their extremism on the issues, but there is no doubt that the hearings are moving voters more in our direction, and have opened up space for us to make these arguments in a compelling way.
What Democrats Need To Do To Win the 2022 Elections
The number one thing is to stop listening to the DC chattering class and get focused on organizing and turning out the vote.
Let’s do a quick review:
The Republican Party approval rating has dropped 10 points since May, 24 among Independents.
The generic Democratic horserace number has been moving in the right direction ever since the Roe decision, and is now in a dead heat.
The Democratic enthusiasm-for-voting number now exceeds the Republican number.
All four incumbent Democratic senators lead in their races, and three of our Senate challenger candidates are ahead, while four others are in or close to a statistical dead heat.
The Republican issue agenda is horribly unpopular, while ours is highly popular.
A great many of the Republican candidates running this year are extremist goofballs.
On the Republicans’ strongest issue, inflation, we have a strong, credible counter message.
So why exactly are we hanging our head and bemoaning our chances? Let’s get over that bullshit. Folks, Democrats are in a position to win this election. Here’s what we need to do:
Always remind voters of the choice they have in this election: the extremist Republican MAGA agenda vs the common sense Democratic agenda. This election between two starkly different visions for America.
Economic populism should be at the center of our message. Working-class voters, both in the Democratic base and among swing voters, have a strong dislike for the wealthy corporations, CEOs, and individuals that don’t pay what they owe in taxes; that use inflation as an excuse to jack up prices and make huge profits; that ship jobs overseas and screw workers out of their pensions; that bust unions and force small businesses to close down. They know that Republicans are in the pocket of wealthy corporations and the 1%, and they want Democrats to fight for them. A new Democracy Corps poll https://democracycorps.com/national-surveys/battling-to-a-democratic-win-in-2022/ shows that if our message on inflation is a strong populist one, we have the potential to win on the issue and build a solid lead in the congressional vote.
Keep reminding voters of the lengths Trump and his Republican allies went to, and are going to, in order to illegally and violently stay in power.
GOTFV. Get Out The Fricking Vote. There are more Democrats and Democratic leaning Independent voters than there are Republicans and Republican leaners. We win when we get out our vote, especially in a midterm. Period. As soon as you are done reading this memo, go make some damn calls.
Democrats, we can win. There are challenges to overcome, choppy seas to navigate, but there is no doubt this victory is within reach. Fight the good fight, and we will prevail.