Left Populist Messaging Is A Winning Midterm Strategy-- Democratic Candidates Should Embrace It
Although many people are trying to, the midterms are too close to call; apparently, the country either has too many MAGAs or there are millions of potential voters who do want to play the “lesser of two evils” game any longer. Yesterday, Philip Bump noted that “overall patterns are dependent on individual races. And a spate of new polls conducted for Fox News by its bipartisan polling team shows, in essence, the importance of picking viable candidates in the first place.” As we saw yesterday, in the House races, both parties have lots of terrible candidates not worth voting for. The same holds true up and down the ballot, from U.S. Senate to state legislature.
[N]ew polls evaluate the state of play in four states that are electing both governors and senators this year: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The widest overall margin is in the Pennsylvania governor’s race, where Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) leads state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) by 11 points. The closest race is in Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers (D) earns the same level of support as his challenger, businessman Tim Michels (R). Generally, the picture is consistent: These races are too close to be able to identify a clear leader.
If we pick out each race individually, though, some interesting patterns emerge. Below, we overlay the margin of support by party and the percentage of supporters of each candidate who say that they support the candidate enthusiastically.
Notice two things.
First, the level of support from members of a party (the big red and blue circles) varies depending on the race. The difference in Georgia is stark: The margin the Republican gubernatorial incumbent (Brian Kemp) enjoys among Republicans is wider than the margin for Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Among Democrats, the opposite is true: Gubernatorial challenger Stacey Abrams has a less robust margin among Democrats than does Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Then consider the enthusiasm difference. The red and blue circles are scaled to enthusiasm percentages, with bigger circles meaning more enthusiasm from supporters. Those are compared directly at right. While Abrams and Kemp evoke similar levels of partisan enthusiasm, Warnock gets much more enthusiasm from Democrats than Walker does from Republicans.
In fact, in three of the four Senate contests, Democrats have a wide enthusiasm advantage— on average, 28 points. And in each of those races, the Democrats are facing Republican competitors who’ve run less-than-exceptional campaigns.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D) faces venture capitalist Blake Masters (R), who has been saddled with both political clumsiness and self-inflicted controversies. In Georgia, Walker’s own staff members have been complaining about the candidate to reporters. In Pennsylvania, television personality Mehmet Oz (R) has been battered by questions about his New Jersey residence. The Fox News poll shows improvement for Oz, but the campaign has not been smooth sailing. In each of these three races, the Democratic candidate has an advantage both in vote margin and in enthusiasm.
It’s worth noting here that “enthusiasm” is a wobbly concept. That enthusiasm matters is clear; if you are very excited about voting for a candidate, you’re more likely to, say, prioritize heading to vote after work or in a rainstorm. Those things matter at the edges. The question is the extent to which expressed enthusiasm in polling makes a big difference. Research indicates that polled enthusiasm does correlate to election results, but of course, there’s also a broader question about the precision of polls in the Donald Trump era.
That enthusiasm seems to correspond to perceptions of candidate quality, though, is telling. In the fourth Senate race, pitting Sen. Ron Johnson (R) against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), Johnson is faring better. That’s probably a combination of incumbency— clearly a factor in the Arizona and Georgia Senate races— and the fact that efforts to cast the Democrat as unacceptably liberal [and Negro] have been more effective than in other states. In Fox’s polling, 35 percent of respondents said they were extremely concerned that Barnes’s views were too extreme, about the same share as said that of Johnson. Barnes is the only Democratic candidate at an enthusiasm disadvantage.
At the gubernatorial level, the enthusiasm gaps are narrower — though in Pennsylvania, where Mastriano trails by a lot, Democrats are 19 points more enthusiastic than Republicans. Mastriano’s campaign has been conducted from safely within the right’s media bubble, but even among Republicans, his margin of support is among the lowest of any of the seven other candidates. Oz’s support from Republicans is more robust than Mastriano’s. Forty percent of respondents said they were extremely concerned that Mastriano’s views were too extreme.
There is one candidate who was seen as a dubious candidate choice but is faring well in the Fox polling: Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. A former television news anchor, she’s adept at politicking, but her decision to center her campaign heavily on false claims about election fraud seemed like it might be a drag on her effort.
Fox asked another question that may help explain why it hasn’t been. Asked to pick between identifying themselves as supporters more of the Republican Party or Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, Arizona was the only state where MAGA support was more common.
While the margin Lake enjoys among Republicans is relatively low compared with the other candidates, the difference in enthusiasm between her and Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, is negligible.
Yesterday, The Prospect published a guardedly optimistic piece by Democratic Party pollster Stanley Greenberg, who claims his newest survey shows that Democrats have the momentum advantage going into the last month of midterm campaigning, having pulled 2 points ahead among likely voters (3 points ahead among registered votes).
He wrote that the believes the bills the Democrats managed to pass over the summer “changed the perceptions since July of which party is better on key issues. And these changes are not at all small. The biggest gains for Democrats were on ‘encouraging extremists,’ ‘doing what they say’ and ‘getting things done,’ ‘the economy,’ and most important, ‘helping with the cost of living.’ The last is, by far, the most pressing issue for the country. Democrats have narrowed the gap on the economy but still trail Republicans by 8 points. Staying there is fatal. People are on the edge financially, and they are paying a lot of attention to what is happening in Washington. The parties are now at parity on who is better on the cost of living, including a big change in who is ‘much better’— one of the most important changes since July. And fortunately, Democratic campaigns in practice are delivering a message consistent with that finding. The NBC poll tests the message that Democrats are actually saying, and it starts with their advocacy for working people on the cost of living: ‘we need to keep delivering for working Americans by lowering costs, including health care and prescription drugs, and ensuring the corporations pay their fair share of taxes.’ That message gives the Democrats a 7-point advantage compared to the Republican message.”
Recall how we made a bill deal out of the anti-trust bill that passed on Thursday? A big majority of Republicans (168 to 39) voted against it, as did 16 mostly corrupt conservative Democrats like Pete Aguilar, Ami Bera, Tony Cárdenas, Jim Cooper, Lou Correa, Stephanie Murphy, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas. Greenberg wrote that his poll “shows that we make our biggest gains when Democrats take on the corporate monopolies that are driving up prices, despite making super profits. It contests the cost of living by hitting Republicans hard on doing big corporations’ bidding on price-gouging and taxes."
Chris Deluzio is the progressive Democrat working to win the open seat west of Pittsburgh. He's up against a cash-rich Trumpist and can use some help. This morning he told me that “If we’re going to do anything to take on corporate price gouging— and we must to bring down prices— then we have to restore some muscle to our antitrust laws to protect workers, consumers, and small businesses.”
"The revulsion with the ‘top 1 percent,’" continued Greenberg, "is stronger than hatred generated by Trump’s ‘Make America Great.’ Just throw out the phrase ‘top 1 percent,’ and marvel at the reaction, as I did in focus groups conducted for Rethink Trade. In Philadelphia, the service workers shouted out, ‘rich,’ ‘wish I was part of it,’ ‘fortunate,’ ‘spoiled,’ ‘don’t have a clue, entitled.’ ‘Better than ever before.’ The Black and Hispanic workers in Philadelphia went right to ‘elite’ and ‘Elon Musk.’ For the Seattle women college graduates, they said, ‘wealthy,’ ‘greedy,’ ‘privileged,’ ‘oligarchic,’ ‘domination,’ and ‘entitled.’ In Texas, the Republican men, with even more venom, said, ‘greedy,’ ‘no worries,’ ‘Jeff Bezos,’ ‘ingenuity at its finest,’ and ‘Elon.’ And in Seattle, the college men went to ‘rich, undertaxed,’ ‘misunderstood in the media,’ ‘too concentrated,’ and critically, ‘too powerful.’”
Democrats hold their lead in this poll only when they embrace helping working people with the cost of living as their first priority. They make further gains when they address abortion, assault weapons, and the Child Tax Credit.
Campaigns do best when they get voters focused on what their candidates have gotten done and what positions put the opponents most at risk.
Across the base of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Gen Z and millennials, and unmarried women, the top legislative accomplishment that most impressed voters was bringing down health care costs. The Child Tax Credit was top for Gen Z and millennial voters. Their affirming Roe v. Wade in law in the House was top for Hispanics, Gen Z, and unmarried women, including whites. That was the very top accomplishment for all under-50 white working-class voters.
The results should lead to messages that attack Republicans for being corrupt and extreme on doing the bidding of the biggest corporations, raising taxes on working people, and billionaires paying no tax. They are also extreme in their threat to democracy, taking instruction from the NRA on assault rifles, and making abortion illegal nationally.
Greenberg asked voters their reaction to the term “corporate monopolies.” He wrote that “Their hostile responses topped their positive ones by a 3-to-1 ratio (60 to 19 percent). And what about America’s partisan polarization? Republicans are actually slightly more put off than Democrats by corporate monopolies and their power.”