The Democratic Party Brand vs The Midterms
Last night Arizona Public Opinion Pulse released new state polling that shows both Arizona conservative Democratic senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema are in trouble with the voters. Kelly faces the voters next year, Sinema two years later. Kelly's favorability is underwater by 7 points, 41% favorable, 48% unfavorable. Kelly is doing well enough among Democrats but is failing among independents who have turned sour on Biden and on Democrats in general. Sinema is unpopular with her own party for blocking the Democrats' popular agenda.
The pollsters report that "Sinema’s favorability ratings are roughly split among Arizona voters, with 42% viewing her favorably and 45% viewing her unfavorably. What is especially interesting is the Democratic Senator’s ratings across the aisle-- Sinema’s numbers with Republicans are above water while her numbers with Democrats are underwater. Forty-eight percent of Republicans view Sinema favorably and 45% view her unfavorably. Meanwhile, just 42% of Sen. Sinema’s own party view her in a favorable light and 47% hold an unfavorable view of her... When asked who they would prefer as a U.S. Senator given the options of Sinema, a Republican, and a Democrat other than Sinema, only 26% of Arizona Democrats said that they would prefer Sinema, while another 72% chose a Democrat other than Kyrsten Sinema... Sinema also currently trails in hypothetical primary matchups. Against Phoenix Rep. Ruben Gallego, 47% said that they would support Gallego while 24% said that they would support Sinema. Rep. Greg Stanton, Sinema’s successor in Congress, leads his predecessor by an identical margin in a hypothetical primary match-up. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman also bests Sinema by 20 points... Sinema’s opposition to reforming the Senate filibuster has angered many progressives. Arizona’s electorate, however, is having a difficult time gauging the Senator’s exact position on the Senate rule. The survey found that 42% of Arizona voters believe Sinema supports the filibuster, while a statistically equivalent 39% are unsure where she stands."
It isn't just Arizona voters who are confused. Americans are less and less aware about what politicians and political parties stand for. The Democratic party brand is extremely muddied since Clinton turned it in a decidedly rightward, anti-labor direction in pursuit of contributions from Wall Street. This morning, David Siders wrote of an existential threat to the Democratic Party because of this broken brand. After the disaster in Virginia, party strategists discovered that the catastrophe goes beyond shitty centrists no one likes like McAuliffe and Biden. "Rather," he wrote, "the Democratic Party’s entire brand was a wreck." The right-fringe of the Democratic Party, Third Way-- which Siders mislabels as "center-left"-- reported that "Voters couldn’t name anything that Democrats had done, except a few who said we passed the infrastructure bill."
Most of the voters Third Way spoke with in suburban Virginia focus groups, according to the report, “could not articulate what Democrats stand for. They could also not say what they are doing in Washington, besides fighting.”
And those were just the people who voted for Biden.
Less than a year ahead of midterm elections, in which even Democrats widely expect they will lose the House and, possibly, the Senate, the party is confronting an identity crisis. It isn’t just Biden’s cratering public approval ratings, inflation, or the precedent that the party in power typically loses seats in a president’s first midterm.
Just one year after Democrats kicked Donald Trump from the White House, it’s not obvious to many voters what Democrats are doing now that they’re in charge-- despite the enactment of major legislation, including a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill earlier this year and an infrastructure bill last week.
Following the House’s passage of the social spending package on Friday, one Democratic strategist who advises major donors said, “Too late. We’re fucked.”
The findings in Virginia fall in line with public and private polling nationally in recent weeks. Biden’s approval rating, a measure closely tied to a party’s performance in the midterms, has fallen to below 43 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. That’s far worse than Barack Obama’s was at this point in his presidency, prior to the Democrats’ midterm wipe-out in 2010.
Generic ballot tests, pitting unnamed Republican candidates against unnamed Democrats, are also shifting in the GOP’s favor. More than 6 in 10 Americans say things generally are off on the wrong track, and similar majorities rate the state of the economy as bad.
That’s a poisonous environment for Democrats, and the remedy-- if one even exists-- isn’t clear.
“Voters believe the economy is bad, and no amount of stats can change their mind (at least in the short term),” the Third Way report said. “Jobs numbers, wage numbers, and the number of people we’ve put back to work don’t move them. We should still talk about these (more the wage and back-to-work numbers), but we should realize that they will have limited impact when people are seeing help wanted signs all over main street, restaurant sections closed for lack of workers, rising prices, and supply disruptions. Even where things are getting better, Biden doesn’t get credit.”
As Third Way’s Matt Bennett put it, “It’s not great news. Any [focus group] report that starts out, ‘Our weak national brand left us vulnerable’ is not great news.”
Ironically, it's Third Way and related groups-- No Labels, Blue Dogs, New Dems, Problem Solvers (basically the Republican wing of the Democratic Party)-- that has completely wrecked whatever the party once stood for. This isn't something Siders, or anyone at Politico, would ever even hint at. They may have derided the "Bernie or Bust" wing of the party but now the bust aspect is going to wipe them out as the Democrats over-fund the Pentagon and underfund the American people.
Unwilling, because of obeisance to corporate special interests, to pass popular, straightforward programs people expected of Democrats-- raising the minimum wage, lowering the cost of drugs and the Medicare eligibility age, adding dental care to Medicare, and tackling problems from Climate Change, voting rights and immigration reform to college debt and family leave-- more and more voters now find the Democratic Party a useless vehicle for their legitimate and vital interests. Many now don't even see an out-and-out fascist GOP as a greater evil than a flaccid, deceitful corporatist Democratic Party.
Austin's heroic-- and most progressive-- city council member, Greg Casar, a new candidate for Congress, told me this morning that "In places like Texas, where Republican leadership went on vacation to the beach while working families froze to death in their homes, where people like Gov. Abbott have focused on banning abortion and banning books instead of saving the economy or saving lives during the pandemic, Democrats can transform the state's politics if we clearly side with working people over the status quo. Progressive values are not a minority position, even in a place like Texas, where universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and union rights are incredibly popular. It's just a minority position, unfortunately, among elected officials. But we can change that, and we must."
In northwest Washington state, another savvy progressive candidate, Jason Call, well understands that not every blue will do. "Interesting assessment of the Third Way Dems," he said this morning, "that the Democratic brand is weakened, given that it was the Third Way perspective of 'run to the right' that has weakened the brand the most. Democrats stood for something before I was born. FDR, Truman, Kennedy, LBJ, and Jimmy Carter were all decidedly different presidents with decidedly different priorities to help working people and-- key piece-- resist the hegemony sought by Wall Street. The last Democratic presidential nominee who might have stood with that old guard was Walter Mondale, when I was in high school. Today’s Democrats, thanks to their lack of spine and willingness to acquiesce to corporate money, has steered well clear of making any demands on behalf of the general public, and are truly just 'the other corporate party.' That’s not even a newsflash. But we’re so far removed from the days of when Democrats actually pushed legislation that was significant to the working class (I’m thinking mid-60s) that rank and file Democrats often don’t know anything more than the team sports circus that American politics has become. What makes a 'good Democrat' these days is falling in line with party leadership that balances their supposed willingness to work for everyday people with the profit margins of their corporate donors. There are troublemakers on the right (Manchin, Gottheimer) and troublemakers on the left (the Squad) but those on the right always get (most of) what they want because that’s where leadership is. Those on the left are labeled as petulant children even though their demands are far more in line with party platform ideals. I was told a few years ago by a party insider 'nobody cares about the platform except people like you. It’s window dressing to be ignored.' It’s no wonder people can’t figure out what the Democrats stand for."
Honolulu progressive congressional candidate Sergio Alcubilla must get up really early in the morning to have gotten me this statement today. I'm glad he did: "We need to get back to what the Democratic Party is all about and that is helping to make the lives of everyday Americans better. Unfortunately, many in the party have strayed from that as money in politics have made them lose focus on who they serve. When corporate interests begin to seep into party politics, we can quickly become out of touch. Those in the Democratic Party who have come to represent corporate interests over people and this planet have overshadowed all that we’re doing. It’s time for them to step aside or just be honest with their constituents. Otherwise, the American people will continue to believe that they’ve been sold out and will hold the party to blame. It’s time for us to get back to the heart of the party and clean house. Time to sweep out the dirt that have sullied our Democratic ideals. I’m starting with our own Blue Dog Democrat right here in Hawai’i."
The progressive running for the congressional seat in Central New York, Steven Holden, told me he sees this in his own Syracuse-centered district and in the Democratic Party primary there. "We now have two Establishment, 'moderate' veterans-- Francis Conole and Sarah Klee Hood-- who have no policy and who will lean into the military-industrial complex if either gets to DC. These folks are in the mold of Seth Mouton, Jared Golden, and Abigail Spanberger. They are 'boutique' Democrats who have been roundly rejected by either primary or general election voters for years here in Central NY. One of Conole’s former supporters said that he is in it for the money and has little to no desire to talk to voters about what struggles they are having. Sarah’s own supporters do not want her to run, which makes people ask why she is running. How do we know she is not the next Sinema, and carving herself out a position in the party to replace Sen Shumer when he retires? This is what voters, in both parties, hate. That very same former Conole supporter told me that Conole is a massive failure as a candidate and admitted that is no different than Katko. We as progressives must set the standard for the moral policy, as Bernie says, who puts citizens first. We must put policies like the Green New Deal for CNY out there for voters and give them options besides craven political opportunists who are beholden to the machine. If we cannot do that, then we will submit America to the Far Right."