Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Democrats Should Go Into Shock.

I'd be shocked if Republicans don't take at least 50 seats next November. I expect this year will match or even exceed the victory totals from 2014, when the G.O.P. picked up 63 seats in the House.

Here's Thomas Edsall, at the New York Times, "Democrats Shouldn’t Panic. They Should Go Into Shock":

The rise of inflation, supply chain shortages, a surge in illegal border crossings, the persistence of Covid, mayhem in Afghanistan and the uproar over “critical race theory” — all of these developments, individually and collectively, have taken their toll on President Biden and Democratic candidates, so much so that Democrats are now the underdogs going into 2022 and possibly 2024.

Gary Langer, director of polling at ABC News, put it this way in an essay published on the network’s website:

As things stand, if the midterm elections were today, 51 percent of registered voters say they’d support the Republican candidate in their congressional district, 41 percent say the Democrat. That’s the biggest lead for Republicans in the 110 ABC/Post polls that have asked this question since November 1981.

These and other trends have provoked a deepening pessimism about Democratic prospects in 2022 and anxiety about the 2024 presidential election.

Robert Y. Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia, holds similar views, but suggests that the flood tide of political trouble may be beyond Democratic control:

Biden and the Democrats have had almost all bad news: the pandemic is still going; the economy has not picked up in terms of perceptions of the expected increases in employment and economic growth not on fire; perceptions of what happened in Afghanistan; what has happened on the southern border; high crime rates, all amplified in news reports. It is all perception, and the latest is the increase in inflation and gas prices that people see/feel. The critical race theory controversy and perceptions of Democrats being too woke and extreme. The bad news is overwhelming.

Bill McInturff, a founding partner of Public Opinion Strategies, provided me with data from the October WSJ/NBC poll asking voters which party can better manage a wide range of issues. On three key issues — controlling inflation (45R-21D), dealing with crime (43R-21D) and dealing with the economy (45R-27D) — the Republican advantage was the highest in surveys dating back to the 1990s.

“Washington Democrats are spending months fighting over legislation,” McInturff wrote by email,

but, during this time, voters tell us prices are soaring, the cost of living is tied for the top issue in the country, and there is a sharp increase in economic pessimism. It is these economic factors that are driving negative impressions about the direction of the country to unusually high levels, and this is hurting Democrats everywhere. No administration is going to thrive in that economic environment.

In his analysis of the Nov. 6-10 Washington Post/ABC News Poll, Langer made the case that

While a year is a lifetime in politics, the Democratic Party’s difficulties are deep; they include soaring economic discontent, a president who’s fallen 12 percentage points underwater in job approval and a broad sense that the party is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans — 62 percent say so.

The numbers are even worse for Democrats in the eight states expected to have the closest Senate elections, according to Langer — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Not only is Biden’s overall job approval rating in those states 33 percent, 10 points lower than it is in the rest of the country, but registered voters in those eight states say they are more likely to vote for Republican House candidates than for Democrats by 23 points (at 58 percent to 35 percent).

On Nov. 3, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball updated the ratings for three incumbent Democratic senators — Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada — from “lean Democratic” to “tossup.”

An examination of Gallup survey results on the question “As of today, do you lean more to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party?” reflects the damage suffered by the Democrats. From January through August, Democrats held a substantial 7.9 point advantage (48.2 percent to 41.3 percent). In September, however, Gallup reported a 2-point (47-45) Republican edge that grew to a 5-point (47-42) edge by October.

In terms of election outcomes, Republican are once again capitalizing on their domination of the congressional redistricting process to disenfranchise Democratic voters despite strong public support for reforms designed to eliminate or constrain partisan gerrymandering. On Monday, The Times reported that the Republican Party “has added enough safe House districts to capture control of the chamber based on its redistricting edge alone.” The current partisan split in the House is 221 Democratic seats and 213 Republican seats, with one vacancy.

There is perhaps one potential political opportunity for Democrats — should the Supreme Court overturn or undermine Roe v. Wade, mobilizing supporters of reproductive rights across the country.

In the meantime, uneasiness prevails. Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard, noted in an email that

Biden had two drops in approval ratings, one from June to August of about 6 points, and another from September to October of another 6 points. The first was a response to Afghanistan. The second was a response to Covid and weak employment growth over the summer.

Passing the infrastructure bill should help “with the sense that the administration wasn’t doing enough for the economy,” Ansolabehere continued, but “the hit from Afghanistan is going to be harder to reverse, as it was a judgment about the administration’s handling of foreign affairs.”

Micah English, a graduate student in political science at Yale who studies race, class and gender dynamics, argued in an email that Democratic leaders have, at least until now, mismanaged the task of effectively communicating their agenda and goals.

“The Democratic Party has a messaging problem that they don’t seem to have any plans to rectify,” she wrote:

The Republicans message right now is essentially “Democrats and Biden are only concerned about teaching your children critical race theory instead of focusing on the economy!” The Democrats have no unified countermessage, and until they do, they are likely to continue to suffer major losses in the midterms and beyond.

This failure, English continued, has resulted in an inability to capitalize on what should have been good news:

The Democrats have proposed legislation that contains incredibly popular policies, but if they continue to fail to communicate the benefits of this legislation to the wider public, it won’t do them any good in the midterms. Additionally, as the 2020 election demonstrated, the Democrats cannot continue to rely on the prospect of changing demographics to deliver them electoral victories.

One theme that appeared repeatedly in the comments I received in response to my questions is that even as Biden has succeeded in winning passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, he has struggled to maintain an aura of mastery.

Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts, argued in an email that

what a lot of swing voters expected from Biden was competent leadership during a time of crisis. And many perhaps expected that a return to normal leadership would immediately solve the unprecedented problems facing the country. Of course, that was never a realistic expectation.

The crucial factors underlying Biden’s declining favorability rating, Schaffner continued, are “several things calling into question Biden’s effectiveness — the Afghanistan withdrawal, the continued impact of Covid, the struggling economy and the difficult time Democrats have had in passing their major legislative initiatives.”

I asked a range of political scientists for their projections on how the 2022 elections for control of the House are likely to turn out. Their views were preponderantly negative for Democratic prospects.

Matt Grossmann of Michigan State wrote: “Based on simple midterm loss averages, the Democrats are expected to lose 4 points of vote share and be down to ~45 percent of seats on ~48 percent of votes in 2022.” Those numbers translate into roughly a 24-seat loss, reducing Democrats to 197 seats. “There is not much under Democrats’ control that is likely to make a big difference in the extent of their losses,” Grossmann added. “They can try to avoid retirements and primary challenges in swing districts and avoid salient unpopular policies.”

Robert M. Stein of Rice University is even less optimistic:

In South Texas, Florida and parts of Arizona immigration policy is hurting Democrats with traditional-base voters. This is especially true with Hispanics in Texas border counties, where Trump did well in 2020 and Abbott (incumbent Republican governor) is making significant gains by appealing to the concerns of Hispanics over jobs and immigration.

Stein adds:

My guess is that Republicans are poised to take the House back in 2022 with gains above the average for midterm elections. Since 1946, the average seat gain for the party not in the White House is 27 seats. The best the Democrats can do is hold at the average, but given the Republican’s advantage with redistricting, my guess is that the Republicans gain 40+ seats.

Martin Wattenberg of the University of California-Irvine wrote that “it would take a major event like 9/11 to keep the Democrats from losing the House.” He was more cautious about control of the Senate, which “really depends on the quality of the candidates. Republicans have had the misfortune of nominating candidates like Christine (“I am not a witch”) O’Donnell who have lost eminently winnable races due to their own foibles. It remains to be seen if they will nominate such candidates in 2022.”

Wattenberg cited data from the General Social Survey showing a sharp rise in the percentage of Democrats describing themselves as liberal or slightly liberal, up from 47 percent in 2016 to 62 percent this year: “The left-wing movement of the Democrats is probably going to hurt with the 2022 electorate that will likely be skewed toward older, more conservative voters.”

Still more.