To avert disaster, the Democratic Party must stop fretting about the message and listen to the working-class.
Polls, as worthless as they have become at predicting the outcomes of elections, can still occasionally reveal something useful if you look at the data wholesale.
It isn’t just that polls are almost always wrong these days; it is that they are engineered, manipulated models based on old random sampling methods which don’t work anymore and haven’t been replaced by new ones.
A poll- commissioned by a political party, candidate or media company- can be made to say just about anything. Re-wording a question can solicit both a “yes” and a “no” response from the same respondent, a phenomena with which polling companies are only too familiar.
Polls, and polling methods, tend to skew Democratic, over-sampling progressive voters and missing huge swathes of more-conservative and rural voters who are hard to reach by phone or online.
We’ve seen empirical proof of this in every election since 2016, and before. Pollsters missed Brexit before they missed Donald Trump. In 2020, polls were proven more unreliable than ever. In 27 out of 27 toss-up races Democrats were projected to win, they lost.
In 2021, nothing has changed. Popular New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy almost lost a reelection campaign he was always comfortably winning in the polls. In Virginia recently, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate lost in spite of polls showing him ahead the whole race.
No one can remember the last time a Republican candidate was predicted to win an election they later went on to lose.
Taking a birds-eye view of the latest polling, things aren’t going so well for the Democratic Party. 2021 hasn’t been an easy year for most, but for the Democratic Party in particular, it’s been rough: Inflation, higher fuel prices, a labor shortage, supply line issues, Afghanistan, new COVID-19 variants, resistance to vaccine mandates, and more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 in spite of vaccines.
There has been a spate of recent Democratic Party retirements in Congress, never a good sign.
Voters are being much too hard on Democrats; of course they are. To the Democratic Party has fallen the Herculean task of guiding the nation through a pandemic and the immediate economic devastation of its aftermath. Things were always bound to be difficult at the mid-terms.
But some of the Democratic Party’s wounds have been self-inflicted.
Polls have been reporting on questions of voter confidence; voters have consistently answered they trust Republicans more on the economy than Democrats. The Democratic Party needs to get out in front of the idea that Democratic economic policies mean higher prices for everything.
Instead of focusing on the message, Democrats need to deliver. The biggest mistake the Democratic Party ever made was ignoring the concerns of the working-class at the close of the Obama Administration.
The working-class- and especially working-class Democrats who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and in greater numbers for him in 2020- remember well the disappointments of those days.
While the media worked hard to push the idea that President Obama ushered in an economic rebound during his presidency, on the ground in America, it was hard to notice.
Indulging in an unemployment numbers shell game may have been good for making things look better on paper, but it didn’t actually put anyone to work. Telling everyone, “unemployment is going way down,” while concealing the fact that the administration simply removed millions of people from the workforce- not considering them “unemployed” as they were no longer “actively looking for a job,”- was bound to backfire sooner-or-later.
Because whether you call it millions of people, “dropping out of the workforce,” or millions of people, “unemployed”, the result is the same.
If you looked for a job during that period of touted economic “recovery”, you already know; it was the recovery that wasn’t. It was an economic recovery that happened only in the media; on the ground in working-class neighborhoods, things were as dire as ever.
Then came the unexpected economic successes of the Trump Administration. According to the Obama Administration, all those people who “dropped out of the workforce,” weren’t ever coming back.
Except they did come back. When unemployment for every demographic group- even the most marginalized- reached historic lows, month after month, it set a new precedent.
Working-class Democrats now expect their party leaders to do the same and better. If Donald Trump, of whom the left has a very low opinion indeed, could do it, why can’t Democrats?
“This is a worker’s market right now,” one member of a women’s professional leadership forum told D.C. attendees three years into Donald Trump’s presidency. “If you’re not using this time to actively look for a better job, ask for more money, or negotiate better benefits, you’re missing out.”
The dismay on the faces of some in the predominantly liberal audience was palpable. People shifted uncomfortably. Drawing positive attention to the Trump economy was verboten. It isn’t that liberals don’t like positive economic indicators or bigger paychecks for the working-class; they do.
It’s just that liberals didn’t want Donald Trump getting credit for it, or worse, getting reelected on its merits. Trump, it was understood, was far too high a price to pay for cheap gas and record-low unemployment.
Now, with inflation and higher fuel prices threatening to knock working-class families down the socio-economic ladder, voting Democrats are more uncomfortable than ever.
The temptation to deflect blame is strong, which is why the Democratic Party is focusing on improving messaging.
Focusing on the messaging, rather than on solutions, however, is bound to lead, as it already has, to attempts to downplay and dismiss these concerns. This is a huge disconnect.
Because, meanwhile, out in middle-America this Thanksgiving, in working-class suburban neighborhoods everywhere, in economically disadvantaged inner-city communities, the higher prices for everything were all anyone could talk about.
The best messaging the Democratic Party could focus on isn’t why Democrats aren’t to blame for these problems, or why these problems aren’t really that bad anyway so stop complaining, but what is going wrong and how Democrats intend to fix it.
Preferably before the mid-terms.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)