Senate Democrats look to fix ugly polling numbers
Senate Democrats are growing alarmed about bad polling numbers and are looking for a better strategy for selling President Biden’s climate and social spending agenda, which Republicans are attacking as a far-left tax and spending spree.
The party also feels that it is getting killed politically by Republicans on culture war issues after Democrats lost the Virginia gubernatorial contest, which hinged in part on critical race theory.
Senate Democratic Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) organized a meeting with Democratic pollsters on Wednesday to review the surprisingly strong Republican performances in Virginia and New Jersey. One person familiar with the meeting said the message from some of the pollsters was an alarming wake-up call.
“Their level of concern is extremely high,” the source said about what senators heard from pollsters David Dixon, Pete Brodnitz, Geoff Garin, Anita Dunn and María Teresa Kumar.
The clear implication from the presentation is that Senate Democrats are in serious danger of losing their majority next year if they don’t turn around souring public sentiment.
“It’s almost like the Reagan revolution,” the Democratic source said of the success Republicans are having in portraying Democrats as out of step with mainstream cultural values.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed that 46 percent of registered voters say they would prefer to see Republicans control the Senate, while 42 percent said they want a Democratic Senate majority.
Biden’s sinking approval numbers are also cause for concern. An average of national polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight shows that Biden’s approval rating stands at only 42.5 percent, while his disapproval rating is 51.8 percent.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Friday shifted three Senate races toward Republicans. The respected handicapper now rates the races in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada as toss-ups after previously seeing Democrats as slight favorites in those states.
The Senate is split 50-50, which means a Republican net gain of one seat would make Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the new majority leader.
While Republicans are revving up their base, Democratic voters have become demoralized over their infighting over Biden’s agenda on Capitol Hill, Democratic pollsters and lawmakers warn.
Democratic senators lament that much of the media coverage of Washington this year has focused on battles between progressives and centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) instead of the substantive proposals in Biden’s agenda, such as the expanded child tax credit and new funding for child care and prekindergarten.
“The Democratic base is very frustrated and very depressed about our inability to just get things done,” said one Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss growing angst within the caucus over the party’s weak poll numbers.
The lawmaker said the political boost Democrats got earlier in the year from passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan has worn off and that it is critical Congress pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda before the end of the year.
“The American Rescue Plan has worn off. That was a million years ago,” the senator added.
The lawmaker, however, expressed hope that the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Biden signed into law Monday, would begin to boost the party’s poll numbers.
Klobuchar told The Hill that the numbers aren’t as bad as some of her colleagues are making them out to be. She also said the best way to get better poll results is to pass meaningful legislation.
“We’re just talking about how we’re going to message. Mostly it was talking about Build Back Better,” she said.
She said the main lesson from the recent political setbacks in Virginia and New Jersey, where Democrats got a big scare in the governor’s race, is that Democrats need to “get things done.”
“Unlike the other party, when things happen with the electorate, we look at what we’re doing as opposed to trying to change our voters, which is what they’re doing with their voter suppression,” she said, referring to more than 200 laws Republicans have proposed in more than 40 states since losing the White House and Senate in the 2020 election to limit mail-in and early voting and Election Day voting.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said the elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed a significant enthusiasm gap emerging between Republican and Democratic voters.
“We learned that the Republicans can supercharge their turnout even without Trump on the ballot or in the state and that is a very sobering lesson,” she said.
Lake said Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin managed to campaign as a centrist to suburban women voters while sounding “dog whistles” on cultural issues to excite Republican base voters in rural areas.
“They do it very effectively by running a two-tier campaign. Youngkin ran as Mr. Rogers, right down to the red sweater, to the suburban women on TV and then on social media targeted [base Republican voters] by using all of the dog-whistle politics and right-wing policies that they engage in,” she said.
A major problem emerging for Democrats is that independent voters don’t feel like they’re doing well economically, even though unemployment is dropping and wages are climbing.
“The Biden defectors, independent voters, noncollege educated white women are really feeling that things are not going well for their families and really want to know what we as Democrats are going to do for them and they want us to get it done,” Lake said.
While nonfarm payrolls increased by 531,000 in October, smashing the expectation of an increase of 450,000 in new jobs, consumer sentiment is dropping.
Democrats say that’s why it’s critical that they do a better job of explaining to voters how Biden’s climate and social spending agenda will improve their lives.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are emphasizing the argument that the Build Back Better Act will reduce inflation and help subsidize the costs facing American families.
Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), who heard the recent presentation from pollsters, said a big factor driving voter dissatisfaction is COVID-19 fatigue.
“I would simply say that everyone is going through much with COVID and supply chains breaking down,” she said. “There are such challenges. We’ve never been through a pandemic before.
“There’s no question that everything goes back to what’s happened with COVID,” she added. “It’s all related to what happens when you shut down a global economy and schools.
“It’s really hard. We’re all worried about children, our grandchildren and still trying to get people vaccinated.”