The Memo: Biden’s plea for democracy struggles to get traction
President Biden sought to raise the stakes in the midterm elections with a major speech Wednesday evening — but he may have been only preaching to the choir.
Biden’s televised address asserted that American “democracy itself” hangs in the balance in Tuesday’s elections.
He drew attention to the large number of Republican candidates for office — independently estimated at around 300 — who have cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s midterms, Biden said voters should ask themselves whether any given candidate was committed to accepting the outcome “win or lose.”
“The answer to that question is vital,” Biden said. “And, in my opinion, it should be decisive.”
Biden said nothing factually wrong. And his comments were given added sharpness coming just days after a vicious attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), by a man who was allegedly targeting the top Democrat.
Yet, from an electoral standpoint, Biden’s argument looks likely to get lost in the crosswinds of economic distress and political polarization.
Put simply, the voters who agree with Biden were probably going to vote for his party anyway.
And, even for many Americans who believe democracy is in real peril, anxiety about inflation and the economy can feel more urgent.
The point was made starkly in a New York Times-Siena College poll last month.
It found that 71 percent of registered voters believed that “democracy is under threat.” But just seven percent believed this was the most important issue facing the nation, whereas 26 percent chose the economy and an additional 19 percent named inflation.
A CNN poll released Wednesday sent the same message.
It showed 51 percent of likely voters picking the economy and inflation as the top issue in Tuesday’s midterm elections, 15 percent choosing abortion and just 9 percent picking “voting rights and election integrity.”
Biden and the Democrats have sought to make an economic case in the runup to Election Day, arguing that measures such as the Inflation Reduction Act and student loan forgiveness lend tangible help to Americans under financial stress.
“Democrats are building a better America for everyone with an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out, where everyone does well,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee event in late October. “Republicans are doubling down on their mega MAGA trickle-down economics that benefits the very wealthy.”
Still, those arguments have struggled to gain traction.
An ABC News-Ipsos poll late last month indicated that registered voters favor the GOP over Democrats on the economy by 14 percentage points.
The political trouble doesn’t end there for Biden.
Even some of the voters who express concern for American democracy appear to be motivated by beliefs that are diametrically opposed to Biden’s.
They either believe the false charges by former President Trump about the 2020 election being rigged or that stricter rules are needed to stop illegal ballots being cast.
In the New York Times poll, for example, 74 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of Republicans agreed that democracy is under threat. But the appearance of unanimity in that result was illusory.
The poll also asked respondents how they would feel about voting for a candidate who claimed the 2020 election was stolen.
Only 12 percent of Democrats were prepared to countenance that idea. But 71 percent of Republicans said they would be “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” voting for such a candidate.
Other surveys also show that concerns for democracy take many different shapes.
A NewsNation-Decision Desk HQ poll this week found roughly a quarter of voters believe that 10 percent or more of mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Independent studies indicate the real figure is closer to 1 in 50,000.
“Make no mistake, democracy is on the ballot for all of us,” Biden said on Wednesday.
That may be true.
But other issues are on the ballot, too — and they are putting Democrats across the country in danger of defeat next week.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.