Good news for Democrats continues to build — so now what?
It wasn’t too long ago that talk of a GOP red wave in the November midterms dominated every corner of political discourse. Democrats’ best hope was to avoid losing less than a few dozen House seats, and pundits suggesting that Democrats could retain the Senate did so cautiously.
My, how things have changed.
Democrats now lead Republicans in the generic congressional ballot average by half a percentage point and are favored 61 percent to 39 percent to hold the Senate. In critical Senate battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Ohio, the Democratic candidates hold leads ranging from 5 points to over 10 points. And in a further blow to the GOP, the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee just slashed $5 million from their Pennsylvania budget, as well as $2 million out of Wisconsin and Arizona.
A string of big wins for the Biden administration has shifted the pendulum, even if the president’s approval rating continues to hover around 40 percent. From killing al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to securing legislative wins such as the Inflation Reduction Act, the PACT Act and the CHIPS bill, to falling prices and rising job growth numbers, President Biden has had a good run.
With cautious optimism, it looks like Democrats have been given a second lease on (electoral) life. Now moving to front and center is the hard work of keeping the Biden coalition from 2020, which has been visibly fracturing. Three key groups are central to Democratic victory: Hispanics, women and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters.
There is widespread agreement that Democrats are struggling with retaining Hispanic voters. It’s clear why: In 2018, Democrats had a 47-point edge with Hispanics and it was erased completely in last month’s New York Times-Siena College poll.
The reasons behind the loss generally fall under the banner of assuming the priorities of progressives are the same as those of multicultural voters. From a lax approach to the border to soft-on-crime policies in major metropolises and an uncomfortably lenient abortion policy for many conservative Hispanics, Democrats are increasingly out of touch with their priorities.
A recent special election loss in Texas’s 24th district to the GOP was a crescendo moment. In the aftermath, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar commented, “The moment you start getting people to say, ‘Well, it’s OK to vote Republican,’ then the next time will be easier.”
Cuellar is right. Many of the loudest voices in the Democratic Party are espousing policies that are major turn-offs to Hispanic voters (e.g., defund the police). They must be countered passionately and with clear proposals that address crime and security concerns, parent empowerment in schools, and the economic solutions all voters crave. A moderate Democratic platform is the only one that can keep Hispanics in the tent.
Rallying female voters has been a cornerstone of Democratic politicking the past several cycles. From smashing the glass ceiling with Hillary Clinton in 2016 to standing up for the #MeToo movement in 2018 to preserving democracy and returning to normalcy in 2020, Democrats have been focused on turning out women voters.
College-educated, white women have become a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but the party’s success with white women overall is much shakier. In 2016, 52 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and they were the deciding factor in last year’s race for governor in Virginia, where there was a 13-point swing toward the GOP among white women, fueled by a 37-point shift among white women without a college degree.
But, as with voters overall, Democrats have struggled with white women for the majority of Biden’s term. Issues such as rising crime, education and inflation have been pushing them away — until now.
Fox News polling shows there has been an 8-point shift among white women toward the Democratic Party since May, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. There is tremendous opportunity to build on these gains.
We know that voters who are happy with the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling are more motivated to vote in November than those who disapprove, by a margin of 59 percent to 50 percent. It follows that Democrats’ messaging can’t be singularly focused on the abortion ruling itself but on the bird’s-eye view of what a Republican administration would do: strip women of their rights. This allows for a fulsome defense of cornerstone Democratic policies such as protecting a woman’s right to choose and expanding access to health care, paid family leave and universal pre-K. Taking a more conservative stance on issues such as crime and security are also crucial. The “security moms” of the ’90s are still around — and ripe for the taking.
Following the 2020 election, the American political ecosphere was buzzing about the impact of AAPI voters in critical battlegrounds such as Georgia and Arizona. The fastest growing segment of eligible voters, their numbers have doubled in the past 20 years. Like Hispanic voters, AAPI voters are hugely diverse and there’s a substantial conservative cohort made up of, primarily, religious people and small business owners.
Racism and violence against Asian Americans were central issues in the 2020 election because of the impact of bigoted rhetoric around the COVID-19 virus. Democrats benefitted electorally by being the party to stand in support of these communities. They also honed messages that prioritized other issues critical to AAPI voters: access to health care and education, as well as investment in their communities and a positive economic agenda.
Today the focus of AAPI voters remains similar to 2020. As Jeff Le, a Democratic strategist and partner at the Truman National Security Project told me, health care is still a top issue for AAPI voters. “Many AAPI community members are disproportionately unable to access health care, and this is a significant impact for the same communities that are also among the poorest as well,” he said.
The good news for Democrats is that they have continued to expand ObamaCare, while Republicans offer no health care plan at all, let alone a viable alternative. And new Democratic legislation should continue America’s economic recovery. But it’s all for naught without targeted voter outreach that emphasizes these issues, as well as less publicized concerns such as liberal school board members. In fact, the recalls of several board members and the district attorney in San Francisco were fueled by disillusioned Asian American Democrats. These positions cannot be ignored.
Of course, Democrats should work to build as wide a coalition as possible. But without the support of these groups at previous electoral levels, November won’t look good.
I believe that many voters who are looking to the GOP as a viable choice are doing so against their will. They want to vote for Democrats but they want assurance that their needs and preferences are understood. The good news is, there’s still time to drive home that message.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.