Democrats should return to the center under helm of Joe Biden

Democrats should return to the center under helm of Joe Biden
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Democrats face a huge challenge in the next administration. A survey with 1,000 respondents conducted by our firm after the election suggests that Democrats are viewed as overly liberal out of touch, while Republicans are viewed as closer to where voters remain on national issues.

The election results and our findings showed that it was the movement for Democrats to the left which curbed their support. It is a potential problem moving forward for the party both in governing and in the midterms. Over 60 percent of respondents took the victory for Joe BidenJoe BidenIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief South Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Obama alum Seth Harris to serve as Biden labor adviser: report MORE as a mandate for centrism, compared with less than 30 percent who took it as a mandate to pursue a progressive agenda. Even stronger majorities of Republicans and independents believe that his win is a mandate for centrism.

While Biden focused on unity for his victory remarks, it is not certain that his team and the party have shifted their narrative. His deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield made a statement to the opposite effect when she recently declared that Biden will deliver on his promise to pursue the “incredibly progressive” agenda. Yet our survey found almost 40 percent of voters believe the agenda of Democrats is overly liberal, and less than 30 percent think the agenda of Republicans is the opposite.


Party identification in our survey and for national polls is evenly split, but an ideological balance of most voters tilts conservative. A plurality in our respondents identified as conservative, plus a similar share identified as moderate. Still less than a fourth of our respondents identified as liberal. They also want the candidates who won this year to pursue policies that lean right rather than policies that lean left while they serve.

These conclusions are no surprise with the lower than predicted election results of Democrats. Contrary to the election forecasts, which showed a key advantage for Democrats, the Senate is likely to remain divided with perhaps a narrow advantage for Republicans. Democrats also dealt with losses in the House, including seats believed to be secured.

Despite the challenges that face Donald Trump, the relative weakness for Democrats and their movement to the left were not accounted for by the polls. There was no blue wave for the down ballot races, and our findings denote that Trump could have won a second term if not for the pandemic and downturn. Democrats were hurt by the party associations with liberal attitudes. By a margin of over 10 points, respondents said the movement to defund the police had them less likely to back Democrats.

Around 70 percent of our respondents concur with the statements made by moderate Democrats, such as Representative Abigail Spanberger and former Senator Claire McCaskill, who talk about this need for Democrats to “head back to kitchen table issues” and “focus on helping people take care of their families.” Less than half of our respondents also concur that Democrats must deliver the liberal causes and social issues.

So Democrats need to recreate themselves as the party of working people and return to an centrist agenda of economic growth. The warnings above will likely come to fruition if not. Midterms tend to be weak for the party of the president. Gallup has found that since the 1940s, the average losses in midterms with the party of the president are 25 House seats.

It is our hope that Democrats can make efforts to return to the center with the next administration. Biden cannot enter office with the election results viewed as a full ratification of the party agenda. Instead, it is a mandate to work across the aisle to achieve compromises on the stimulus deal, health care reform, and a new national response to the coronavirus.

Douglas Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York.