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Polling data reveal a real opportunity for Democrats

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Democrats just got a serious jolt of good electoral news. Fresh off a big win with the American Rescue Plan, which enjoys nearly 70 percent support nationally, Gallup released its political affiliation polling for the first quarter of 2021 and the results were mighty good for left-leaners like us. 

The data show that 49 percent of American adults identify with the Democratic Party or are independents who lean towards the Democratic Party. That’s a 9-point advantage over the 40 percent who identify with the Republican party or are Republican-leaning independents. This represents the largest quarterly gap in party affiliation since 2012. The typical advantage for Democrats is usually around 4 to 6 points.

This is undoubtedly good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans; GOP identification is close to the lowest ever recorded in Gallup history. But, as strategists, we know that this is no time to gloat. The Trump administration was a dark four years in American history, creating unprecedented dissatisfaction among many traditional GOP voters such as white suburbanites who may have no long-term loyalty to Democrats once Donald Trump is out of the picture.

From our vantage point, the data plot line that is the most meaningful for Democrats, as we look ahead to big races in 2021 and the 2022 midterms, is the 6-point increase in independent affiliation from just a few months ago at the end of 2020. Today, 44 percent of Americans have no political home in the two-party system, and although most new independents are right-leaning or former Republicans, they join a growing group that feel let down by the political system — and, crucially, will be up for grabs the next time they go to vote.

With an eye toward converting independents to Democrats, what’s our next move?

First and foremost, Democrats must keep doing popular things. Joe Biden was the only candidate in the Democratic field, and certainly in the general election, who understood that Twitter isn’t real life. He has grounded his agenda in opinion polling that shows tremendous support for the policies he’s putting forward. That’s a pretty logical approach, but one that, for some reason, many pundits can’t wrap their heads around. 

From the high approval for the American Rescue Plan to his handling of the coronavirus to rejoining the Paris Agreement and World Health Organization to restarting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Biden hasn’t taken an action unpopular with the majority of Americans since his inauguration. That’s also how he has kept his approval rating above 50 percent.

Democrats have to keep it up. Eschew policies that are polarizing and appeal only to the fringes. Extinguish any discussion of “defund the police,” which is supported by only 18 percent of Americans. Stick to popular gun reform policies such as universal background checks and closing the so-called Charleston loophole. Common sense keeps Democrats in charge and independents happy with the direction in which the country is going.

To that end, new polling from Morning Consult shows that 65 percent of registered voters support funding Biden’s infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations. That includes 42 percent of Republican voters. This will be another feather in Biden’s cap and will position Democrats well for state and national elections over the next two years.

It’s critical that Democrats keep up our opposition to anti-Democratic measures that are popping up across the country. At least 250 laws have been proposed by Republicans in 43 states that would limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting. From stricter ID requirements to limiting hours and eligibility for voting absentee, Republicans have not been playing coy about their goal.

The National Review went so far as to title a recent piece by Kevin Williamson, “Why Not Fewer Voters?” As the GOP pushes back on Georgia’s new voting law, it’s hard to take them seriously when they’re making such arguments. There are also gems such as “I’m fine with doing away with the voting age altogether, if instead we say that only citizens who pay taxes and can pass a civics test can vote” from conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey, and “Just because everyone has the right to vote does not mean everyone *should* vote. If your vote would be entirely uninformed, you should — as a responsible citizen — choose not to vote” from Dan McLaughlin. 

Against this backdrop, Democrats must seize the opportunity to expand voting opportunities and push back against Republican efforts. H.R. 1, the For the People Act, must be a top legislative priority, but as we look to expand our tent we must also be cautious in our rhetoric. There are certainly egregious pushes to limit access to the ballot box, but there are also many moderates who would support Democrats but don’t want to be told that they’re racist for thinking that voters should present a valid photo I.D. when voting, for example. We must be tempered where possible and stick to the facts. They more than support our point of view.

Lastly — and we don’t want to belabor this point too much — there is a growing issue with so-called “cancel culture.” A recent Harvard CAPS-Harris poll shows that 64 percent of Americans believe there is “a growing cancel culture” that threatens their freedom. In contrast, 36 percent said they did not view it as a threat to their freedom.

If Republicans had their way, future elections would be fought over faux cancelations of Dr. Seuss and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an issue that resonates with the broader electorate, wherein our words and past actions are being scrutinized and held to high standards with little room for forgiveness. 

Whether we like it or not, this practice can be a big turnoff regarding the Democratic Party, especially to independents who aren’t comfortable with partisan heterodoxy to begin with. Big issues such as the economy or the coronavirus will always matter more, but we should not alienate voters for no good reason.

It follows that while Democrats sit in a good position today — and one not typically bestowed upon a party that’s about to lose an upcoming election — we all know that things can shift. That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to continue our efforts of blocking and tackling, as we say in the South. Block out the foolishness from the GOP and continue tackling the issues that matter to the American people. The strategy is working. 

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.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags Biden approval rating Donald Trump independents Joe Biden Josh Hawley Political positions of the Democratic Party Presidency of Joe Biden

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