It’s beginning to look a lot like 2018.
But instead of being on the good end of a double-digit lead in the generic congressional ballot, the bad news keeps mounting for Democrats after a disappointing loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and a too-close-for-comfort win in New Jersey.
Sunday’s ABC News/Washington Post poll laid bare a number of critical issues that Democrats will have to reckon with before the 2022 midterms.
The 10-point advantage for Republicans in the generic ballot is the largest lead for the GOP since they first started asking this question 40 years ago. In the eight state battlegrounds, including Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania, Republicans have a staggering 23-point advantage. And in those states, President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE’s approval rating sits at 33 percent, compared to 43 percent elsewhere.
Only 29 percent of Americans rate the economy as either “good” or “excellent,” which is the lowest number since 2014; 70 percent see it as “not so good” or “poor.” The stock market keeps gaining, but Americans aren’t processing it as an indicator of a healthy economy. What’s more, Democrats are only winning 49 percent of Hispanic voters, whereas they took home a 69 percent share in the 2018 midterms when they added more than 40 seats to their share.
A glimmer of good news was that, by a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent, Americans support the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and 58 percent to 37 percent are in favor of the roughly $2 trillion reconciliation bill. That said, the survey was taken after the passage of the infrastructure bill and widely praised October jobs report that also included a revision of August’s and September’s poor numbers. Those events clearly didn’t move the needle in Democrats’ favor.
So, what now?
Democrats can’t afford to ignore these flashing red lights. Even if they believe that this is a center-left country — or even a liberal-left country, as progressives do — it’s clear that we can’t campaign that way.
One moderate Democratic group, the New Dems, is heeding the warnings. They just released their first 2022 midterms-focused ad, called “Majority Makers.” The upbeat, forward-focused ad emphasizes key tenets of the centrist core of the Democratic Party: listening to voters, defending American values, and winning in districts that decide the majority with pro-growth and innovative policies.
After New Dems flipped 32 seats in 2018 — and with 22 of those Democrats sitting in the most competitive districts in the country today — the rest of the party would do well to follow their example. It’s a good place to be as a Democrat who doesn’t feel comfortable espousing Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE’s (D-W.Va.) view that “this is not a center-left or left country. We are a center — if anything, a center-right country,” but fears the impact of far-left policy on issues such as immigration, criminal justice reform, and even the economy.
While we can debate the center-right v. center-left status, there is little room for disagreement that Manchin’s position as someone who is fiscally conservative and socially compassionate is more in line with the broad American populace today. For one thing, it’s hard to make a political argument for exorbitant spending at a time when inflation has reached over 6 percent in more than 20 states and prices are going up everywhere from the gas pump to the grocery store. To that end, a new Economist/YouGov poll found that 56 percent of adults are having trouble affording gas, 48 percent are struggling to pay their rent or mortgages, and 45 percent say it's difficult to put food on the table.
Unfortunately, there are some serious signals that left-wing Democrats are not hearing the sentiments average Americans are expressing. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWar of words escalates in House McCarthy faces headaches from far-right House GOP Noncitizen voting doesn't pass this test MORE (D-N.Y.), a key figure in the progressive movement, chose to blame moderates for key losses. “I know that Virginia was a huge bummer. And honestly, if anything, I think the results show the limits of trying to run a fully 100 percent super-moderated campaign that does not excite, speak to or energize a progressive base,” she told her followers on Instagram live. AOC, along with a few other members of her caucus, including Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDemocratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal War of words escalates in House Mace chief of staff steps down during turbulent week MORE (D-Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibPelosi: Democrats can't allow 'indecent' Boebert comments to stand Omar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats September video shows Boebert made earlier comments suggesting Omar was a terrorist MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyMcCarthy faces headaches from far-right House GOP House progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE (D-Mass.), took it one step further and even voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill that garnered support from 13 House Republicans.
There should be little doubt that their votes will haunt them into the midterms. In their districts, both Democrats and Republicans will be animated against them, even if their rationale was that they wanted the infrastructure and reconciliation bills to be tied to one another.
The attacks will be especially pronounced considering that most progressive Democrats chose to side with President Biden and the moderate Democrats in recognizing the importance of supporting a historic infrastructure investment without getting the Build Back Better plan to a vote. They were led by so-called “squad” member Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), who heralded the infrastructure bill as “comprehensive” and one that ensures our roads and bridges, drinking water and investment in ports will be given the attention they deserve.
Jayapal’s approach could — and should — be a new trend for progressives, if they choose to embrace it. It’s no loss of liberal bona fides but a positioning as a liberal checkpoint on moderates with intent to compromise, rather than be a squad member above all else.
And it’ll put them in a better position to win their elections to boot. As FiveThirtyEight found, the strongest candidates in 2020 and 2018 were moderates. What’s more, any Democratic House candidate who outran Biden’s vote share was a moderate. As many Americans continue to voice their discontent with the Biden administration, running toward the middle as a Democrat makes a heck of a lot of sense.
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.