Things are probably pretty glum around the Democratic National Headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. But for the past couple of months, they’ve been predicting a big turnaround in their fortunes because of one thing or another.
Surely, they’d be on the comeback trail once the American people were inspired by Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. Unfortunately, even the prospect of war in Ukraine couldn’t move the needle for Biden and the Democrats.
And look at all the goodies the Democrats have doled out in the first year of Biden’s presidency. Trillions for pandemic assistance and infrastructure, and the promise of more where that came from. Further, with the pandemic winding down, a return to semi-normalcy was expected to give Biden’s approval numbers a boost. (It didn’t.)
But shouldn’t all those efforts count for something?
Apparently not. In fact, the signs have been pointing to ruin for Democrats almost since Joe Biden took office. High inflation, a botched bug-out from Afghanistan, a whiff of radicalism in his pick for a Supreme Court justice — the only omen that’s missing is a comet streaking across the sky predicting doom for Democrats in November.
“We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves here,” said Julie Roginsky, a former top adviser to Murphy. “It would be a challenging environment, anyway, because the midterm election of an incumbent president whose party controls both houses always is. Layer on top of that concerns about inflation, concerns about the economy generally and concerns about what’s going on in foreign policy right now, and it becomes problematic.”
There’s little reason to think much will change. For months, Democrats pinned hopes for a turnaround to the possibility that Covid or inflation would subside, or that Democrats might energize base voters by passing even more legislation than the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and massive infrastructure package already enacted. Most recently, they saw Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement — and Biden’s historic nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace him — as an opening to energize young voters and people of color, two core Democratic constituencies.
The problem with trying to “energize” people of color and young people is that it’s all been tried before — and failed. Every midterm since the turn of the century that followed a general election in which those groups broke decisively for the Democrats, they’ve predicted a wave of youth and POCs burying Republicans in a midterm landslide.
And each and every midterm, the wave fails to form when those two key groups sit at home rather than go and vote.
The enthusiasm gap is real, and it’s getting larger.
At the end of October, Republicans held an 11-percentage-point advantage in voter enthusiasm. By January, that margin had ticked up to 14 points. Now, according to the most recent NBC News poll, it has swelled to 17 — a massive advantage that has foreshadowed devastating losses in Congress in prior years.
According to that NBC poll, about two-thirds of Republicans say they have a “high level of interest” in the midterms. Only half of Democrats say they have a high level of interest.
The NBC poll wasn’t a one-off. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll on Wednesday registered a double-digit spread between the share of Democrats and Republicans who are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in the midterms and a smaller — but still measurable — gap when accounting for voters who say they are only “very” enthusiastic.
Before the GOP begins popping champagne corks, it should remember that the national numbers do not reflect the truth in many local races. In Wisconsin, where an important Senate race is being decided, there is virtually no gap in enthusiasm between the parties.
But in many other swing districts, Republicans are aided by favorable electoral maps recently drawn by their state legislatures, as well as a sizable advantage in fundraising. It’s by no means a slam dunk, but it’s the fourth quarter and the good guys are up by 10.
Instead of wailing about “racism” and GOP “voter suppression,” why don’t Democrats embrace the suck and throw a big block party? It won’t win them a lot of votes but at least they won’t notice their election defeat as much as they try to get over their hangovers.