Priorities’ most alarming pronouncement may be derived from the voter survey data the group has collected. The memo warns that “infrequent or first-time 2020 voters” who swung to Democrats could not only sit out the midterms, but were open to voting for Republicans down-ballot as a check on President Joe Biden’s power. About 40 percent of those voters who lived in a state with a Senate Democrat said they have “a neutral or no opinion” of the incumbent; while 31 percent said it would be a good thing if Republicans took over Congress.
“Most of these voters were motivated by one thing — defeating Donald Trump. Some didn’t vote down-ballot. Others did, but aren’t motivated to turn out in a midterm,” said Guy Cecil, Priorities USA’s chair. “And many think the entire system is broken. We need to address these specific problems and that cannot wait for some two-month push next year.”
The Priorities memo is the latest in a fresh wave of calls from Democratic interest groups following Tuesday’s contest. They come as crucial polling indicators — such as Biden’s favorability, direction of the country, and who is better on handling the economy and Covid recovery — have all been moving in the wrong direction for Democrats, with no indication that the president has bottomed out.
For as widely dispersed as the Democratic warning calls have been, all seem to gravitate to the same general solution. The party, Priorities and others argue, needs to pass Biden’s agenda and quickly turn to selling it.
“Voters are worried about what Washington will do to help them and Democrats are handing the Republicans a gift every time the headlines are focused on infighting instead of the issues we’re delivering on,” the group wrote. But even passing the bills will merely give Democrats a fighting shot to win races next year.
In Priorities’ polling, Democrats trailed 41 percent to 36 percent among swing voters in the generic ballot, with their Senate candidates faring slightly better — tied with their GOP opponents at 39 percent among that same group. Priorities notes that if such outcomes hold, it would greatly damage the party’s chances of retaining control of that chamber. They added that it’s not just swing voters who are on the fence about Democrats, but those who had only recently entered the political arena, too.
“Right now, less than half of new voters who supported Biden say they will definitely vote next year,” Priorities found.
Such findings echo those made by Senate Democrats’ main super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, whose data showed that Biden was struggling across the Senate battleground with so-called persuadable voters — those who are on the fence but could be convinced to vote Democratic.
A big part of the reason that new voters may not participate in the midterms, Priorities reasons, is Trump’s absence — both from the White House, but also online with his excommunication from Twitter. In focus groups this fall conducted by Priorities, voters reiterated their desire to tune out the news and politics after the exhaustion of the Trump years. That combined with the fractured media landscape has made it more difficult for Democrats to get their message out.
“It has been clear for quite some time that social media platform algorithms reward divisive, hyperbolic posts and content,” said Cecil. “On top of that, so much of the mainstream coverage is on the horse race and the messy process of governing, admittedly made worse by congressional Democrats over the last few months. To the extent that people are tuning in, most of the coverage is negative and that will never accrue to the benefit of the party in charge — especially when they are trying to do big things.”
The memo also acknowledged the challenges of wedge issues deployed by Republicans in the recent elections, including “critical race theory” and “parental control of schools.” Such tactics require Democrats to call out the approach and offer a contrasting education message.
Taxing the wealthy remained Democrats’ most potent issue of the more than two dozen tested, with the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection ranking in the top five among swing voters and sixth among new and infrequent Biden voters.
“We must draw a sharp contrast between Democratic progress and Republican extremism,” Priorities concluded.
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