Democrats in Wonderland

FRANK F ISLAM

Is Joe Biden too old to run for President? Why didn’t any true contender run against him in the primaries? Why is he doing so badly in the polls, in spite of his presidential accomplishments? Can he beat Donald Trump? If he does, will he be competent to serve out his full term?

Those are just a few of the questions that many — possibly the majority of — traditional Democratic supporters are asking themselves in the run-up to the presidential election to be held on November 5.

Polls Apart

Poll after poll has suggested that they are not excited or enthusiastic about turning out to vote for President Biden and are wondering what to do. It’s not just the Democrats in this bemused state. It cuts across political parties and those who profess their independence, and adds to the wonderment of Democrats.

In late March and early April, William Galston senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Ronald Brownstein senior editor at The Atlantic, and Fareed Zakaria, columnist for the Washington Post, examined the results from various polls and research. Their analyses revealed the following insights.

Galston focused on the economy in his analysis. Drawing upon surveys and polls by the Economist/YouGov; the New York Times; the Wall Street Journal; and CBS News, the primary findings include:

  • Twenty-two percent of voters identify inflation/prices as their most important issue, compared to only seven percent who cite jobs and the economy.
  • Only 22% of Black Americans, 13% of Hispanics, and 18% of young adults believe that they are better off financially today than they were a year ago.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters rate the economy as good during Trump’s presidency, compared to 38% under Biden.

Based upon the data he reviewed, Galston concludes “When it comes to the economy, Donald Trump enjoys a clear edge over Biden.”

Brownstein looked at Trump’s impact on minority voters. His analysis reveals that:

…A wide array of national polls, as well as surveys in the swing states, have consistently shown Trump now attracting about 20 percent support among Black voters, and as much as 45 percent among Latinos. That’s well above his 2020 showing with both groups…

At the end of his article, Brownstein concludes: “…small changes in the electorate’s composition should marginally boost Biden. But they are not enough to overcome the level of defection polls show him now facing among nonwhite voters.”

Fareed Zakaria concentrates on Trump’s appeal to the members of the white Christian evangelical community. Using participation in the 2020 election, his analysis discloses:

White evangelicals, who make up about 14 percent of the population, made up about one-quarter of voters in the 2020 election. And about three quarters of them voted for Donald Trump. Even more striking, of those White voters who attend religious services once a month or more, 71 percent voted for Trump in the 2020 election.

Based upon this level of participation, Zakaria concludes, “The key to understanding Trump’s coalition is the intensity of his support among White people who are and who claim to be devout Christians”

Finally, there is the polling in seven “swing states” where the 2024 presidential elections will most likely be decided. Those states are: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

On April 3, The Hill released its Decision Desk/HB average of the polls conducted in each state, which showed Trump leading in six of those states, with Biden tied with Trump in Wisconsin.

That was the bad news for Democrats. The good news, reported by Jared Gans at the end of his Hill piece,

Trump was leading in The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average by a sizable margin for the first few months of 2024, reaching 10 points at one time, but Biden has been closing the margin recently. Trump’s lead currently stands at about 5 points.

The important thing for Democrats is not what the average across the seven states is but what the polls show close to the election in each state, and then whether they are predictive of the final results. It should be remembered that most national polls in 2016 showed Hillary Clinton easily beating Donald Trump in their contest for the presidency.

Policy Invisible

One of the major things that flummoxes Democrats is how poorly Biden is doing in the polls in spite of his significant policy accomplishments. A survey of social scientists in 2023 ranked him 14th out of our 45 presidents in terms of performance — and put Trump dead last.

Given this, it would seem that Biden should be prevailing in this presidential race. But he is not. Why is that?

Rogé Karma addresses this perplexing condition in his April 4 Atlantic article, in which he highlights Biden’s success in passing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022. The IRA contains important provisions to reduce prescription drug prices for seniors. After discussing this, one would expect the IRA to move the needle positively for Biden but it hasn’t, Karma observes:

…drug pricing is a microcosm of Biden’s predicament — and a challenge to conventional theories of politics, in which voters reward politicians for successful legislation. Practically nothing is more popular than lowering drug prices, and yet the popularity hasn’t materialized. Which raises an uncomfortable question: Politically speaking, does policy matter at all?

Policy can matter if it is visible and providing benefits to citizens today. But, as Karma points out:

A KFF poll from December found that less than a third of voters knows that the IRA allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and even fewer are aware of the bill’s other drug-related provisions. Perhaps that’s because these changes mostly haven’t happened yet. The $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs doesn’t come into effect until 2025, and the first batch of new negotiated prices won’t kick in until 2026.

It’s not just the invisibility and lack of immediacy for President Biden’s policies that are problematic, however. It’s also the feelings and attitudes of many of Americans today.

We discussed these factors in our February blog, “Bidenomics vs Vibecession and Vabpression.” Vibecession is a term created by Kyla Scanlon. Vabpression is a term we created.

  • Vibecession is a period of temporary vibe decline, during which economic data such as trade and industrial activity are relatively okay but people are feeling bad.
  • Vabpression is a condition in which citizens, because of their political allegiance and personal “values, attitudes and beliefs,” refuse to see facts that are contrary to their mindset.

As we noted,

Vibecession and vabpression are twins. They originate in citizens’ minds.

Together, they will not kill Bidenomics. But they have, and will continue to, reduce its positive effect on the sentiment and behavior of the citizenry in general.

Recent public opinion polls by Gallup and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (AP-NORC) indicate that these entangled twins continue to have a negative impact on the perspective of Americans.

The AP-NORC poll on April 3 found that:

About 7 in 10 adults believe that democracy is a good system of government …Only 3 in 10 think democracy in the United States is functioning well, while about half believe it is a poorly functioning democracy.

A Gallup Poll, conducted monthly, asks “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” For March, 75% of the respondents were dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction in the past year has ranged from a high of 83% down to the current 75% figure.

Democratic Dilemma

This is the context that creates the dilemma for those in the Democratic party as we approach the 2024 presidential election. The parameters of that dilemma, approximately six months before the November election, include: an unenthusiastic base group of Democrats, uncommitted independent voters, uncommitted citizens of color, uncommitted younger voters, uncommitted anti-Trump Republicans.

The turnout of Democratic voters — especially in the swing states — will make a difference in the 2024 presidential election. The most recent Gallup polls suggest that there are a large % of Democratic voters who are not enthusiastic about participating in this election.

Gallup polling showed that approximately the same percent of Democratic/Democratic lean voters were “more enthusiastic” to vote in the 2024 election (55%) and the 2020 election (54%). By contrast, the “less enthusiastic” percent for 2024 is 42% compared to 32% in 2020.

When Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, her unenthusiastic number was 50%. When Barack Obama won in 2008, his more enthusiastic number was 79% and his “less enthusiastic” number was “15%”.

An excellent detailed analysis by staff of the Pew Research Center showed that independent voters, African-American voters, suburban voters, and younger voters made a major contribution to Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020. Pew found that:

  • “Biden substantially increased Democratic support from independents over 2016.” Clinton received 42% of the vote from that group in her race. Biden received 52%.
  • African American voters were consistent in their voting for both Clinton (91%) and Biden (92%).
  • “Biden improved upon Clinton’s vote share with suburban voters: 45% supported Clinton in 2016 vs. 54% for Biden in 2020.”
  • Gen Z and Millennial voters favored Biden over Trump by margins of about 20 points, while Gen Xers and Boomers were more evenly split in their preferences.

This brings us to the Republican anti-Trumpers whose votes could be decisive in the swing states.

Pew found that Hillary Clinton got 4% of the Republican vote and Joe Biden got 5% in 2020. The big shift in that 1% increase for Biden was from voters who classified themselves as moderate/liberal Republicans, from whom Clinton received 8% of the vote and Biden received 16% of the vote.

The dilemma is that many of those voters who helped push Biden across the finish line to become the President of the United States in 2020 are uncommitted this time around. A Gallup poll conducted in March found that 29% of those surveyed said that neither Trump nor Biden would be a “good president.” The breakout of this 29% who said neither was: 18% Republicans; 21% Democrats; and 42% Independents.

In her write up of the results of this Gallup poll, Megan Brenan notes:

Gallup asks those who say neither candidate would be a good president about their voting intentions in November, and nearly half, 46%, say they are most likely to vote for a third-party candidate, while 17% expect they will not vote for president. Another 33% say they will probably vote for Biden or Trump based on other factors.

Third-Party Conundrum

Brenan ends her piece by writing:

There are currently several third-party candidates in the race, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein. While third-party candidates’ viability can depend on how many state ballots they get on, they can act as spoilers by pulling support from major party candidates — a concern for both the Trump and Biden campaigns this year.

This is definitely a concern for the Biden campaign and Democrats looking forward, because of the impact that third party candidates have had in the past. The Pew Research Center points out:

One somewhat unusual aspect of the 2016 election was the relatively high share of voters (nearly 6%) who voted for one of the third-party candidates (mostly the Libertarian and Green Party nominees) … By comparison, just 2% of voters chose a third-party candidate in 2020.

Some analysts attribute Clinton’s loss in 2016 to the third-party candidates. And many political experts and politicians, including Joe Biden, attribute Al Gore’s loss in the 2000 election to the fact that Ralph Nader, as a third-party candidate, got over 90,000 votes in the State of Florida — a state which Gore lost by 537 votes.

That is the third-party bad news for the Democrats. The good news for the Democrats is that Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy in 1992 is believed by many to have contributed to Bill Clinton’s win over the incumbent George H. W. Bush.

The good news for Democrats in 2024 is that No Labels failed in its attempt to put together a “unity” or centrist ticket with a well-recognized Republican and Democrat to compete against President Biden and former president Trump.

Each of the candidates remaining could “steal” some votes from Biden, but as Jim Geraghty of the Washington Post points out in his April 3 article, it is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who could create the most trouble for Biden in the swing states. Geraghty ends his piece stating;

No wonder Democrats are having flashbacks to Ralph Nader winning a small but pivotal number of votes from left leaning Americans and Jill Stein doing the same in 2016. Can’t blame Democrats for worrying that Kennedy could play a similar role this year.

Democratic Bed-wetting

Are the Democrats concerns just another case of Democratic bed-wetting?

As Newsweek explains,

Democratic bedwetting, a term first coined by President Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe in 2008, describes Democrats’ ability to irrationally overreact to political events and poll numbers to assume immediate electoral doom and gloom.

The democratic bed-wetting term has been used with some frequency since then, and been hurled around a bit as we move into the 2024 presidential cycle.

We don’t know if the Democrats’ beds are wet. We do know that it is definitely time to change the sheets. The concerns that Democrats have regarding the presidential contest between Biden and Trump are legitimate.

David Axelrod, senior strategist for Barack Obama’s political campaign and a senior advisor to President Obama, has spoken out critically for some time on his perspective on the deficiencies of the Biden campaign. Recently, as Newsweek reports, in a podcast interview with Bill Kristol on April, Axelrod said that Biden needed not to emphasize the strength of the national economy but to connect to the needs of the working class.

He told Kristol,

“The right strategy is to say, ‘Look, we’ve made a lot of progress from the day I walked in the door as a country and I’m proud of our country for fighting through this pandemic and getting her back to where we’ve got this much employment. But the fact is, the way people experience this economy is the way I did when I was growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. How much did you pay for the groceries? How do you afford the gas, [and] the rent? And these continue to be a problem and I’m fighting that fight.’”

It’s not just Axelrod who has expressed concerns. In January, according to the Washington Post, former president Obama, in a luncheon meeting, advised President Biden that he needed to strengthen the organization and management of, and get his key senior advisers more directly involved in, the presidential campaign.

Finally, there is new data from a Pew Research Center report on political party identification released on April 9 that should increase the concerns of Democrats. That study, of hundreds of thousands of voters, found:

The combined effects of change and continuity have left the country’s two major parties at virtual parity: About half of registered voters (49%) identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 48% identify as Republicans or lean Republican.

In recent decades, neither party has had a sizable advantage, but the Democratic Party has lost the edge it maintained from 2017 to 2021.

Stop Wondering

In summary, the evidence abounds that there is a need for Democrats to worry and wonder. But with less than six months to go before the November 5 election day, that wondering must stop and be replaced with the plans and people for winning.

Fortunately, the Biden campaign and its senior advisors have initiated their process for doing this. There are a number of resources and experts who they can and will draw upon to implement a winning game plan.

As stated in our “vibecession/vabpression” blog, in our opinion, that game plan should:

De-emphasize Bidenomics and emphasize citizenomics.

Citizenomics elevates Individual Economic Well-being (IEW). It makes the expectations and the experiences of citizens the centerpiece for changes and communications.

There are three essential ingredients required to put a citizenomics approach in place: Shift from a macroeconomic to a microeconomic focus. Address kitchen table issues. Tailor responses to market segment and geographic needs.

The Biden campaign’s focus on the abortion issue in swing states demonstrates sensitivity to market segment and geographic needs. The decision to dispatch Vice President Kamala Harris to Arizona immediately after the Supreme Court’s egregious decision to basically ban abortion based upon an 1864 law demonstrates its alacrity. President Biden’s decision to blame and hold Donald Trump responsible for the abortion ban in Arizona demonstrates his personal tenacity and willingness to step into the fray.

As the campaign moves forward, it will not be just the Biden campaign’s playbook and what its staff does that matters. The results will be also be determined by whether Democrats with concerns take to the playing field as concerned citizens.

As we wrote in an earlier blog this year,

To protect our democracy in 2024, we need to do more than vote. We also need to get engaged with the states that will make a difference in terms of the presidential election.

We identify actions that can be taken and provide a format for developing a Political Civic Engagement Plan in that blog which concerned citizens can use to make a meaningful difference in those states.

As noted in the opening of this blog, those seven swing states are Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.

In his April 16 guest essay for the New York Times, Doug Sosnik explains that because of the electoral college President Biden “has a narrower and more challenging path to winning the election than Donald Trump.” This makes Biden’s performance in the swing states critically important.

Sosnik points out that currently Trump has an edge in the Sunbelt states (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina” because of Biden’s “declining popularity” there — especially with the young and nonwhite voters. If this condition stays true, wins in the industrial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would be pivotal and essential for a Biden victory this year.

In closing, we leave you with this thought. There is a saying, attributed to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1964–1970), that “a week is a long time in politics.” This is the case because the fortunes of a political leader or political party can change dramatically in that period of time.

Recognizing this, let us elaborate on Prime Minister Wilson’s observation. In politics in this 21st century, a day is a week, a month is a year, and a year is a century.

A Democratic loss in this presidential election would move this great nation and its people backward to the 20th century. Democrats who understand this are not in wonderland. They are and will be engaged in helping in order to keep the American democracy and its people moving forward and making progress in this 21st century.


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