How bad is this for the Democrats?
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After Republicans won the Virginia governorship this month, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader who hopes to become speaker after the 2022 midterm elections, made a bold claim to the Capitol.
“If you are a Democrat and President Biden wins your seat by 16 points, you are in a competitive race next year,” McCarthy declared. “You are no longer safe.”
This was, by most measures, more rapid exaggeration than honest prediction. There are 276 House seats that Biden has won even less than that – far more than Republicans have in nearly a century. (As of now, Democrats have a narrow majority of 221-213.)
But there was also an undeniable truth McCarthy boasted: Democratic support has fallen nationally in recent months. The most consequential example was the party’s defeat in Virginia.
How far and how fast Democratic popularity has fallen is hotly debated by both parties.
Virginia was a key data point: The election showed a Republican improvement of 12 percentage points, from 10 points from Biden’s victory in the state a year earlier to a double-point loss to Democrats this month. The governor’s race in New Jersey went to Republicans by a similar margin.
Nevertheless, some strategists, Democrats or Republicans, believe that the decline of the Democratic brand at the national level has been complete and widespread.
Among campaign insiders, a popular measure that is closely tracked to gauge voters’ mood is the “general ballot test.” Only then do voters ask voters who they would prefer to serve in Congress—a Democrat or a Republican, with no names attached.
For years, Democrats have consistently held the lead in this metric.
first time after January 2016Republicans are now preferred, according to the FiveThirtyEight public voting average. GOP in the last six months. Towards FiveThirtyEight averaged 4.6 points
How bad is this for the Democrats? A Washington Post/ABC News poll last weekend showed Republicans in the strongest position on the measure in the poll’s four-decade history. On Thursday, a Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters said 46 percent want the GOP control of the House, compared to 41 percent for Democrats.
The same trend is visible in private surveys as well. Internal polling from the National Republican Congressional Committee this month showed Republicans in battlefield districts have improved by seven percentage points since the start of the year. So-called ordinary Republicans started the year three points behind Democrats; Now they are leading by four points.
Democrats are also trailing in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s general ballot test this month — albeit by double digits. Party functionaries said that there was actually a reform A few others from recent months. The DCCC declined to say what its polling showed at the start of the year.
Minnesota Representative Tom Emmer, who chairs the House Republican campaign arm, said in an interview that the NRCC’s private poll at the beginning of the year measured Biden’s approval rating as 10 percentage points higher than his disapproval rating. Now, Emmer said, it’s the reverse: Biden’s disapproval is 10 points higher.
Emmer offered a less exaggerated version of McCarthy’s prediction of how many Democrats are at risk in 2022. “Experts are telling me that any Democrat who sits in a seat Joe Biden won by 10 points or less a year ago is weak,” Emmer said.
That’s still around 250 seats. “We will win the majority,” Emmer said flatly, “but we are going to tell the voters how big it is going to be.”
Indicators for Democrats are not as sour everywhere.
My colleague Nate Cohn wrote in the newspaper earlier this week about two House special elections in Ohio, where Democrats were only three percentage points behind Biden’s performance.
It is erosion, but it is not politically destructive.
And in Pennsylvania, millions of dollars were spent on a Supreme Court vacancy. In some ways, the contest functionally pitted a normal Democrat against an ordinary Republican, as even the most engaged voters know next to nothing about the candidates for the judiciary.
The Republican nominee won by 2.6 percentage points — a state Biden has led by 1.2 points in 2020. This represents a nearly four-point improvement for Republicans.
In short, various data points show the likelihood of a Democratic decline: somewhere between three and 12 percentage points. None of the possible outcomes bode well for holding the House in 2022 or retaining control of the Senate, now split more evenly between 50 Democratic-aligned senators and 50 Republicans.
Perhaps what is most comforting to Democrats is the calendar. It is still 2021 and not 2022.
Democrats also hope they’ll have more to sell in the coming year — Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure package on the White House’s South Lawn on Monday, and a $1.85 trillion social policy and climate change bill before Congress. Winding its way through – and more time to sell it.
Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the president of the DCCC, has pushed for both the president and Democratic members of Congress to pitch more strongly for what has already been passed this year. As he told my colleague Tripp Gabriel this month: “My message is ‘Free Joe Biden.’ That campaign needs to start now before the next crisis hits the news cycle.”
Maloney said it is understandable that voters would not credit Democrats for the big economic recovery measure that passed earlier in the year or for new infrastructure spending.
“If we don’t tell them we don’t expect them to know,” he said on Capitol Hill this week. “So we’re going to tell them.”
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