As the Democratic political machine gears up for midterm elections that will be rife with culture war issues, members of the party have yet to find a consensus messaging strategy that they can sell to voters—aside from repeatedly drilling down on the threat to democracy that their opponents represent. This indecision is not the case on the right. By zeroing in on “critical race theory,” parent takeovers of school boards, and mask and vaccine mandates—along with peppering in old standards like alarmism on immigration and crime rates—the Republican Party has found its formula for 2022. This combination of issues, which helped lead Republican governor Glenn Youngkin to victory in Virginia last year, has only been bolstered by the additions of inflation and supply-chain delays in the daily news cycle.
But new focus group and polling data from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is urging Democrats to go on the offensive in the GOP’s culture war, rather than continue the “preachy” rhetoric that some respondents charge them with. The research, which was reported by Politico, warns that Republicans have found an “alarmingly potent” messaging strategy that could result in Democrats suffering dramatic losses in battleground states if they do not offer voters a direct counter. The research suggests that Democrats, who were already trailing Republicans by four points in a generic swing-district ballot toward the end of January, may recoup their polling losses if they denounce progressive slogans like “defund the police” and affirm their opposition to “open borders or amnesty.” (“Defund the police” was a contentious slogan from the get-go, it should be noted, and many moderates, including President Joe Biden, have not embraced it.) The DCCC research says messaging changes could signal a shift to the segment of swing voters polled by the DCCC, who described the Democratic Party as too “judgmental” and “focused on culture wars.”
But the DCCC data published by Politico does not address ways that Democrats can push back against the Republicans’ other go-to talking points, which were summarized by Freedom Caucus member Rep. Bob Good this week. “I would like to think that the Democrats, in the majority, and this administration would let go of the unconstitutional, unlawful, unjustified, unscientific mandates relative to the China virus, and stop with the masks and vaccines on everybody long before a year from now,” Good told The Hill in an interview, using a derogatory term. He went on to accuse the Democratic Party of endorsing “COVID forever” policies, saying that “the number one most important issue” in 2022 is ending this “trampling on people’s freedoms.”
Despite a somewhat successful vaccination campaign under Biden, Americans experienced some of the worst statistical months of the pandemic between the delta and omicron waves. The death toll and case-number spikes were not helped by the White House’s often confusing messaging on masks and vaccines. While employment rates have increased since the 2020 election, high inflation rates and pandemic-fueled shipping delays and product shortages have led to noticeable price increases on everyday items in many regions of the country. In a New York Times op-ed on Monday, David Axelrod, a former senior strategist in the Obama White House, advised Biden to show “humility” about these problems when he addresses the nation for his first State of the Union next month. “Polls show that the vast majority of Americans believe we are on the wrong track, and people will have little patience for lavish claims of progress that defy their lived experiences,” he wrote, before warning how “gaudy claims of progress” can be “met with an angry backlash from Americans.”
Alternatively, Senator Gary Peters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, believes Democrats can find a middle ground in their messaging—one that touches on the struggles of average Americans while still preaching about the existential risk that Republicans pose to democracy. “I think it’s incredibly important to clearly focus on things that are impacting families today, which are the bread-and-butter issues, and candidates need to lean into those issues,” Peters told The Washington Post over the weekend. “But they should also bring up the fundamental threat to our constitutional democracy being posed by all too many Republicans.” Likewise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News on Sunday that Democrats can prioritize the health of U.S. democracy and “kitchen-table issues” at the same time. “My purpose right now is to just win [the midterm elections]. Nothing less is at stake than our democracy,” Pelosi said, adding that her party is also unified by its empathy ”for America’s working families.”
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