There are only a few things sadder than the sight of a lost election. In today’s day and age, watching the opposing party win is basically a permanent roadblock on any progressive policy for the entire length of that term. Luckily, Democrats only lost a governor seat in Virginia. However, widespread panic has already begun as die-hard Democrats and progressives rush to their bunkers in preparation for what they believe will be a Republican blowout in the 2022 midterms.
Before a conversation can start regarding how Democrats can still hold on to their majority in the upcoming midterms, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that lay ahead. The midterms following the election of a new President usually sway in favor of the opposing party. This happened during Donald Trump’s term in the House back in 2018 and many are predicting that it will happen again with Biden.
In addition to decades of precedent, Democrats have two more major concerns: approval ratings and covid. Biden’s approval rating has been falling for months. The widely broadcasted Taliban takeover of Afghanistan proved to be the turning point in his favorability. Perhaps even worse, the delta variant brought another wave of deaths across the country. This forced more restrictive policies (set in place to contain the virus) that reversed our covid recovery in the short term (more on this later). Unsurprisingly, these covid-containment measures were mostly implemented by Democratic leaders across the country which undoubtedly hurt their approval ratings as well.
In deep-blue states such as California, it is expected for the governor to take proper measures to save lives and prevent the further spread of the virus. However, even Newsom has held back on covid restrictions. Back in June, he eased the mask mandate at a time when public health officials warned against it. There certainly seems to be a rush to normalcy, especially when elections are around the corner.
So with the pandemic and polls in the picture, what can Democrats do to turn things around before the midterms?
Remain Tough on Covid Restrictions
Remember when I mentioned that covid measures halted recovery in the short term? That’s because in the medium to long term, they will certainly assist in economic and social recovery – a great look Democrats. As veteran economist Larry Summers opined in an interview with Noah Smith, one of the best things we can do for our economy and society is to contain covid. Biden’s initial approval ratings were the highest for a newly elected president in over 20 years! His handling of the pandemic also had overwhelming approval, which stood steadily above 60% before the delta surge. To put that into perspective, Trump never got above a 50% covid response approval. During the majority of the pandemic under his presidency, it hovered around 40%.
The rapid rollout of vaccines helped quickly bring the pandemic under control while driving down death rates. I am sure we all recall those few, short-lived summer months when masks were steadily disappearing and large events opened again. A return to normalcy that Democrats can brag about is the ticket to victory in 2022.
Given the nature of the delta variant, vaccinations remain the most reliable way to reduce the spread of covid and prevent serious illness. Thankfully, booster shots are being distributed and vaccines are getting approved for children which will only support the effort to end the pandemic.
Let’s be frank – mandates and boosters are not particularly popular. Especially when we were told six months ago that, with vaccination, we could finally tear the masks off our faces. But vaccines are still our only way out of this pandemic. New variants are always possible but dramatic changes to the spreadability and deadliness of the virus will become less likely as time goes on. Even then, it can be expected that mRNA vaccines will still be effective against new variants.
Pass Good Policy
No matter how hard they may try, a loss of power is imminent if a political party does not translate their electoral victories into an improved standard of living for the majority population (yes, even in the short term). Unfortunately, the United States has Congressional races every two years. This tears focus away from governing and instead places it towards campaigns. However, this is no excuse to not get anything done.
Democrats have already passed an enormous relief package just months after Biden’s inauguration. It would be foolish not to brag about this in campaigns. Another major reconciliation bill is underway too, but inner-party bickering is holding back its passage. While this may cause anxiety and frustration for Americans (translating to that low approval rating), I am confident that Democrats will still come together to pass a substantial reconciliation bill. The bipartisan infrastructure bill can also be used to appeal to moderate Democrats, who may be concerned that the party is moving too far left.
New Messaging Strategies
What is frustrating about messaging is that there really is no concrete way to back up our beliefs besides simply making predictions based on data and polls that could be wrong. We are all naturally biased and want to believe that everyone wants what we want. But this only makes it more difficult to judge the reasons why a candidate won or lost an election.
In light of the recent Democratic losses, some progressives/leftists have been quick to point the finger at Democrats, blaming them for simply letting the chips fall as they may. Even worse, some say that they are basically collaborating with Republicans because there is an elite class that both parties obey. However, there are literally 48 Democratic senators that immediately lined up behind the original $3.5 trillion plan which raised taxes on the rich, expanded welfare, and took serious action on climate change. On the other hand, progressives have never been more active in Congress than now. Are they included in the blame as well?
Nevertheless, these types of progressives are correct in the way they use messaging. For 2022, Democrats should drop Trump fear-mongering (seriously, nobody cares about him now) and directly address urgent economic and social issues. Democrats need to remind Americans about their excellent covid relief bill (which every Republican voted against), while also demonstrating that more progress is around the corner. Biden is marketing his “Build Back Better” economic agenda very vigorously – which I still believe will be one of the most powerful weapons against Republicans. However, Democrats have been far behind on addressing social issues.
Counter Culture Wars
One of the greatest issues in Virginia’s election was education – specifically critical race theory. While it may or may not remain a relevant issue by next year, Republicans will always initiate a new culture war to rile up (usually) white suburban voters against Democrats. They are somewhat effective but for reasons we may not expect.
Since CRT has been a term thrown around so much, let’s first look at the official definition from Wikipedia.
Critical race theory (CRT) is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of U.S. civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race and U.S. law and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.
To nobody’s surprise, America’s racial history (something that has always been taught in grade school) is now probably being taught alongside current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor undoubtedly changed the course of history and, most importantly, how we view race in America. The CRT culture war is one of many conservative responses to delegitimize the BLM movement and scare white voters.
Democrats, like with all the other culture wars Republicans throw at them, ran away from the issue and denied any affiliation. This seemingly safe approach allows fabricated issues to mature through right-wing media without any contention from Democrats. It also makes concerned voters (especially swing voters) feel unheard. This causes them to turn to Republicans to fix the nonexistent issue.
Once Republicans do get empowered, they can easily take credit for fixing the problem. In reality, however, it is easy to take credit for legislation against these “issues” that were never really a problem to begin with. Unfortunately, this gives Republicans the perception of “getting stuff done” which, consequently, can help them win re-election. For instance, Republicans are going to ban CRT from being taught in K-12 schools even though it was never being taught to begin with. It’s like banning tennis rackets in baseball.
In an era where debt of all forms is through the roof and poverty is just one missed paycheck away, running on strong welfare programs is crucial. Even so, effective messaging on social issues is equally, if not more important, in helping to secure crucial votes. This is particularly important in gaining votes from affluent demographics that may not be direct beneficiaries of welfare (of course, until we introduce universal programs!).
This is probably worth its own blog post but to keep it short I do not think inflation will play a big role in the midterms. First of all, supply chain restrictions are an inflationary pressure that will be eased through controlling covid domestically and worldwide. Biden has already taken immediate action by having some California ports working extra hours. Although it will take years to resolve this extreme disruption in global trade, the supply chain bottlenecks should improve. This is, of course, unless covid somehow gets much worse by next year.
Second, the Fed has begun to pull back on its emergency aid for the economy. This will be gradual but will help keep inflation from persisting while restoring confidence that the Fed is aware of the issue.
Lastly, consumer demand, which drove up the price of goods such as gasoline, will likely go down as stimulus money is spent. Rent and housing have also gone up but I suspect that this is an over-correction from the covid slump and will come down with demand. However, this will not fix the long-term rise in housing costs.
With all of that being said, I still think Democrats have a solid chance in 2022. Instead of hiding in our Twitter echo chambers in preparation for an election loss, we should be going out to help our local officials and be as politically active as possible. One of our greatest strengths as progressives is our people power. Canvassing, phone banking, or picking up an internship are just a few of many ways we can directly connect with our communities while helping our politicians.
Progressives and even liberals have a tendency of not celebrating the wins we do get. On election day, progressive leader Michelle Wu won her mayoral race for Boston. Her policies are heavily oriented around expanding housing supply, improving public transportation, and climate justice. While it may not be the most powerful position, plenty of change is done on the local level (it is also great to see progressives get more involved in urban planning).
Now, let’s bounce back from this small setback and set up our Democrats for victory next November.
Special thanks to my awesome girlfriend, Danielle, for helping me edit this article! 🙂