(Politico) In the days after the Democratic Party’s collapse in the Virginia governor’s race, party strategists descended on the commonwealth to figure out what went wrong and understand just how bad the national outlook might be next year.
What they discovered, largely through focus groups and polling, was even worse than expected. The problems cut far deeper than the failings of their gubernatorial nominee, Terry McAuliffe, or President Joe Biden’s flagging approval ratings. Rather, the Democratic Party’s entire brand was a wreck.
“Voters couldn’t name anything that Democrats had done, except a few who said we passed the infrastructure bill,” the center-left group Third Way and its pollsters said in a report, obtained first by POLITICO, on focus groups they ran in Virginia.
Most of the voters Third Way spoke with in suburban Virginia focus groups, according to the report, “could not articulate what Democrats stand for. They could also not say what they are doing in Washington, besides fighting.”
And those were just the people who voted for Biden.
Less than a year ahead of midterm elections, in which even Democrats widely expect they will lose the House and, possibly, the Senate, the party is confronting an identity crisis. It isn’t just Biden’s cratering public approval ratings, inflation, or the precedent that the party in power typically loses seats in a president’s first midterm.
Just one year after Democrats kicked Donald Trump from the White House, it’s not obvious to many voters what Democrats are doing now that they’re in charge — despite the enactment of major legislation, including a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill earlier this year and an infrastructure bill last week.
Following the House’s passage of the social spending package on Friday, one Democratic strategist who advises major donors said, “Too late. We’re f—ed.”
The findings in Virginia fall in line with public and private polling nationally in recent weeks. Biden’s approval rating, a measure closely tied to a party’s performance in the midterms, has fallen to below 43 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. That’s far worse than Barack Obama’s was at this point in his presidency, prior to the Democrats’ midterm wipe-out in 2010.
Generic ballot tests, pitting unnamed Republican candidates against unnamed Democrats, are also shifting in the GOP’s favor. More than 6 in 10 Americans say things generally are off on the wrong track, and similar majorities rate the state of the economy as bad.
That’s a poisonous environment for Democrats, and the remedy — if one even exists — isn’t clear.