Where Do We Stand in the Midterm Elections? The Problem With Biden and the Problem of His Implications for American Democracy and Fundamental Rights
For the past month or so, the narrative has been that the Democrats are on the comeback trail and that President Joe Biden is on it.
Some of the doubts about Biden may be assuaged by Democrats’ surprisingly strong performance in the midterm elections. As of early Friday afternoon, Democrats still have a slim chance of keeping their House majority and a much better chance of holding onto their Senate majority.
It is most likely that public concerns over Biden’s age and strength as a candidate would have grown more public if the election had been a red wave. He has spared that for now.
Where does Biden rank at this point in the presidency? When it comes to presidential jobs, we can use Gallup’s center to track the popularity of recent predecessors such as Biden in their first term.
Democrats won a majority of the House seats they were given in the election. When the president is unpopular with Americans, the price the party pays is the same as when the president is popular.
In this stormy sea, the biggest lifeline still available for Democrats is the large number of voters in those battleground states who view the Republican Senate candidates as extreme, unqualified, or both. Recent public polls by CNN and other media organizations have found that more voters hold unfavorable than favorable views of virtually all the GOP nominees in the key states – including Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, J.D. Vance in Ohio, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Negative assessments of the Democratic candidates in those states have risen because they face a lot of Republican attack ads that tie them to Biden. In most cases, voters hold a more positive opinion of the Democratic candidate than they do of the Republican.
But some operatives in both parties see signs that Democrats’ ability to shift voters around the issues of abortion, and rights more broadly, may have peaked. According to a recent national poll, most people said they were more concerned with kitchen table issues than with questions about democracy and fundamental rights. Among the voters who prioritized core economic concerns, two-thirds preferred Republicans for Congress, according to detailed results provided by Monmouth.
The vice president of Way to Win says stressing the risk to abortion rights can lead to increased turnout in liberal leaning groups, like young single women. But she largely agrees that most of the persuadable voters who might move to Democrats around the abortion issue have already done so and that the party during the campaign’s final stretch must ensure it has a competitive message on the economy and other daily concerns. “The reality is everybody is always going to be focused on the things that are affecting their everyday life,” she says. “I think it’s a false choice to be thinking about: is it the economy or is it abortion?”
The push and pull between these competing priorities have been vividly displayed over the past week during the first flurry of general election Senate debates in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Arizona. During last week’s televised Arizona encounter, for instance, Republican challenger Blake Masters came out of the gate very strong and kept Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly on the defensive by relentlessly linking him to Biden while the conversation initially focused on inflation and border security. But as the discussion shifted toward abortion and election integrity, Kelly clearly regained the momentum, as Masters struggled to explain his support during the GOP primary for a near total ban on abortion and his embrace of Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in 2020.
The four Democrats who won states that Trump won show it is possible for personal views to be balanced with broad assessments of the country. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine provided another example in 2020 when she won reelection in a state where nearly three-fifths of voters disapproved of Trump because roughly one-fourth of those disapproving voters, an incredibly high number, voted for her anyway.
The national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released last week offered the latest snapshot of this divergence. Asked what issue they considered most important in 2022, Republicans overwhelmingly chose inflation (52%) and immigration (18%). A comparable share of Democrats picked preserving democracy (32%), abortion (21%) and health care (15%). Independents split exactly in half between the priorities of the two parties: inflation and immigration on the one side, and democracy, abortion and health care on the other. Voters with at least a four- year college degree were more in favor of democracy and abortion. This survey did not include crime, but it has usually provoked the most concern from Republicans and non-college educated voters.
Given these disparities, Democrats everywhere are stressing issues relating to rights and values, particularly abortion, but also warning about the threat to democracy posed by Trump and his movement. CNN reports that Democratic candidates have spent over $100 million on ads about abortion since June, far more than Republicans.
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In the long run, the most important of these may be the argument that the incentives for domestic production embedded in the trio of central Biden legislative accomplishments – the bills to rebuild infrastructure, promote semiconductor manufacturing and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy – will produce a boom in US employment, particularly in manufacturing jobs that don’t require a college degree.
But those plant openings are mostly still in the future and only a few Democrats (such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Arizona Sen. Kelly, and Ohio Senate candidate Tim Ryan) are emphasizing those possibilities this year.
Democrats stress the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, which allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices, as a way of giving families relief on specific costs. Garin believes that highlighting specific initiatives can allow candidates to ignore the negative judgement of Biden’s economic management. His biggest concern is that too many Democrats are focusing on abortion instead of the economy.
One saving grace for the Democratic Party is the fact that Republicans have not convinced voters of their answers to the economy or any other issues, according to the founder of Somos Votantes. After a day of door-to-door campaigning in Phoenix, she said the concrete is not set yet. A way to connect with people is still possible. Like Way to Win, her group stresses a message that tries to bridge the kitchen tables/values divide: Democrats are committed to providing people opportunities to help them meet their obligation to their families, while Republicans are focused on taking away rights.
Among likely Hispanic voters, a narrow 48 percent plurality disapproved of Mr. Biden even as 60 percent said they would vote for congressional Democrats this fall — one of a few groups, including younger voters, who appeared to separate their frustration with the White House from their voting plans.
College was a particularly strong dividing line. Among those with a bachelor’s degree, Democrats held a 13-point advantage. Among those without one, Republicans held a 15-point edge.
The Democratic coalition that won the Senate and White House in 2020 relied on a gender gap and win women by a wide margin.
The poll showed that Republicans had completely erased an 11-point edge for Democrats among women in congressional races, which was a tie in October.
But it’s not just that fewer Republicans now think that Trump is their best bet in a general election. They are less likely to say they like him. His favorable rating among Republicans in a Quinnipiac University poll in October 2021 stood at 86%. The survey this month had a Trump favorable rating of more than 70% among Republicans.
Biden is poised to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024 and is in a good position to do so. The results of the midterms weakened the position of Donald Trump among Republicans, and he is in a race to replace him in the GOP primary.
Today, the mood of the nation is decidedly sour. A strong majority of likely voters, 64 percent, sees the country as moving in the wrong direction, compared with just 24 percent who see the nation as on the right track. The share of Democratic voters who think the nation is headed in the right direction has fallen since September, though it is still higher than it was in the summer.
“Everybody’s hurting right now,” said David Neiheisel, a 48-year-old insurance salesman and Republican in Indianapolis. Inflation, interest rates, the cost of gas, the cost of food, the cost of my property taxes, all have gone up so much that it’s going to collapse.
The Times/Sena Survey: Sentiments to the State of the State, Senate Minority Turnover, and the Importance of Biden’s Outcome
The Times/Sena survey was conducted by telephone over the course of 12 days, using live operators. The margin of sampling error can be plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.
In Senate races, the unmistakable long-term trend is for attitudes about the sitting president to exert increasing influence over the results, often overshadowing views of the competing candidates. In many ways, Senate (and even more so House races) have become more akin to contests in a parliamentary system, where fewer voters are weighing the relative individual merits of the two contenders and instead are basing their decision more on which party they want to control Congress – a decision shaped heavily by their views about the incumbent president.
Mike Noble believes that the Democrats have an opportunity to separate from the president in Arizona. Noble said in a survey released Monday by his firm that Kelly narrowly led Masters even though no majority of Arizona voters had a positive opinion of Biden. One reason for Kelly’s lead, Noble said, is that the poll found almost one-fifth of voters who were unfavorable toward Biden also expressed negative views about Masters. Noble claimed that the voters were siding with Kelly over Masters.
The Democratic hopes of a Biden approval rating going through Election Day were dashed because of the high inflation that has persisted throughout the year.
Even though Democrats have passed legislation, people are still not better off in their eyes, according to Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist. “If inflation had come down from where it has been, they would be in better shape. You can’t convince people that things are going better when they know that’s not the case.
There is a closer connection between opinions about national issues and national political leaders and how people vote in congressional elections over the past twenty or thirty years, according to Abramowitz. “It used to be easier for incumbents to run pretty far ahead of a president from their own party’s approval rating based on their reputation in their state or district, their constituency service, name recognition, things that you gain from being an incumbent. Over time that value has decreased.”
The four democrats who won in states where Trump had a 50% approval rating or greater were bucking the trend. Those four Democrats who won were incumbents Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana and Sherrod Brown in Ohio as well as a female challenger in Arizona.
J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, the leading Democratic super PAC, argues that personal contrasts largely explain that unusually high Democratic support among voters dissatisfied with Biden. “I agree with Mitch McConnell on one thing: candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome in Senate races,” Poersch said. “Our Democratic candidates have strong track records of delivering for their states and a demonstrated ability to create their own environment, while Republicans are offering up a roster of extremists who are totally out of step.”
Even in such an environment, Ulm acknowledges, weak personal images may sink some GOP Senate (and governor) nominees. I think the only hope is for them to be saved against the weakest candidates, but not anybody else. Multiple Republican candidates will win if there is discontent with Biden and voters view them unfavorably because they want a change in direction.
Such exceptions have become rare in modern US politics. Because Biden’s standing is so weak in so many places, to hold the Senate, Democrats will almost certainly need a lot more of them.
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Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He is the author and editor of 24 books. Follow him on his official account on social media. This commentary has his own opinions. You can give your opinion on CNN.
Many predicted the red wave wouldn’t happen. If Republicans end up in control of one or both chambers, the majority will be extremely narrow. Democrats won’t face the shellacking they experienced in 2010
The midterms mark the culmination of two difficult years, during which Biden has repeatedly defied expectations. In each stage of Biden’s tenure, he has achieved what many party members thought was impossible.
But things didn’t get easier for Biden once he entered the White House. There was havoc on the economy and the country. Despite a 50-50 split in the Senate and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema pitting themselves against the administration at various points, Biden was still able to move a formidable legislative agenda through Congress, overcoming fierce Republican opposition and even winning a few GOP votes along the way. The track record of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act is more significant than anything we have seen since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Besides the three major pieces of legislation, Biden also appointed more federal judges by August than any president at that point in the term since John F. Kennedy, according to the Pew Research Center. Efforts to fight climate change, bolster the US’s economic competitiveness and forgive student debt have been made possible by the executive power of Biden.
The next year was the midterms. Although Republicans will likely gain control of at least one chamber of Congress, if not both by narrow margins, the GOP will be frustrated. Trump used his influence to make the elections a referendum on him, rather than just on the sitting president. Many of his hand-selected candidates, moreover, lost, such as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
On the Republican side, some party loyalists have a contender in mind. While Trump benefits from a dedicated base of support and, so far, being the only official candidate in the race, his victory is far from certain. The GOP has been revved up by the policies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is four years younger than the former President’s oldest children.
According to new polling, there is a growing desire for new faces. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 58% of Democratic and Democratic- leaning voters want their party toNominate someone other than Biden. The poll shows that more than half of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said the same thing about Donald Trump.
Voters do not like Biden’s age, so “watch me” alone isn’t going to help them. After almost two years of watching Biden, two-thirds of voters don’t think he should run again. So there’s that.
If Biden faces Trump he might not have to answer the question of his age. The current commander in chief may be vulnerable to a younger challenger in the form of a young Republican in his 40s.
Doubts about Biden and his ability to serve a second term are a persistent problem, not a one-off from the exit polling. And one that Biden and his team need to figure out how to address – beyond just telling voters to watch him.
It’s still early. A contest between two old leaders instead of a fight between young politicians with energy and enthusiasm is doing the nation a disservice.
The CNN poll shows that more Republicans and GOP leaning independents want the party toNominate someone other than Trump in twenty four years. A similar slice on the other side hopes for a nominee other than Biden.
One of Trump’s greatest attributes is that he convinced his supporters that he is a winner. Three years ago, polls showed about 80% of Republicans believed he was the party’s best chance to beat the Democratic nominee for president. A number of Republicans did so recently.
When a recent Monmouth University poll asked GOP and GOP-leaning voters an open-ended question about whom they’d like to see as their party’s nominee next year, most named either Trump (33%) or DeSantis (33%). Two percent or fewer mentioned anyone else as a possible nominee – including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the latest entrant into the GOP race who’d yet to declare when the survey was taken.
Predictions for Biden, Trump, and the Coming 2022 Midterms: How Did Biden and Trump Get Their First White House Nomination?
This CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS on December 1 through 7 among a random national sample of 1,208 adults drawn from a probability-based panel. There were either online or telephone surveys. Results among the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 points; it is larger for subgroups.
Many voters want a break from the past and the present as evidenced by the move toward a rerun of the most turbulent White House race in modern history by both President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
Of course, it’s early. And the 2022 midterms offer a still fresh reminder that in a volatile, partisan age shadowed by crises at home and abroad, logic, history, polls and pre-race predictions months ahead of time often don’t count for much.
But while many Republicans and Democrats would prefer to see someone else nominated, the vague concept of “someone else” isn’t an eligible challenger for the presidency. Trump and Biden face very different situations when it comes to viable rivals.
Republican politics may, or may not, be at a moment of transition. In the coming months, how things shake out will play a big part in Trump’s future. It is on the other hand that Republicans are saying it is time to move on, since many of the ex-presidents hand picked candidates failed in the elections.
The argument that Trump has damaged his election viability is strengthened by his dinner with extremists with a record of antisemitism, like White supremacists and rapperKanye West. Trump’s so-far lackluster campaign, which looks like it was declared to make it easier for him to portray criminal probes into his conduct as persecution, isn’t convincing anyone so far.
And yet, the former president’s allies, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Jim Jordan of Ohio, will be hugely influential in the new GOP House majority. The failure to do better in November will make it easier for extremists to cause harm to Biden and help Trump in the future.
A new campaign will determine whether or not the Trump base has lost any of its strength. But even if his mythical connection to those voters might not be enough to win him the presidency, it could still carry him to his third straight nomination. The unwillingness of most Republican lawmakers to repudiate Trump over comments like his recent call to terminate the Constitution suggest that they are still under the sway of the ex-president’s supporters at home. Kevin McCarthy, who is competing for the speaker’s gavel, has found a way to find ways to not condemn Trump’s associations with extremists.
Even though the president’s approval ratings and chances of reelection are very high, he is still vulnerable to unexpected outside events. And the oldest president in US history will have to confront the age issue every day. The Republicans will use the slow pace of the campaign trail or a cold as evidence that he is not fit for another term. Biden seems healthy, but the chances of an adverse event increase for people in their 80s.
Republicans were clamoring for former President Donald Trump’s endorsement while Democrats wanted him to stay away in the lead up to the elections. The picture looks different over a month after the election.
Instead, the opposite has happened. They will not run against Biden, according to major potential foes such as California Gov. Almost every power player in the Democratic Party has said they will back Biden, if he decides to run again.
As candidates enter the race, voters learn more about them, and the landscape of the 2024 primary continues to change, with a year to go before any votes are cast. It is true on the Republican side as well as on the Democrat side, with a number of politicians interested in running and Democratic leaders shying away from challenges to Biden.
A big reason for this is that Trump’s poll numbers look weak. I’m also talking about his polling against other Republicans. How Republican voters view him is something I’m talking about.
These findings are believed to understate Trump’s weakness. There isn’t a single poll of a two-way matchup between Trump and DeSantis (that meets CNN’s standards for publication) that has Trump ahead. The poll by the law school had Trump down 20 points to the governor of Florida.
This indicates that Trump’s biggest strength at this point among Republicans is name recognition – something other Republicans will get a lot more of as the primary season heats up.
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Patrick Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank and advocacy group. He was a senior policy adviser to the Joint Economic Committee. Follow him on Twitter. The views he has in this piece are his own. There is more opinion on CNN.
Our recent coronaviruses epidemic has been compared to the 1918 flu outbreak that left millions dead in its wake. It vanished in popular culture nearly as soon as it ended. Americans were ready to turn the page on war and pestilence and let loose in the roaring ’20s.
One senses a similar dynamic today. With the pandemic almost officially behind us, January 6 a fading memory and the economy beginning to return to normal, many Americans appear ready for a politics that focuses on new challenges rather than rehashing old battles over mask mandates and election integrity.
At its best, President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech offered that forward-looking vision, highlighting his administration’s commitment to rebuilding America’s supply chain and spurring innovation. But no amount of rhetoric could disguise the fact that our political system could be on a collision course to offer up the rematch no one is asking for.
Republicans who want to take the battle to “woke” institutions and push back against the left’s excesses know that the DeSantis model can produce results at the state level.
Other potential challengers, like former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, face an uncertain path to the nomination but also offer a generational shift and a different set of priorities. And many party operatives will admit that a Trump campaign that looks backward – at the indignities of the pandemic or his false claims about the 2020 election – will risk coming across as detached from the challenges facing working-class Americans.
An explicit age-based argument can backfire, even if a younger candidate tries to push aside a more seasoned candidate. The hard way was learned by former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julin Castro, who learned that attack lines focusing on an older candidate’s memory or hearing do not play well. Any politician trying to campaign against a more senior opponent would have to be careful about not sounding dismissive toward older Americans’ ability to contribute – after all, senior citizens are reliable voters.
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The creation of NATO, the first color TV broadcast, the birth of the People’s Republic of China, and Israel are all events that the incumbent President and his presidential predecessor were alive for.
There is a wisdom in being around the long sweep of history. Both the President and the former President should know that the desire for a change is not ageism but a recognition of the demands of the job and needs for new voices and ideas.
Both Trump and Biden fulfilled their stated primary objectives as President –Trump, to draw attention to the plight of the “forgotten men and women of our country” and to raise questions about the logic of globalization that turned a blind eye to the rise of China, and Biden, to seek a return to something closer to normalcy after the four chaotic years that preceded him.
But the latent dissatisfaction with either option suggests political rewards for the party willing to take the gamble on a younger nominee. The Democrats’ sole purpose in the 2020 primary was to pick the candidate who could beat Trump. Maybe Biden is the right man for the job. The presidential debate stage would feature a younger, more energetic politician focused on issues of the moment, compared to the one who had habits that were formed during the Cold War.
Whether that’s a younger Democratic nominee more effectively tapping into discontent over the Dobbs decision’s impact on abortion rights, or a Republican candidate speaking, as a parent of young children, about the need to better protect kids online, a passing of the generational torch will allow for a much-needed shift of focus to fresh challenges.
The topic is much more complicated than it appears and voters have complex attitudes towards the two men which makes them fall short of endorsing or rejecting them.
None of the recent survey findings predict how the presidential primary landscape will develop in the months to come, or how public opinion might evolve in response. But taken together, they help to paint a fuller picture of where things stand now.