Biden got 51 percent of the vote in 2020, enough to win the election, but hardly a dominant majority. And Democrats’ downballot performance was distinctly inferior, leading to disappointing performance in Senate, House and state legislative races. The Biden administration now confronts a divided country racked by twin pandemic and economic crises. In the not so far distance looms the 2022 midterm elections where an incoming Presidential administration traditionally loses ground. The last time Democrats faced this situation in 2010 they suffered massive losses.
The imperative here is expand the Biden coalition. Concretely, that means Biden’s approval rating has to be as high as possible going into 2022. That is by far the most straightforward way of insulating the Democrats from big losses and creating at least the possibility for some gains.
So, how to do this? I offer a simple formula: convert Trump disapproval into Biden approval/Democratic votes. Consider these data comparing recent Trump disapproval, as measured by Pew, with Biden 2020 support figures from AP/VoteCast.
Black voters: Trump January disapproval – Biden 2020 support = 91-91 = 0
Hispanic voters: Trump January disapproval – Biden 2020 support = 82-63 = 19
White college voters: Trump January disapproval – Biden 2020 support = 73-52= 21
White noncollege voters: Trump January disapproval – Biden 2020 support = 52-37= 15
I smell opportunity! Besides an opening to expand white college support, there are serious possibilities here for attacking the two most serious weak spots in Biden’s 2020 coalition, Hispanic voters and white noncollege voters.
The conversion process for turning these Trump disapprovers into Biden approvers and then hopefully Democratic voters can only run through a successful attack on the pandemic and economic crises. Really for the next period of time nothing else is important. Not immigration reform. Not criminal justice reform. Not climate change. Not child poverty. Not executive orders. Not Trump’s trial. Either solve the twin crises or prepare yourself for the wrath of voters who will, not unreasonably, think you have failed them. The Biden coalition will shrink, not expand and all the great ideas progressives have for improving the country will come to naught.
Thus, the mantra here should be move fast, spend big and make it obvious. Derek Thomson in the Atlantic puts it well:
Biden…faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.
Biden’s first 100 days should address the first two crises with Rooseveltian focus. Quench the conflagration of the moment—then fight the fire of the future….
One lesson from the Obama years is that smart policy making isn’t just about doing brainy stuff; it’s about doing good and popular stuff in a way that keeps you in power so you can do more good stuff. The Democrats’ failure to properly stimulate the economy in 2010—or get credit for their very real contributions—led to catastrophic midterm losses in the House that made it impossible for them to accomplish much of anything in Obama’s last six years in office.
Let’s not let that happen again! The fate of the country and of the Democrats really does depend on it.