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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Some insights from Cook Political Report Editor Amy Walter’s column,”Which Way Is the Wind Blowing?” As Walter writes, “Perceptions of the president have improved over the course of the summer. Since July, according to FiveThirtyEight.com tracker, President Biden’s job approval ratings have risen by almost four points.  On its face, that improvement looks like a disruption of ‘normal’ midterm trends. Since 1970, no first term president has seen an improvement in his job approval ratings between January and October of a midterm year. However, Biden’s bump between July and now wasn’t an improvement from his standing earlier this year. Instead, his job approval ratings today are basically where they were in January; Biden was at 43.3 percent on January 1st and currently sits at 42.4 percent. In other words, Biden is more popular than he was in July, but he’s not anymore popular today than he was in the beginning of the year….By October of most mid-term elections, political gravity has kicked in. Members of the president’s party have spent much of the year putting distance between themselves and an unpopular commander-in-chief. But, a month out from the election, the pull of partisanship and polarization becomes too much for the candidates to overcome. This October, however, there’s evidence to suggest that Democrat candidates continue to defy political gravity….Even as President Biden’s job approval rating is underwater at -10 (42 percent approve to 52 percent disapprove), Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot by just over one point (45.4 to 44.3 percent). But, as I’ve written before, if you focus on vote share and not the margin, the gap between Biden and the ‘generic’ Democrat isn’t that impressive. Biden is currently at 42.4 percent job approve, while Democrats sit at 45.4 percent of the vote in generic matchup with the GOP. In other words, a generic Democrat is performing about 3 points better than Biden’s job rating. In a close race, of course, that could be a difference maker. But, it is not history defying.” National statistics like the President’s approval rate will likely matter more for the 435 races that will determine the House majority than it will matter for control of the Senate, where Republicans have weaker than usual candidates in the handful of  swing states.

At CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson shares some notes on the political reverberations of President Biden’s  marijuana reforms: “In some ways, the debate over the legal status of marijuana parallels the changing social attitudes that drove the fight to legalize same sex marriage, in that the public appeared to be well ahead of political leaders on the issue….Weed is becoming more socially acceptable and popular, a factor that is being recognized below the federal level with multiple state ballot initiatives and laws legalizing it….Just a few months ago, Gallup’s polling found for the first time that more Americans (16%) said they smoke weed than had smoked a tobacco cigarette in the preceding week (11%)….And in research that may underscore Biden’s political goals, the National Institutes of Health reported in August that marijuana use among young adults had reached all-time highs. Some 43% of that cohort reported using weed over the past year in 2021 – up from 34% in 2016 and from 29% in 2011….Last year, Gallup found that 68% of Americans favored legalizing marijuana for recreational use. That figure suggests significant bipartisan support for the President’s historic first foray into the marijuana debate. This is also a takeaway from ballot initiatives and legislative moves to decriminalize or legalize marijuana from Democratic-run Oregon to Republican-dominated South Dakota. A total of 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization dedicated to legalizing cannabis….Beto O’Rourke, who is mounting a long-shot bid to unseat Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, issued a statement pledging, “When I am governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.”….“President Biden’s executive order is transformative for the lives of thousands of people and families harmed by our broken cannabis laws,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement. “This is a huge step forward toward a more just criminal justice system and more rational drug policy.”

For a good update on a marquee midterm race, check out “Political scientists say Ohio U.S. Senate election is one of the key races in the nation” by Lynn Hulsey at the Dayton Daily News: “Multiple public polls show Ryan and Vance are running about even in Ohio, something that surprises [Wright State University political Scientist Lee] Hannah given the state’s rightward tilt in recent elections, the popularity of retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, whose seat the men are seeking, and given the historical trend for the president’s party to not do well in midterm elections….“Ryan understands that Ohio is trending toward being a consistently Republican state. For any Democrat to win a state-wide election, they will have to appeal to Republicans and independents to one degree or another,” [Cedarville University political scientist Mark] Smith said….Ryan’s campaign focuses on appealing to working class voters and he touts his vote with Trump to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and his disagreement with Biden on things like forgiving federal student loans….“He definitely has a theory that he needs to run to the center in order to win,” Hannah said….[University of Dayton political scientist Daniel] Birdsong argues that Ryan’s effort to draw Republican and independent voters is a gamble….“For them, this is an easy choice. It is possible that Ohio could help decide the entire progressive agenda in Congress,” Smith said. “Even if Ryan is not the ideal Senator for progressives, he will be far more supportive of their agenda than J.D. Vance and a Republican controlled Senate.”

If your definition of hell is watching 300 political ads to gain perspective on the midterm elections next month, you may want to skip Kyle Kondik’s “The 2022 Ad Wars: What we learned watching more than 300 campaign ads released in the second half of September” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. But if you’re a political junkie, who values Kondik’s impressive analytical skills, here’s a teaser: “Just as a caveat before we begin: The actual efficacy of campaign ads has long been debated, and we are not really trying to address that debate today. Ads do represent the major way that candidates and outside groups end up communicating with the public — meaning that they are one of the few aspects of a campaign that the candidate or group can actually control. So what they choose to focus on seems worth analyzing, even if it’s hard to measure how effective the ads actually are….We primarily used the compilation of ads that appears at the end of Daily Kos Elections’s Morning Digest newsletter — the liberal site includes a list of ads from both sides in every issue. There were slightly more ads from Republican sources than Democratic ones, although the totals were fairly even — about 175 were from Republican candidates or outside groups, while about 160 were from Democratic candidates or their allies….Nearly every ad was 30 seconds long, the standard length of a television ad. That amounts to about 2 hours and 45 minutes of ads, although it of course takes longer to actually watch all the ads, take notes on them, click through links, etc….We have 5 takeaways from our campaign ad binge:” In brief, Kondik’s 5 takeaways include: 1. Abortion dominates Democratic advertising; 2. Checks and balances….A prominent feature of Republican messaging is simply arguing that Democrats are much too in lockstep with their unpopular national leaders; 3. Tough-on-crime messaging predominates – Crime has become a major focus for Republicans, and Democrats are trying to inoculate themselves on Republican crime messaging by championing their own support for law enforcement; 4. Guest stars – including AOC, MTG and MM.  National political figures sometimes appear in ads as a way to nationalize races; and 5.Student loan forgiveness, largely forgotten….In his conclusion, Kondik notes, “Although there are plenty of specific topics that come up in ads that we didn’t really hit on above, such as immigration; personal scandal; Social Security and Medicare; and much more.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Martin Lawford on

    To the extent that polls agree on the voters’ priorities, they agree with the Cook Political Report that the top issue is the economy. Yet, according to Kyle Kondik’s “2022 Ad Wars”, the Democrats’ ads concentrate on abortion while the Republicans’ ads concentrate on crime. Both parties are advertising on what they consider their opponents’ weakest issue and neither is advertising on what polls report to be the voters’ highest concerns. Hence, the real message to the voters of all this expensive advertising is that neither of the two major parties cares about what matters most to them.


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