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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Opinion essayist Thomas B. Edsall probes reasons why “The Happiness Gap Between Left and Right Isn’t Closing” at The New York Times and rolls out some nuggets, including: “There is a difference in the way the left and right react to frustration and grievance. Instead of despair, the contemporary right has responded with mounting anger, rejecting democratic institutions and norms….In a 2021 Vox article, “Trump and the Republican Revolt Against Democracy,” Zack Beauchamp described in detail the emergence of destructive and aggressive discontent among conservatives….Citing a wide range of polling data and academic studies, Beauchamp found:

  • More than twice as many Republicans (39 percent) as Democrats (17 percent) believe that “if elected leaders won’t protect America, the people must act — even if that means violence.”

  • Fifty-seven percent of Republicans consider Democrats to be “enemies” compared with 41 percent of Democrats who view Republicans as enemies.

  • Among Republicans, support for “the use of force to defend our way of life,” as well as for the belief that “strong leaders bend rules” and that “sometimes you have to take the law in your own hands,” grows stronger in direct correlation with racial and ethnic hostility.

Trump himself has repeatedly warned of the potential for political violence. In January, he predicted bedlam if the criminal charges filed in federal and state courts against him damaged his presidential campaign….Before he was indicted in New York, Trump claimed there would be “potential death and destruction” if he were charged.” Edsall quotes scholars in the fields of psychology, sociology and public health to pinpoint many of the sources of liberal discontent. The lowest income voters, most of whom are Democrats also have some good economic reasons to be less happy than most Republicans.

“Six months before the most fateful election of our lifetimes, we are entering that moment in the campaign when model makers rush onstage hawking their presidential predictions,” Walter Shapiro writes at The New Republic. “And, no, we are not talking about hobbyists who put ships in a bottle or glue together plastic replicas of World War II fight planes. These model makers are election theorists from academia, economic forecasting firms, and polling websites who offer their presidential forecasts based on their proprietary formulas—many of which are blithefully unconcerned with the identities of the actual White House contenders…. To oversimplify a bit, these mathematical approaches to political soothsaying involve combining some variant of presidential approval ratings, economic growth numbers, the inflation rate, prior election returns, and an exclusive blend of herbs and spices to reveal who is going to win long before anyone votes….Almost nothing scares Democrats more than those ominous three words: “presidential approval rating.” But context is badly needed…. Gallup, which has been charting presidential popularity for more than 70 years, recently released a report showing that Joe Biden’s approval rating at the beginning of the fourth year of his presidency is lower than that of any elected president dating back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Even Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Donald Trump—three incumbents who failed to retain the White House—had Biden beaten at this point in their respective presidencies.”

Shapiro continues, “On the surface, it looks dire since it is obvious that how voters rate a president’s job performance will play a major role in shaping their ballot choices….Until 15 years ago, approval ratings were volatile and presidents routinely polled well over 60 percent in Gallup surveys. In the wake of the Gulf War in early 1991, George H.W. Bush had a stunning approval rating of 89 percent. Two years later, Bush was a former guy. Bill Clinton’s approval rate hit 73 percent at the end of 1998 as he was being impeached. And in early 2004, as the Iraq War was fast becoming a quagmire, George W. Bush was still polling over 60 percent….But since the early months of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009, no incumbent has hit the 60 percent mark. There are many causes for the unprecedentedly sour mood in the electorate, including enhanced partisan passions. My own guess is that the Great Recession of 2008–2009 may have permanently upended voter trust in any president….Stunningly, Trump never once in his presidency broke the 50 percent mark in the Gallup numbers—he would still go on to win more than 74 million votes, the second-highest total of any presidential candidate….If you must brandish a historical precedent, I have one for you that did not show up on the Gallup roster of the nine elected presidents who polled better than Biden. The Gallup list did not include Harry Truman because of the technicality that he took office after the 1945 death of Franklin Roosevelt…. In April 1948, Truman limped home in the Gallup Poll with a dispiriting 36 percent approval rating. That, by the way, is lower than Biden’s current numbers. And as history junkies may recall, Truman pulled off the biggest upset in modern politics. Maybe it is time for Amtrak Joe to dust off the revered tradition of a whistle-stop tour of the Midwest.”

Some “economic confidence” notes from the Gallup poll: “With Americans less optimistic about the state of the U.S. economy than they have been in recent months and concern about inflation persisting, their confidence in President Joe Biden to recommend or do the right thing for the economy is among the lowest Gallup has measured for any president since 2001. But Biden is not alone in facing a skeptical public, as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, the Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, and presumptive presidential nominee Republican Donald Trump garner confidence ratings below 50%….Forty-six percent of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in Trump to do or recommend the right thing for the economy, while fewer say the same of Biden (38%), Powell (39%), and Democratic (38%) and Republican (36%) leaders in Congress….These findings are from Gallup’s Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 1-22. During the poll’s field period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest Consumer Price Index data showing that inflation remains stubbornly elevated, though nowhere near the 40-year highs seen in 2022….Americans’ confidence in these key leaders is driven by partisans’ differing views. Broad majorities of Republicans express confidence in the economic competence of Trump (86%), their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and 82% of Democrats do the same of Biden….Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are confident in their own party’s congressional leaders (80% vs. 67%, respectively). Democrats (56%) are also more confident than Republicans (30%) in Powell’s handling of the economy. Few in either party are confident in the opposing party’s presidential candidate or congressional leaders….Roughly one-third of independents say they are confident in Biden, Powell and both parties’ congressional leaders. Trump earns higher confidence from independents (45%).”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Martin Lawford on

    When Truman did that whistle-stop tour in 1948, the voters saw a President who was 64. If Biden did the same thing today, the voters would see a President who is 81.


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