MEMO: Democrats Face Difficult but Surmountable Challenges Ahead of the Midterms

November 04, 2021

Tuesday’s elections are a warning for all Democrats. With midterm elections just a year away, we face a difficult set of challenges, some of our own making.

  • Our congressional majorities depend on winning Senate and House seats that are much more competitive than New Jersey and Virginia, giving us little room for error. The same is true for key governors’ races and state legislative seats.
  • While DC Democrats have spent weeks fighting each other, Republicans were focused on mobilizing their base, generating record turnout and demonstrating an enthusiasm gap that we must close.
  • Republicans were successful at peeling away voters from the Biden coalition using deceptive, divisive tactics, calling into question how we rebuild that coalition in 2022.
  • Key polling indicators like presidential favorability, direction of the country, and who is better on handling the economy and covid recovery have been moving in the wrong direction.
  • History is full of significant midterm election losses for the party in power.

On top of all of this, voters are frustrated, skeptical, and tired — of covid, of economic hardship, of school closings, of higher prices and stagnant wages, of unaffordable prescription drugs and health care and more. This is not merely about ideology or which two candidates are on the ballot. Without results (and effectively communicating those results), voters will punish the party in power.

New polling from Priorities USA in key 2022 battleground states paints a similarly challenging picture. Voter enthusiasm is relatively low among key voters, swing voters that supported Democrats in the last two elections are open to voting Republican, and Democratic infighting is cannibalizing any headlines about the progress we are making. This creates huge opportunities for Republicans to focus on issues that drive their turnout and peel away swing voters.

There are now two roads ahead of us. 

Down one is an endless circular firing squad, a lengthy and public fight over the Build Back Better bill, finger pointing between “progressives” and “centrists,” arguments over whether to focus on turnout or swing voters, and ultimately, losing.

The other road doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives us a fighting shot to win next year. This week’s results and new polling from Priorities USA in key battleground states lays out the beginning of a path to victory.

An analysis of our polling offers four key lessons that will guide our efforts: 

  • Democrats must prioritize infrequent and new voters who turned out for President Biden. These programs must include early persuasion campaigns targeting those with little partisan connection or long-term political interest. Without Donald Trump in office or on the ballot, we will need an aggressive multi-pronged approach to win them over again. 
  • In most competitive races, turnout alone is not enough. We need to appeal to those swing voters who supported Democrats in 2018 and 2020. 
  • The best defense is a good offense. The Democratic agenda is popular with swing voters and new Biden voters and every Republican in Congress opposes it. We need to relentlessly focus on building the middle class, supporting families, and protecting democracy. 
  • If the headlines focus on Democratic infighting and issues driven by the Republican Party, we will lose. Democrats need to deliver on their promises and drive a contrasting campaign on it. Our argument can’t be limited to backwards-looking attacks on Donald Trump.

Read the entire memo here.