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Ignore the Media Spin—Democrats Are Not Defying History

Posted on Monday, August 22, 2022
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by Daniel Berman
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34 Comments
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AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

After leading by four points in February on the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average, Republicans are now down to just a 0.2 percent lead on the generic congressional ballot. This apparent tightening of the polls has prompted narratives about a “Democratic recovery,” which are likely to reach a new crescendo in coming weeks as Democrats remain hopeful that they may yet defy the odds and retain control of Congress this November.

Careful optimism for Democrats’ chances this fall has been reported throughout the media landscape. Newsweek typified the narrative, declaring on August 5, “With fewer than 100 days until Election Day, talk of massive Republican gains in Congress has faded substantially amid a series of victories for the president and his fellow Democrats.”

But as David Drucker of the Washington Examiner laid out in a tweet, we have seen this movie before. “Midterm cycles since ‘06 have certain rhythm,” he wrote. “1) Maybe POTUS’ party’ll avoid losses. 2) Things look good for out [of power] party. 3) Things look REALLY good for out party. 4) Hold on, maybe POTUS’ party won’t lose as many seats as thought. 5) Could POTUS’ party avoid wipeout? 6) WIPEOUT.”

Quoting this tweet in an article for the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter argued that we are now in “phase 4” of that cycle, when the evidence for a “red wave” has been so overwhelming for so long that any further data in that direction is no longer newsworthy. Conversely, any evidence to the contrary, no matter how circumstantial, is deemed worthy of in-depth analysis.

But the truth is that predictions of a Democrat resurgence often ignore the deep deficit Democrats need to make up, run against historical precedent for midterms, and defy recent precedent in which individual candidates and campaigns matter less than partisanship.

To determine if reports of a “Democratic recovery” are to be trusted, we first need to examine the evidence. There are three sources to which we can look. The first is polling. Here we have three different data points: Biden’s approval ratings, the generic congressional ballot, and specific state polls.

The first is cold comfort for Democrats. Biden’s job approval rating stands at negative 15% on RCP, with an average of 40.9% approving and 55.8% disapproving. This is an improvement from his lowest point, when he was more than 20% underwater in late July, but it is still lower than at any point between January 2021 and June 2022. Whether Biden’s numbers are improving depends on context. If the drop in June and July was the result of temporary factors such as $5 a gallon gasoline, then the fall in gas prices would be expected to cause his numbers to revert to their “normal” trajectory. Rather than providing comfort to Democrats, this should be a cause for worry, as implies that Biden has already received whatever “bounce” he can expect from the easing of gas prices, and it still leaves him at a lower point than any time prior to May 2022.

The second category is the generic ballot. The GOP’s current lead of just .2% is the smallest since Democrats last led on November 10, 2021. This does seem to indicate a degree of movement, and at 44%, support for Democrats is at the highest level since October of 2021. However, as with Biden’s numbers, that 44% is at best a glass half full. Prior to October 2021, Democrats had not dropped below 48% average support for more than three years. Hence, while these numbers may indicate that bleeding has recovered somewhat, they still point to a GOP landslide. Factoring in the 41%/56% approval numbers for Joe Biden, not only do almost all currently undecided voters disapprove of Biden, but even some Democrats. Democrats need to win over voters who do not support Biden to even get to a tie, much less make any further recovery, whereas the GOP can gain further support simply by winning over those who think Biden has failed.

The third category is polling in individual races. Here a multitude of Democrat candidates are outperforming their state’s leans by leading in races even when Joe Biden is underwater by as much as 30%. Pundits can point to polls not just in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and New Hampshire, but even Ohio for examples of Democratic candidates leading in races while Biden sits at woeful approval levels.

For a mainstream media obsessed with the mechanics of individual races, state-level polling is a godsend. There is a strong assumption that if data points exist, they must be important. However, history provides ample reason to be skeptical of state-level polling for lower-level races. The problem is that in races with a very high disparity in name recognition between candidates, it is relatively easy for incumbents or better-known candidates to lead. One of the best examples was the Tennessee Senate race in 2018, when former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen led for virtually the entire campaign until the final month, before losing by 10% to then-Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. Democratic incumbents Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly also led in Missouri and Indiana until August and Election Day, respectively, that year. If part of the reason Democrat candidates are leading is higher name identification, as is clearly the case in New Hampshire where there is no Republican nominee, and Arizona where the Republican candidate was only recently nominated, then we should expect the numbers for the incumbents to matter more.

There’s also an emerging narrative that Republicans have several weak nominees in key states. That is the argument fielded by pundits when it comes to Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, and J.D. Vance in Ohio. It is worth noting all of these candidates were endorsed by Donald Trump, and much of the presumption of their weakness rests on assumptions about both the quality of the former president’s political judgment and the impact of his image on their candidacy. Many of the same charges were made in 2018 against Josh Hawley in Missouri and Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee (too extreme) and Rick Scott in Florida (“unpopular”) only to see all three win their races.

Yet even if we were to concede that this year’s slate of Republicans may be “weaker” than a mythical “generic” Republican, historical evidence is that this matters increasingly less. In 2016 and 2020 combined, only a single Senate race went to a candidate of a party different from the way the state voted for president. In 2018, a Democratic wave year, Democrats did win Senate races in 7 states which went for Donald Trump in 2016, but only two of those cast their electoral votes for Donald Trump in 2020. Both those races, Ohio and West Virginia, were all but written off by the press and featured Republican candidates who were badly outspent but nevertheless lost by single digits.

Why does this matter? Because the playing field for Democrats is difficult. Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada all officially went for Joe Biden by well under his national margin of 4%. In a generic ballot where Democrats win by even 1%, odds are every one of the aforementioned races would go Republican. This is not to say that the Republican candidates there are perfect, but the question is whether they are closer to Josh Hawley, Rick Scott, and Mike Braun, unknown candidates seen as polarizing but who nevertheless had money and profile, or whether they are closer to candidates like Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia or Jim Renacci in Ohio who were outspent several times over and all but written off. It does not seem that Masters, Walker, or Oz will lack for money or attention.

The clear conclusion is that arguments that Democrats have in any way turned the corner are being overblown. There does seem to be some movement in the generic ballot, largely made up of Democratic-leaning voters who disapprove of Biden but nevertheless prefer Democrats on policy. That may be a result of Dobbs, along with falling gas prices, pushing otherwise left-leaning voters back into the voter pool. But there is almost zero evidence voters are warming to Joe Biden, and this recovery is precarious. It is built on voters who still lack faith in Biden.

Furthermore, it is almost certainly not enough for Democrats to have a serious prospect of holding the House, or even the Senate, unless one ignores the historical trends of polling several months out. To do that, Democrats would need to actually win over enough voters to lead Republicans by several percentage points, not merely tie or hold their loss to 1-2%. It is hard to see how that can happen without Biden turning himself around.

The best that can be said for Democrats is that for the last few weeks, things have stopped getting worse. But absent them getting a whole lot better, Democrats should follow Walter’s advice and get ready for the final phase of midterm election years: Acceptance.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.           

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Michael J
Michael J
1 year ago

Another spin by the biased left. Politicians are never honest except at reelection time.

Chuck Anziulewicz
Chuck Anziulewicz
1 year ago

I would not underestimate the impact of the Dobbs decision if I were you. Sure, there are a lot of American women who would publicly describe themselves as being against abortion, but privately I think the Dobbs decision has made them nervous. Thanks to three new Supreme Court justices who had PREVIOUSLY talked about how Roe v. Wade was “precedent” and “settled law,” suddenly women in red states find themselves losing a big measure of their self-determination in ways they know men will never encompass. After all, there are NO laws affecting men’s reproducive choices. I don’t think women are going to forget this in November.

Boz
Boz
1 year ago

Democrats are defying God. That won’t end weII.

Honey
Honey
1 year ago

In Pa. in 2020, despite Senator Toomey’s preposterous assertion that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the Pa. election, at the end of election day President Trump was ahead by an unprecedented 900,000 votes and they stopped the counting. Using illegal rules, going against the State Legislature, which the Constitution gives sole authority to change election laws, Shapiro and others and Pa.’s liberal Supreme Court all changed election laws on their own.
No matter what happened, whatever was counted after election night should not have made any difference to Trump’s great win in Pa. But they stole the election by throwing out Trump ballots, making up Biden ballots and finding just enough to make it seem that Biden won Pa. by 80,000 votes I think it was. Do you know how impossible it is to find that many ballots to make Biden go from a close to a million vote loss in a purple state, to an 80,000 vote win? I will never believe Biden won Pa.
And the lawbreaker Shapiro himself is running for governor of Pa. now. Too funny. Except I forgot to laugh.
It doesn’t seem to matter these days what the voters want. It depends on how many votes the left will steal.
If there are free and fair elections in November it should be a romp, a huge win for Trump and our side and conservatives.

PaulE
PaulE
1 year ago

The MSM generally keeps repeating the same strategy each election cycle to try and bolster the prospects of the Democrat Party. Disinformation is an essential tool of left to try and sway a largely uninformed public’s opinion one way or another. Otherwise, the MSM would be stuck with reporting the real news, which doesn’t paint the Democrat Party is such a favorable light.

As for the Republican Party prospects this November, it is chiefly up the candidates themselves and GOP leadership to present compelling reasons why the public should vote for them. In this election season, the reasons are numerous as both team Biden and the Democrat Party, as a whole, have done an outstanding job of imposing a series of well known, standard fare, failed socialist policies across the board that have completely messed this country up in their rabid pursuit of transforming this country into socialist democracy. It should be a lay up for the GOP, if they just put in a bit of actual effort.

Unfortunately, it seems congressional GOP leadership, in the form of RINOs McConnell and McCarthy, would rather remain minority leaders than 1) Put forward a unified, compelling message with REAL short term and long term deliverables for what a Republican led Congress would accomplish in their 2 years before the next Presidential election. Remember, you always have to provide a compelling message to attract people to vote FOR YOU, as opposed to either sit at home or continue to vote Democrat. 2) McConnell especially seems determined to continue fighting back against the MAGA agenda and the many of new Republicans candidates that won their primaries over the establishment RINOs Mitch backed and preferred. He has already come out 3 or 4 times and down played the prospects for a Republician majority Senate, because Mitch has always been a RINO that wants to maintain the “business as usual” status quo, which is NOT what many of these new Republican congressional candidates seem on board for.

The RNC leadership has also been remarkedly quiet this campaign season. Apparently offering little in the way of assistance or guidance per reports from a number of the new congressional candidates who have given interviews. The RNC apparently also seems to think the best strategy for success this campaign season is to simply lay low and hope to cruise to victory by doing next to nothing this campaign season. So while the Democrats have provided ample ammunition with which to sow their own massive congressional election loses, it seems certain factions in the Republican Party would rather lose than risk the status quo they seek to maintain. It will truly be a very interesting election this year, with the long-term fate of the nation hanging in the balance.

Philip Hammersley
Philip Hammersley
1 year ago

The only POLL that is important is the POLL on election day (or in Marxist states-weeks). Don’t rely on any poll; get out and vote and act like we are behind!

Andrew P
Andrew P
1 year ago

I still think the Democrats are going to lose the House decisively this November. They may have recovered enough to keep the Senate 50:50, especially if there is, as I expect, record turnout for a Midterm, but this small recovery isn’t enough to keep the House.

Kay
Kay
1 year ago

If honest voters vote in the Marxist democrats again they get what they deserve. We have lost our country since democrat control, more of the same we can all say “hello comrade”

Ryan
Ryan
1 year ago

they are getting the polls ready so the cheat wont be as obvious.

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

MSN keeps blocking any comments on their websites that are negative to Democrats, including historical explanations of Democrat failures in the past. I keep getting “failed comments” or ” it doesn’t meet community guidelines”, while remarks about racist Republicans or pro-abortion comments seem to meet those guidelines. George Orwell would be proud of MSN.

Charles Ray
Charles Ray
1 year ago

This was written as you gently sobbed, right?

Doodlebug
Doodlebug
1 year ago

Why am I being told I am not allowed to vote on a comment in this thread? I have NEVER been blocked from voting before. The comment I wanted to vote on is”over 60% of Americans are…”

Claudia Larson
Claudia Larson
1 year ago

Most media is Left. If anything, they’re spinning the news to the LEFT and the Left is unhappy with it LEFT tilt?

Vilas Gamble
Vilas Gamble
1 year ago

Republicans have the election issues all wrong. They should be pounding Democrats with the fact that every time they control both houses of Congress and the White House, we have to fight them every inch of the way to prevent them from eroding our Constitutional freedoms until we can wrestle their control away from them. To me, given what they have done to the country since Biden was “elected”, is attack our freedoms and usurp more power to themselves. There is only one issue in the 2022 mid-term elections and that is FREEDOM. If Republicans fail to gain control of the Congress Democrats have two more years to totally destroy our Constitutional Republic. Once that happens there will be no return to freedom and we will be no different than China, Russia, Cuba etc. So, in November vote like your freedoms are at stake, because they are!!

Larkenson
Larkenson
1 year ago

ASIA FOR THE ASIANS, AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, WHITE COUNTRIES FOR EVERYBODY!
The words “immigration”, “tolerance” and “assimilation” are being used to PROMOTE a program of genocide against White children.
According to International Law, open borders, FORCED integration, and assimilation is GENOCIDE.
Except they don’t call it GENOCIDE when it’s done to White children.
Then they call it “multiculturalism”
STOP WHITE GENOCIDE!
Multiculturalism means chasing down the last White person.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
1 year ago

There are 60+listed Socialist/Communist Democrats in Gov., from Obama/Biden’s 8 year reign of pushing their Socialist agenda. America’s preoccupation with the good life & complacency has given China an edge in 150,000 U.S.farmland acres, 70+ industries & 2,400 products. Biden’s CIA Director, Wm. Burns hired CCP members in that organization, so perhaps we have some in the FBI. A Chinese Elite owns 140,000 TX energy acres near S. Air Force Base, & China recently bought 300 near N.D. Air Force Base. The China Green Deal will have U.S. financing more of their electric cars, batteries & solar panels, as Americans struggle with inflation. Dems continue to push their Anti U.S. agenda.

Jeff O’Donnell
Jeff O’Donnell
1 year ago

Wow, you are brain-dead. Nobody has “liked” Biden in 40 years. He didn’t win the Presidency because we liked him, he won because we HATE Trump. Now more than ever Americans HATE the GOP because of the SCOTUS Overturning Roe V Wade.

Your calculus is so bad it makes me weep. Americans WANT womens reproductive rights, let’s call it what it is. ABORTION.

The DEMOCRATS are going to destroy the Republicans UP, DOWN, SIDEWAYS, Diagonally and Inside Out.

Bye, Bye, Republican Party

Tombo
Tombo
1 year ago

As I recall, Karl Rove has a rule of thumb that anything up to a +5 lead in the generic ballot generally favors Republicans, What we are currently seeing is not a meaningful trend at this point, it’s a normal phenomenon one of my friends called “voters coming home”, ie as the election gets closer some portion of the undecided and disaffected are basically just affirming their party preferences rather than reacting to underlying conditions or issues. They’re not the kind of people who show up at polls either.

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