Democratic Midterm Momentum Has ‘Stalled,’ Top Party Pollster Warns

Democrats need to refocus on the economic and health care challenges their voters face, the pollster said.
Democrats hope to lift House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi back into the majority in November's elections.
Democrats hope to lift House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi back into the majority in November's elections.
Alex Edelman via Getty Images

A top Democratic pollster is warning his party’s candidates not to buy into the GOP’s rosy messaging on the economy and tax cuts, arguing they need to spotlight the economic headwinds and rising health care costs their base voters still face heading into the midterm elections.

The advice stems from new polling provided exclusively to HuffPost from Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, Greenberg Research, and Democracy Corps. The polls, conducted by phone and web panel, surveyed more than 3,000 registered voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin – all states with contested governor and/or Senate races, as well as competitive House contests.

Democrats must not be distracted by the macro-economic and jobs-report numbers” Republicans have been touting, pollster Stan Greenberg wrote in a memo, authored with Democracy Corps’ Nancy Zdunkewicz and Page Gardner, president of the Women Voices Women Vote group. “It is a mistake to accept that GOP narrative and attribute credit to [former] President [Barack] Obama or insist it’s despite [President Donald] Trump and Republicans.”

The memo added, “Voters, especially Democratic voters, are genuinely struggling in this economy. They remain in pain because rising costs outpace any pay increases.”

The trio wrote that Democratic “momentum has stalled” in recent months because the party has failed to focus on “the economic and health care battles that most engage anti-Trump voters,” and because “Republican base voters, especially white working-class men, could finally point to a signature conservative policy achievement in the new tax cut law.”

The memo’s authors urge Democrats groups to concentrate on turning out what they call the “Rising American Electorate,” which consists of minority voters, millennials and single women — all key elements of the party’s base. While turnout dipped among these groups in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections ― in which the GOP scored big gains ― the strategists are hopeful a backlash to Trump can spur a surge at the polls by such voters and lead to significant Democratic victories this November.

While just 37 percent of members of the Rising American Electorate express heavy interest in voting when first asked in the recent polling, that jumps to 43 percent after they hear progressive messaging. Overall, 51 percent of Democrats said the midterms would “matter tremendously,” compared with just 39 percent of Republicans.

“Democrats sit at the edge of a landslide repudiation of President Trump and Republicans ― in the Congress and states where they govern -– in November,” the memo said. “Democrats have huge opportunities with minorities, millennials, and unmarried women, and even white working-class women, that will allow them to dominate across battlegrounds in 2018.”

The polling found that, by 50 percent to 42 percent, Democrats have the advantage in the generic ballot for Senate races on the ballot in 10 of the 12 battleground states surveyed. The results give Democrats smaller edges in gubernatorial and House, where the two parties are essentially tied. But in House races considered DCCC targets, Democrats have a 10-point advantage.

Independent analysts give Democrats a good chance of winning a House majority in the midterm elections, while saying the odds are against the party taking control of the Senate.

The memo suggests a shift in Democratic messaging as campaigning ramps up for the November vote.

While previous polling indicated Democrats should discuss an economy “rigged against hard-working people in my state” and attack “corporate donors” and “trickle-down economics,” Greenberg and company recommend focusing more on worries about long-term deficit problems with a message slamming politicians for “their huge tax-giveaway to the big corporations and the richest 1% ... that will blow up and endanger our future.”

“A message from a Democrat ‘fed up’ with the rigged political and economic system is still popular with Democratic base and swing groups, but the deficits produced by the trillions [of dollars in] tax cuts for the rich” have shifted the priorities among these voters, the memo said. “They are consumed with the long-term impact on entitlements and investments for the future and the immediate reality that their urgent needs like education funding and help with health care will be put off yet again.”

The memo also recommends a second message it says will help turn out young voters: pushing for stricter gun laws. “Republican inaction on gun control, however, may be even more important as an attack because it is the top attack among the millennials who lag in enthusiasm compared to every other Democratic base group,” Greenberg, Zdunkewicz and Gardner wrote.

Millennial activism on gun issues has surged following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.

The memo specifically warns Democrats not to hedge on this message, saying it becomes less effective when candidates also mention their support for the Second Amendment.

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