In addition, Kessler wrote, in the past month,
The price of gasoline has fallen 20-cents to a national average of $3.24 a gallon. Headline and core inflation have begun their final descent toward benign, historic levels. Interest rates have fallen about 40 basis points in the past several months. The so-called “misery index” (inflation + unemployment rate) could very well be at a level that is incumbent friendly.
That said, Kessler continued, there are clear danger signs:
Biden won in 2020 because he was perceived as having a more positive brand than the Democratic Party. That brand advantage over the Democratic Party is now gone. Exhibits A and B are crime and immigration. In 2020, Biden was perceived as tougher on crime and the border than the typical Democrat.
In one primary debate, Kessler pointed out,
Biden was the only candidate onstage not to raise his hand on a question that essentially could be interpreted as wanting open borders. He also loudly and repeatedly voiced his opposition to “defund the police” and never ran away from the 1994 crime bill that he authored in the Senate.
That, in Kessler’s view, “is not the Joe Biden voters are hearing today. Voters actually hear almost nothing from the Administration on crime or the border, and this allows the opposition to define them on an issue of great salience.”
Biden, Kessler argued, has a credible record on tougher border enforcement and cracking down on crime, but he and other members of the administration don’t promote it
because these are issues on which our active, progressive base is split. But if you are silent on these issues, it is like an admission of guilt to voters. They believe you do not care or are dismissive of their very real concerns. That means Biden must accept some griping from the left to get this story out to the vast middle.
Will Marshall, president and founder of the center-left Public Policy Institute think tank, responded to my query with an emailed question: “Trump is Kryptonite for American democracy, so why isn’t President Biden leading him by 15 points?”
Biden’s basic problem is that the Democratic Party keeps shrinking, leaving it with a drastically slender margin of error. It’s losing working class voters — whites — by enormous, 30-point margins — but nonwhites without college degrees are slipping away too.
The ascendance of largely white, college-educated liberals within party ranks, in Marshall’s view, has
pushed Democrats far to the dogmatic left, even as their base grows smaller. Young progressives have identified the party with stances on immigration, crime, gender, climate change and Palestinian resistance that are so far from mainstream sentiment that they can even eclipse MAGA extremism.
“Democrats,” Marshall wrote, in a line of argument similar to Kessler’s,
have been aiming at the wrong target and have less than a year to adjust their sights. That means putting high prices and living costs front and center, embracing cultural pragmatism, confronting left-wing radicalism on the border, public safety and Israel and embracing a post-populist economics that speaks to working Americans aspirations for growth and upward mobility rather than their presumed sense of economic victimhood.
Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, contended that the view of Biden and the Democratic Party as elitist and weak on the very values that were Democratic strengths in the past lacks foundation in practice. Instead, the adverse portrait of the Democrats represents a major success on the part of right-wing media — and a complicit mainstream media — in creating a false picture of the party.
In a forthcoming paper, “Bridging the Blue Divide: The Democrats’ New Metro Coalition and the Unexpected Prominence of Redistribution,” Hacker said he and three colleagues found that
Democrats have not changed their orientation nearly as much as critics of the party argue. In particular, the party has not shifted its emphasis from economic to social/identity issues, nor has it moderated its economic positions overall. Instead, it has placed a high priority on an ambitious economic program that involves a wider range of policy aims and instruments than in the past (including industrial policy and pro-labor initiatives as well as social and health policies and public investments) as well as levels of public spending that dwarf those contemplated by party elites in at least a half century.
Why then, Hacker asks, is “the Democratic Party widely perceived to have abandoned pocketbook politics in favor of identity politics?”
Conservative media have relentlessly focused on this critique and there’s strong evidence that media framing shapes how voters view the parties. Indeed, the role of the media in shaping the negative current climate — including more mainstream sources — should not be neglected. The obsessions of right-wing media with the “wokeness” of the Democratic Party seeps into the broader media coverage, and mainstream sources focus on criticisms of the Democrats, in part to uphold their nonpartisan ideal.
Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, warned that there are major consequences that could result from the weakness of Biden’s support. In an email, Enos wrote:
There is no doubt that Democrats and — given that the likely Republican nominee is a would-be authoritarian — Americans more generally, should be alarmed by Biden’s poll numbers. He is saddled with the need to dig economic perceptions out of a deep inflationary hole, an unsteady international world and the view that his party went too far to the left on social issues.
If the election were held today, Enos argued, “Biden would likely lose.”
During the campaign, “Biden’s numbers will improve,” Enos wrote, but Biden faces a large number of idealistic young voters who may
never come back to him because they believe that he has abandoned the core values that animated their support in the first place. Faced with the reality of surging immigration across the southern border, Biden has largely failed to liberalize his administration’s approach to immigration — in fact, he has left much of the Trump era policies in place. To many young voters, who were first attracted to Biden’s social progressivism, such moves may feel like a betrayal. Additionally, Biden has seemed to greenlight Israel’s campaign of violence against civilians in Gaza. Especially for young voters of color, this seems like a betrayal and could cost Biden crucial states such as Michigan.
Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, stands somewhere between Rosenberg and Marshall.