Those searching for reasons why Democrats’ summertime abortion electoral surge has fizzled out need only look at the latest polling by Democracy Corps’ Stan Greenberg.
The veteran pollster asked voters what they feared most about a Congress controlled by Democrats versus one led by Republicans, and then he stacked them against each other. The biggest worry about the Republican Party was a national abortion ban. About a third of those polled chose that issue. The biggest fear about Democratic Party control, cited by 56%, was runaway crime and rampant homelessness.
Crime has become the tipping-point issue and has joined inflation for a one-two punch that prognosticators say appears ready to deliver significant gains to Republicans in House, Senate and governor’s races nationwide.
Jim McLaughlin, a Republican Party pollster and president of McLaughlin & Associates, said it’s not just that Democrats haven’t offered solutions for those issues; it’s that they are gaslighting voters into disbelieving they are issues at all.
“Bill Clinton used to pretend to feel your pain. They’re not even pretending to feel your pain: ‘We’re not in a recession, we don’t have a crime problem,’” Mr. McLaughlin said.
As the 2022 elections glide to a finish, analysts say the playing field, which appeared to be even this summer, has tilted back toward Republicans.
That’s despite what those analysts say is generally a bad field of Republican candidates who face headwinds from former President Donald Trump’s continued presence on the electoral stage.
The problem for Democrats is that their headwinds are worse.
More than two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of polls. That number is disastrous for a party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
It’s higher than the wrong-track rate ahead of the 2010 elections when Republicans upended a Democratic trifecta and won control of the House, and it’s higher than before the 2018 elections when Democrats upended a Republican trifecta and captured the majority in the House.
John Zogby, a pollster with decades of experience, said at the start of the year that the elections looked like a battle over the economy and the continuing fallout from the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6, 2021, mob assault on the U.S. Capitol. Crime was percolating, but more as a racial justice issue.
“Then inflation hit and became not only the central economic issue but the central issue because it affects everybody,” he said. “What happens in big elections like this is that one big umbrella issue becomes the central focus for why we’re going to hell in a handbasket.”
He said Democrats seemed to get a reprieve in June with the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion precedent. That helped reverse Republican gains among younger suburban women. By the fall, those gains had begun to slip away as pocketbook issues regained prominence.
President Biden has battled fiercely to try to change the playing field. He has cast the elections as critical to the fate of democracy or to efforts to battle climate change.
Those messages haven’t gained traction.
Gallup’s October polling found that a staggering 85% of voters ranked the economy as very or extremely important to their decisions. Crime came in second at 71%, gun policy was next at 67% and abortion was fourth at 66%. Immigration and relations with Russia were just behind, and climate change lagged far in the rear at 45%.
In the Economist/YouGov’s latest survey, released last week, inflation and prices topped the list of the single most important issue at 26%, or more than double the runner-up, health care. In the latest Politico/Morning Consult survey, 43% placed “economic issues” among their top concerns, or more than three times the runner-up of “women’s issues” such as abortion.
Peering deeper into the numbers, independent voters, who usually split the difference between Democrats and Republicans on issues polling, look more like Republicans on the big questions this year.
Although 59% of Democrats in the YouGov survey said abortion was “very important,” just 43% of independents saw it that way — close to the 40% of Republicans.
Just 52% of Democrats called inflation and prices “very important,” compared with 73% of independents and 82% of Republicans.
One problem for Democrats is that the Republicans’ issues are universal.
Fear of crime is rampant. Even though Americans generally report that they feel safe in their own neighborhoods, they worry that crime is happening elsewhere.
Anyone who shops or pays to fuel a vehicle feels the pain of inflation.
Mr. McLaughlin said Americans answer surveys on the rate of inflation with significantly higher numbers than official data indicates, and that’s particularly bad news for Mr. Biden.
“They intuitively understand it was his spending, his tax increases, his regulations, his attacks on the energy industry — that’s what’s causing this economy to collapse,” the pollster said. “On the issues voters care about most, the Republicans have the advantage.”
There is some question this year about how much voters are paying attention to specific issues rather than giving more visceral reactions. Democrats complain that as angry as voters appear to be at Mr. Biden, Republicans aren’t offering solutions beyond stopping what the president is doing.
Mr. Zogby said the partisan sides in this election were drawn well before voters began to pore over the challenges facing the country.
He pointed to Herschel Walker, Georgia’s Republican nominee for Senate, who has lost little support despite accusations that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion.
In that sort of environment, he said, “issues drive the passion” but don’t swing the races more than a couple of points.
In those races, victory depends less on winning the issues and more on turning out core supporters.
On that count, some Democratic analysts say they remain hopeful that their party can defy predictions and perform well on Tuesday.
Mike Lux, a co-founder of Democracy Partners, a Democratic consultancy, has been blasting out missives telling reporters that early voting among Democrats is up from the 2018 midterm elections.
“Republicans are turning out in big numbers, but that was also true in 2018 and 2020, and Democrats still won,” he wrote. “Democrats tend to do well in high turnout elections: The most dramatic bumps in voting in recent history were 2008, 2018, and 2020 — three Democratic wins. There are simply more Democratic voters than Republican voters, and when everyone votes in big numbers, we are likely to win.”
He also dismissed the amount of money that Democrats are pumping into campaigns in what used to be reliable areas. He said Democrats are combating spending by Republican outfits backed by wealthy donors who are trying to put Democrats on the defensive.
“It’s a smart strategy, but evidence of nothing except their enormous amounts of billionaire cash,” he wrote.