By Byron York
The reason Democrats in Washington are increasingly frustrated is because their legislative ambitions far outstrip their congressional majorities. `That makes passing bills hard and gives extraordinary power to any Democrat, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who can threaten to abandon the party and sink Democratic hopes on any particular issue.
Now, a new report looks at why Democrats failed to win a bigger majority in the House and any majority in the Senate. Three activist groups -- Third Way, The Collective PAC and Latino Victory -- studied the party's underwhelming performance in House and Senate races in 2020. And they've come up with answers that some progressive Democrats will probably not want to hear.
First, they concluded that party leaders' hopes were just too high going into the election. Democrats had won big in the 2018 midterms, picking up 41 seats in the House. They expected another big win in 2020, and party leaders like Nancy Pelosi said so repeatedly.
"We heard from campaign strategists that the party drove up expectations by publicly signaling it expected to win everywhere it made a play," the report said. Those sky-high expectations, based in part on poor polling that undercounted white non-college voters who were open to the Republican message, led to Democratic overconfidence.
Second, the researchers found that Democrats took minority voters for granted in a big way. Party strategists viewed black, Latino and Asian voters as targets for get-out-the-vote efforts -- not as voters who first need to be persuaded to support Democrats. For example, party leaders didn't do any research to find what issues were important to black voters. Why? They were already in the tent, weren't they?
It was a major miscalculation. First, with black voters: "Despite historic turnout, even where black voters were key to Democratic successes this past cycle -- including in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan -- the data show drop-off in support in 2020 compared to 2016 and 2018," the report said.
Next, with Latino voters: "Drop-off in support among Latino and Hispanic voters were [sic] the lynchpin in Democratic losses in races in Florida, Texas and New Mexico -- especially among working-class and non-college voters in these communities," the report said. And then, among Asian voters: "Drop-off in AAPI [Asian American-Pacific Islander] support fueled losses in key races in California, especially among Vietnamese and Filipino voters," the report said. So the party paid a big price for taking its voters for granted.
Third, Democratic leaders, mostly based in coastal cities, assumed their voters were as progressive as they were. In a year in which the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movements took hold, Republicans attacked Democrats as proponents of socialism and defunding the police. The problem for Democratic leaders was that some Democratic voters were sympathetic to the GOP message. "In the districts we looked at, those in which 'law and order' or 'socialism' was a continued drumbeat also saw a higher share of Latino/AAPI/black voters who supported the GOP," the report said.
Finally, Democrats thought hatred of President Donald Trump would propel them to victory, not just in the White House, but the House and Senate, too. It didn't work out that way. "Some campaign teams we spoke with felt that the party didn't have a message beyond 'Donald Trump sucks,'" the report said, "and this void led to split-ticket voting for Biden at the top of the ticket and Republicans down ballot (leading to split outcomes in 16 districts nationwide)."
The result was a mess for Democrats competing for House and Senate seats. And much of that mess was created by a Democratic elite that didn't understand -- and didn't even try to understand -- what was important to the party's voters.
"Folks who purport to speak for the vast communities of color across the country are speaking for one portion of them, usually highly educated urban elites or super-online activists. Those people don't necessarily represent the views of Latino men who work in the oil fields, for instance," top Third Way official Lanae Erickson told National Journal. "What we have done is conflate urban white liberal views with the views of people of color -- and allowed them to speak for those people of color."
The report is good news for Republicans. First, it shows that a significant number of Democratic voters are open to at least some GOP messaging. Second, it shows that many Democratic leaders do not understand all of their voters. And third, it shows new outreach opportunities for Republican candidates in 2022 -- if GOP leaders are smart enough to take advantage of them.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.