Quiet Popularism, Loud Extremism
No joke, time to flip the message
I joined MSNBC on Sunday morning for a segment that’s perfect for an “a Black moderate and a Democratic Socialist walk into a bar” joke.
We addressed President Biden’s electoral vulnerabilities - no joking matter - in the upcoming election. "We have a serious situation here. We need to address it. But we can do this.”
How? Democrats need to “collect more votes in the Democratic electorate by winning over moderate Republican and independent voters” — something that remains very possible given the President’s moderate street cred. As we’ve noted ad nauseam in these posts, catering to the Far Left can’t be the path forward because it’s simply not where the voters are. In today’s post, I’ll try to shine a light along the path that does exist.
We recently covered how voters are hearing Biden’s unpopular policies, but not his popular policies. The Blueprint polls also carry another worrying message: Democratic campaigns have not been able to forge a durable extremism advantage.
What’s Breaking Through
Blueprint’s poll includes a battery of questions on whether voters have heard of key Biden policies and whether they supported those policies. The chart below shows net support for the 34 policies tested in each of the ideological buckets (progressive policies included student debt cancelation and American Climate Corps, moderate policies included deficit reduction and oil and gas drilling, mainstream policies included capping insulin prices and investing in infrastructure).
As the chart shows, progressive policies have penetrated through to independent voters the most (56% of independents reported hearing about the average progressive policy) but drew the lowest net support at +16. Meanwhile, moderate policies earn an average net support of +48 with independents, but only 42% of independent voters have heard of the average moderate policy. Mainstream policies, on average, curried +43 support among independents, and 49% of independents had heard of the average mainstream policy.
In short, Biden’s problem – exacerbated by a shrill opposition party, left-wing activists and a squirrel-chasing and substance-averse media – is that his most ideological policies are receiving attention in disproportion to his more centrist and popular initiatives
Democrats Don’t Have An Extremism Advantage
While Democrats have leaned into the message that Republicans are the party of extremism, the actions of Far Left actors like the Squad, slogans like “Defund the Police,” and the Left’s recent response to Israel have made the Party look more extreme. Roughly the same share of voters think the Democratic Party has become more extreme (50%) as believe Republicans have (53%). Among independents, the numbers are worse: 61% believe that Democrats became more extreme while 46% believe that Republicans became more extreme. As the table below shows, a large share of voters view Biden as more liberal than voters themselves than see Trump as more conservative.
Who Democrats Are Focused On
The Blueprint poll also included questions about which groups the parties focus on. The table below includes percentages saying each party focuses on a specific group “a lot” (the table is not exhaustive, I selected some I found particularly interesting). Negative numbers in the “Difference” column mean that voters perceive Republicans to be more focused on a group; positive numbers indicate that Democrats are more focused. It’s notable that voters perceive Republicans are most focused on non-college people, while Democrats are viewed as more focused on college-educated people. Perhaps surprisingly, Democrats only narrowly trail Republicans in the seemingly undesirable “focused on extremists” category, while Democrats are seen as far more focused on activists.
What We Saw In Kentucky
Shortly after the New York Times released polling showing Biden trailing Trump in key battleground states, Democrats put forth a strong electoral showing in Virginia’s legislative and Kentucky’s gubernatorial races. These elections are evidence that a strategy of embracing the moderate middle works. In Kentucky, governor Andy Beshear cruised to re-election. As we learned from our exclusive chat with media consultant David Eichenbaum, Beshear didn’t win because he mobilized the “base”; he won because he persuaded independent Kentucky voters, many of whom almost certainly voted for Trump, that he is committed to bipartisan governance.
Beshear was able to own the center on abortion when Republicans pushed for a full-on ban. He sought to add exemptions for women who have been raped. However, Beshear also made clear he has consistently supported “reasonable restrictions,” especially on late-term abortions. Beshear centered his religious faith throughout the campaign, saying in one ad, “all children are children of God.” Beshear’s ads focused on his relatable approach to issues facing the state, his faith and emblematic Republican businessmen who were willing to vote for Beshear.
Going into 2024, Biden can loudly embrace his bipartisan credentials (working with Republicans to cut the deficit), his actual record on energy (historic investments in clean energy combined with more drilling) and his anti-inflation accomplishments (capping the cost of prescription drugs).
Those accomplishments rhyme with his campaign promises. Four years ago, voters heard Biden’s pragmatism through the cacophony of primary campaigns lurching to the Twitter Left, and sent him to the White House.
What do you call a moderate Democratic incumbent whose voters understand pragmatic accomplishments? Re-elected.