Democrats emerged from the 2020 election with full control of the federal government and a bunch of lingering questions. In private, party leaders and strategists have struggled with a dilemma: Why wasn’t President Biden’s convincing victory over Donald J. Trump accompanied by broad democratic achievements?
With that in mind, a group of Democratic pressure groups have tacitly launched a review of the party’s performance in the 2020 election to shape the Democrats’ approach to next year’s interim campaign, said seven people familiar with the effort.
The initiative’s Democratic sponsors are particularly concerned about the party’s losses in house districts with large minorities, including Florida, Texas and California. The review examines tactical and strategic decisions across the map, including democratic news about the economy and the coronavirus pandemic, and organizational decisions like avoiding in-person advertising.
Democrats had expected to expand their majority in the House of Representatives and penetrate historically red areas of the sun belt where Mr Trump’s unpopularity made the G.O.P. Coalition. Instead, Republicans took 14 seats in the Democratic House, including a dozen that the Democrats won in an anti-Trump wave election just two years earlier.
The results baffled strategists on both parties, raised questions about the reliability of campaign polls, and appeared to underscore the democratic weaknesses in rural and right-wing suburbs. Democrats also lost several competitive Senate races by an unexpectedly large margin, despite only narrowly taking control of the chamber.
Strategists involved in the Democrats’ self-examination have begun interviewing elected officials and campaign advisors, and reaching out to lawmakers and former candidates at major House and Senate races that narrowly won or lost.
Four large groups support the effort and cover a range of democratic interests: Third Way, a centrist think tank; End Citizens United, a clean government group; the Latino Victory Fund; and Collective PAC, an organization that supports black democratic candidates.
They are expected to work with at least three influential bodies within the House Democratic Caucus: the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the New Democrat Coalition, a group of centrist lawmakers. The groups hired a democratic consulting firm, 270 Strategies, to conduct interviews and analyze election data.
Democrats are under considerable pressure to refine their political game book ahead of the 2022 congressional elections when the party will defend tiny majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate without a presidential contest driving turnout on both sides.
Dan Sena, a former executive director of the Democratic Campaigns Committee for Democrats, said the party recognized that the 2020 cycle, despite Mr Biden’s victory, was not an unalloyed democratic success story.
“I think people know there have been good and bad results in 20 and there is a desire to look under the hood,” said Sena.
The party’s goals, Sena said, should include examining its achievements in Georgia and looking for other areas where population growth and demographic change could provide strong electoral targets for the 2022 party.
“There were a number of factors that really got Georgia to work on this cycle,” he said. “How do you start finding places like Georgia?”
Matt Bennett, senior vice president of Third Way, confirmed in a statement that the four-way project aimed to position Democrats for the midterm elections.
“With tight Democratic majorities in Congress and the Republican Party in the uproar of Trump-supporting Seditionists, the stakes have never been higher,” he said. “Our organizations will give the Democrats a detailed picture of what happened in 2020 – with a wide range of input from votes from across the party – so they are fully prepared to support the G.O.P. in 2022. “
In addition to the external review, some of the traditional party committees are expected to take closer steps to review the 2020 results. The Congressional Democratic Campaigns Committee was concerned about a decline in support for Latino men and held focus groups in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas earlier this year, said a person familiar with the study. It is not exactly clear what the conclusions of the exercise are.
So far there has been no equivalent procedure on the Republican side, party officials said, citing the general loss of appetite under G.O.P. Leader for openly addressing Mr. Trump’s influence on the party and the rubble he wrought in key regions of the country.
As a candidate for re-election, Mr. Trump slumped in the democratic upper Midwest and abandoned his major breakthroughs of 2016. He lost to Mr. Biden in Georgia and Arizona, two traditionally red states where the G.O.P. has suffered a sudden decline in recent years. The party lost all four of these states’ Senate seats during Mr Trump’s presidency, three of them in the 2020 cycle.
But Mr Trump and his political followers have so far responded with anger at critics of his party responsibility, and there is no apparent desire to attempt his anger with a comprehensive analysis that is likely to produce unflattering results. An unofficial review conducted by Mr Trump’s poller Tony Fabrizio concluded that Mr Trump had lost significant support in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, with particularly damaging losses among white voters.
In the past, democratic attempts at self-regulation have led to somewhat muddled conclusions to be drawn in order to avoid controversy within the party’s diverse coalition.
The Democratic Party appeared briefly geared towards public reckoning in November as the party absorbed its setbacks in the House and its failure to oust several Republican senators whom the Democrats saw as ripe for defeat.
A group of members of the centrist house accused leftist rhetoric of democratic socialism and defusing the police for their losses in a number of conservative suburbs and rural areas. Days after the election, Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger said the party should drop the word “socialism” and allow progressives like New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to withdraw.
That manifestation of differences did not last long: the Democrats quickly closed their ranks in response to Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election, and party unity tightened after the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5 and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. January. However, there is still significant internal disagreement over campaign strategy.
It has been eight years since either party carried out a full self-assessment that recommended thorough changes in structure and strategy. After the 2012 election, when the Republicans lost the presidential race and surrendered their seats in both houses of Congress, the Republican National Committee set up a task force to call for substantial changes to the party organization.
The so-called autopsy 2012 also recommended that the G.O.P. Take on the immigration reform cause and warn that the party will face a bleak demographic future if it does not improve its position on the color communities. That recommendation was effectively thrown away after the House Republicans blocked a bipartisan immigration deal passed by the Senate and then completely wiped it out by Mr Trump’s presidential nomination.
Henry Barbour, member of the R.N.C. The committee co-authored the post-2012 analysis said it was advisable that both parties review their political position after the 2020 elections. He said Democrats successfully completed the election by running against Mr Trump, but the party’s shift to the left has alienated otherwise winnable voters, including some black, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities who have gradually shifted towards Mr Trump .
“They’re running away a lot of middle-class Americans who work hard for a living in the heartland, in big cities, or in the suburbs,” Barbour said. “Part of it is that the Democrats have run too far to the left.”
Mr Barbour said Republicans should also look closely at their 2020 performance. Mr Trump did not do enough to extend his appeal beyond a large and loyal minority of voters.
“The Republican Party has to do better,” he said. “We’re not just a president’s party.”
In addition to the four-way review on the democratic side, there are several closer projects underway to address survey deficiencies.
Both Democratic and Republican officials found serious flaws in their poll, particularly in house race polls that did not anticipate how close Republicans would be to recapturing the majority. Both parties emerged from the election campaign and felt that they had seriously misjudged the landscape of competitive house races. The Democrats unexpectedly lost their seats and the Republicans may have missed the chance to take the Chamber.
The top Republican and Democratic super PACs that focus on house racing – the Congressional Leadership Fund and the House Majority PAC – are both in the process of studying their 2020 election polls and debating changes for the 2022 campaign, those familiar with their efforts said People.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican group, is due to do a slightly broader review of its spending and news, although no major diagnosis is expected for the party. “We’d be foolish not to seriously look into what worked, what didn’t and how to evolve and evolve,” said Dan Conston, the group’s president.
Some of the largest democratic electoral firms also consult regularly to fill research gaps for 2020. Two people involved in the talks said there was general agreement that the industry must update its practices before 2022 to reassure democratic leaders that they would not be surprised again.
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who helped review the research from the last cycle, said the party is only now delving into the 2020 election results as the last few months have been dominated by other crises.
Several Democratic and Republican strategists warned that both parties faced a challenge in devising a plan for 2022: it had been more than a decade, she said, as a medium-term campaign had not been dominated by a larger-than-life presidential figure. Based on the experience with the 2020 campaign, it is not clear that Mr Biden is destined to become such a polarizing figure.
“It’s hard to know what an election looks like without Obama or Trump,” said Ms. Greenberg, “just normal, normal, normal people running.”