Democrats control both houses of Congress – but only barely.
Think back to October 2020 and you may remember that you expected things to be a little different. According to polls, they were candidates from the Democratic House on the right way to almost reach their historical margins in the medium term. But that didn’t happen.
For the second straight year, the Democrats were stunned by the number of voters who voted for Donald J. Trump and his Republican allies.
This week the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, presented the results of an investigation into the 2020 election to understand what had gone wrong for the party – and why, after the corrections made by pollsters in the wake of 2016, went wrong Still polls the brand.
The report came to two related conclusions, Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney said in a telephone interview today. One of these is that Trump voters are disproportionately likely to refuse to take a poll, a conclusion that is confirmed in other autopsy reports recently released by private Democratic pollers. The other is that Mr. Trump’s presence on the ballot seems to increase the turnout among Republicans.
“In 2020, we found that the voting error really corresponded to Trump’s turnout,” Maloney said. “In polls, you have this mistake in assuming what the electorate will be like.”
Since support for Mr. Trump comes with a relative reluctance to polls, survey researchers may believe they have reached the right percentage of white men living in rural areas with no college degrees. In fact, what they have achieved is often a Democratically distorted segment this demographic.
In 2018, when the polls were relatively accurate, this was not given as much consideration, presumably because the most anti-institutional and anti-polling voters were also the ones who were likely to only drop out if Mr Trump himself voted.
In 2020, with a typically low turnout, Mr Trump’s popularity meant that a surge in turnout helped Republicans more than Democrats – a rare occurrence. “Since voters with low propensity for Trump turned out to be much higher in numbers than our voters with low propensity for us, it ripples through the data and has a big effect,” Maloney said.
He’s gone through this process before: in 2017, following Mr. Trump’s angry victory over Hillary Clinton, the third-term congresswoman opened an investigation into what went wrong for the Democrats. This work helped him position himself for his current role as head of the party’s campaign arm.
This time around, he assembled a team made up of campaign advisors, academics and other Democratic members of Congress, and they compiled what is known as the “first national poll database of its kind” from over 600 house race polls. as well as voter record and other data at the local level.
Last year, because Democrats underestimated the extent to which Mr Trump’s presence on the ballot would increase Republican turnout, their strategists mistakenly thought that a row of seats that flipped blue in mid-2018 would be in 2020 would stay safe. Six Democrats who won this for the first time in 2018 lost their races by less than two percentage points in 2020.
Mr. Maloney said he was only half influenced by arguments attributing major influence to the Republican attacks on the Defund the Police movement and “Democratic Socialism”. He said the messenger was far more important than the message.
“What you do realize is that it is true that the lies and distortions about socialism and ‘Defund’ have taken a blow – not an argument of mine,” Maloney said.
“But I think the power of those lies was exaggerated when you understand that Trump,” he added, was responsible for “getting a lot of people into the voting booth”.
In the interim next year, he said Republicans would be taking a risk if they relied on the commitment of grassroots voters at the Trump level since his name would not be on the ballot.
“It leads you to the question: will this post-Trump toxicity of QAnon and conspiracy theories, as well as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene and the Capitol attack – will this message work without Trump’s turnout?” Mr Maloney said. “Research suggests that they have found too much solace in the power of messages that were effective, yes, but that were hugely aided by Trump’s power to generate voters.”
Still, he cautioned against taking comfort in the results of the report, which ultimately reminds us of how inaccessible a whole segment of the population remains – both for mainstream pollsters and democratic candidates.
On tactics, the report concluded that democratic spending related to the coronavirus pandemic tended heavily away from grassroots campaigns and towards television advertising, which mostly ran late in the campaign and did little to keep things going crank up their favor.
Mr Maloney said he plans to continue using the 600 polls database in the future. The D.C.C.C. has already used it in special elections this year to analyze messages for their effectiveness.
“We think there is a lot to learn, we will learn as we go, and you are always building the ship while you are sailing it,” he said. “In this case, it is important that we apply what we have learned in as many contexts as possible.”
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