The Democrats defeated President Donald J. Trump and captured the Senate last year with a racially diverse coalition that has won tiny margins in key states like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin.
They cannot expect to repeat this feat in the next elections, warns a new report.
A 2020 election review conducted by several prominent Democratic pressure groups found that the party is at risk of losing ground with Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters if it does not do a better job of delivering an economic agenda present and counter efforts by Republicans to spread misinformation and bind all Democratic candidates to the far left.
The 70 page report, obtained from the New York Times, was put together at the behest of three major democratic pressure groups: Third Way, a centrist think tank, and the Collective PAC and Latino Victory Fund, which sponsor black and Hispanic candidates. It seems like the most thorough act of self-criticism by either a Democrat or a Republican since the last election campaign.
The document is all the more eye-catching as it is addressed to a victorious party: despite their successes, the Democrats had hoped to gain more robust control over both houses of Congress rather than the extremely precarious margins they enjoy.
The study found that Democrats fell short in part because many House and Senate candidates failed to garner Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s support with colored voters who loathed Mr. Trump but distrusted the Democratic Party as a whole. These constituencies included Hispanic voters in Florida and Texas, Vietnamese-American and Filipino-American voters in California, and black voters in North Carolina.
Overall, the report warns, in 2020 the Democrats lacked a core argument about the economy and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic – one that might have helped candidates fend off Republican claims they wanted to “shut down the economy” or worse. The party “relied too heavily on ‘anti-Trump’ rhetoric,” the report concluded.
“Win or lose, self-explanatory progressive or moderate, the Democrats have consistently cited the Democratic Party’s lack of a strong brand as a major concern in 2020,” the report said. “In the absence of strong party branding, the opposition clung to G.O.P. Topics of conversation that suggest our candidates are ‘burning your house down and taking the police away’. “
Former MP Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat who lost re-election in South Florida in November, said in an interview that she spoke to the report’s authors and raised concerns about the Democrats’ reach towards Hispanic voters and the party’s failure Refuting misinformation voiced in Spanish-speaking media.
“Unfortunately, in a way, the Democratic Party has lost touch with our electorate,” said Ms. Mucarsel-Powell. “There is this assumption that of course colored people or the working class will vote for Democrats. We can never accept anything. “
Drafted primarily by two veteran Democratic activists, Marlon Marshall and Lynda Tran, the report is one of the most significant volleys in the Democratic Party’s internal debate on how to approach the 2022 elections. It may arouse skepticism from some quarters because it involves the Third Way, which many on the left view with hostility.
A fourth group that initially supported the study, the campaign finance reform group, End Citizens United, withdrew this spring. Tiffany Muller, who heads the group, said she needed to give up her involvement and instead focus on passing the For the People Act, a sweeping good government bill stuck in the Senate.
Mr. Marshall and Ms. Tran, as well as the groups supporting the review, have in the past few days started sharing their conclusions with Democratic lawmakers and party officials, including Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The study spanned nearly six months of research and data analysis, examining about three dozen races for the House and Senate, and included interviews with 143 people, including lawmakers, candidates and pollsters, said people involved in compiling the report . Campaigns studied included the Senate elections in Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, and house races in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas, and in rural New Mexico and Maine.
The study follows an internal review conducted by the Democratic Campaign Committee of Congress presented last month. Both projects found that Democratic candidates had been hampered by flawed polls and campaign restrictions imposed by a pandemic.
In the D.C.C.C. Report, the committee attributed setbacks at the congressional level to a surge in voter turnout by Trump supporters and an inadequate response by Democrats to attacks they labeled police-hating socialists.
Some MPs on the left have complained that criticism of left-wing embassies amounts to scapegoating activists for the party’s failure.
However, the review of Third Way, the Collective PAC and the Latino Victory Fund continues, diagnosing the party’s message as flawed, which may have cost the Democrats more than a dozen House seats. The report offers a blunt assessment that in 2020 Republicans succeeded in deceiving voters about the Democratic Party’s agenda and that Democrats made a mistake by speaking to colored voters as if they were a monolithic one , left-wing group.
California MP Tony Cárdenas, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Political Action Committee, welcomed this criticism of Democratic messages and said the party should abandon the assumption that “colored voters are inherently more progressive.”
“That was a ridiculous idea and it was never true,” said Cárdenas, lamenting that the Republicans had managed to “confuse Latino voters with the message of socialism, things like that, ‘debilitating the police’.”
Quentin James, president of the Collective PAC, said it was clear that “some of the rhetoric we see from the Coast Democrats” has been problematic. Mr. James pointed to activists’ calls to “defuse” the police as particularly harmful, even among advocates of police overhauls.
“We conducted a poll that showed that, by and large, black voters were very supportive of police reform and budget reallocation,” said James. “That terminology – ‘defund’ – was not popular in the black community.”
Kara Eastman, a progressive Democrat who lost her bid for a seat in the House of Representatives based in Omaha, said Republicans had managed to deliver a “message of messages” that deceived her and her party as out of the mainstream. Ms. Eastman said she told the authors of the 2020 review that she believed these labels were particularly harmful to women.
Third Way strategist Matt Bennett said the party needed to be much better prepared to build a defense in the mid-term campaign.
“We have to take these attacks on Democrats as radicals very seriously and make them land,” said Bennett. “A lot of it just didn’t end up with Joe Biden.”
The Democrats retained a big advantage with black voters in the 2020 election, but the report identified clear weaknesses. Mr Biden and other Democrats lost ground among Latino voters compared to the party’s 2016 performance, “especially among working-class and non-college voters in these communities,” the report said.
The report found that an increase in Asian-American voter turnout had apparently secured Mr. Biden’s victory in Georgia, but the Democratic House candidates ran behind Mr. Biden with Asian-American voters in competitive races in California and Texas. In some key states, the Democrats did not mobilize black voters as much as the Republicans did to mobilize conservative white voters.
“A significant increase in voter turnout earned Democrats more raw votes from black voters than in 2016, but explosive growth among white voters in most races outpaced those increases,” the report warns.
On the Republican side, there was no comparable self-assessment after the party’s severe setbacks last year, mainly because G.O.P. Leaders have no appetite for debate about the effects of Mr. Trump.
The Republican Party faces serious political obstacles resulting from Mr Trump’s unpopularity, the growing liberalism of young voters, and the country’s growing diversity. Many of the party’s policies are unpopular, including cuts in social and pension programs and low taxes for wealthy and large corporations.
Still, the structure of the American electoral system has led national campaigns towards G.O.P. tipped because of the gerrymandering in Congress and the disproportionate representation of white rural populations in the Senate and electoral college.
Democratic hopes for the mid-term elections so far have depended on the prospect of a strong recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and voters viewing Republicans as an unfit party.
New Jersey MP Mikie Sherrill, a moderate Democrat who was briefed on the report’s findings, called it evidence that the party needs a strong central message about the economy in 2022.
“We need to keep showing the American people what we’ve done and then keep talking about how the Democrats are running across the country and in every city,” Sherrill said.
The report largely ignores the immense deficit of the Democrats among lower-income white voters. In their conclusion, however, Mr. Marshall and Ms. Tran write that the Democrats must deliver a message that includes working class whites and complies with the clear “collective gospel” of the G.O.P. about low taxes and military strength equates.
“Our gospel should be to advocate for all working people – including, but not limited to, white working people – and to enhance our values of opportunity, equity, and inclusion,” they write.