Talking About the 2022 Midterm Elections
The Wall Street Journal wrote recently of declining voter support for Democrats in Congress, based on a poll conducted jointly by leading Democratic and Republican pollsters John Anzalone (lead pollster for Biden's 2020 presidential campaign) and Tony Fabrizio (Fabrizio, Lee & Associates). An article written by Michael C. Bender on March 11, 2022 titled "Biden, Democrats Lose Ground on Key Issues" included the following findings:
1) 46% of voters said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress if the election were today, compared with 41% who favored a Democrat;
2) Hispanic voters by 9 points in the new poll said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat (the two parties had been tied among Hispanic voters in the Journal's poll in November); and
3) Black voter support for a Republican candidate rose to 27%, up from 12% in November.
What is happening?
My theory is that in the midst of a strong economic environment characterized by low unemployment and strong wage growth, the primary drivers in this voter shift are probably social issues -- the most important of which I think are the following.
Defund the Police. Progressive Democrats embraced this rhetoric in the aftermath of the 2020 George Floyd death at the hands of police, and related widespread protest demonstrations. During the ensuing two years, if the average voter sees what I see, they are seeing: 1) looting on the fringes of many Black Lives Matter demonstrations; 2) an unprecedented surge of gun violence in many American cities; 3) a continuous stream of daily news reporting muggings, robberies, and public transit random attacks -- usually committed by perpetrators on parole with long arrest records and previous convictions; 4) flash mobs perpetrating organized shoplifting attacks; and 5) homeless people taking over public spaces in parks, streets, and public transit even as billions of dollars are spent on homeless shelters. What response do I hear from Progressives? Mostly deafening silence. Progressive Democrats don't understand that public safety is the first requirement for effective governance.
Government Overreach. The first year of Biden's presidency was dominated by Democratic efforts to pass the $5 trillion "Build Back Better" (BBB) legislation which entailed massive spending to change America's social safety net with regards to daycare, preschool education, health care, paid parental leave, free community college and workforce training, climate change initiatives, and other government programs. These proposals were mostly Bernie Sanders' and Elizabeth Warren's 2020 presidential campaign proposals -- but Sanders and Warren lost the Democratic presidential primary contest to Joe Biden, who mentioned very little of this in his primary or general election victories. There was no electoral mandate for this sweeping legislation in either Biden's victory over Trump, or the narrow 218-214 Democratic House of Representatives and 50-50 Senate tallies. Further, very little of this proposed spending was framed in research and analysis language of "lessons learned -- we know what works from the last fifty years of huge increases in government spending on social programs". To the contrary, there is substantial academic research suggesting that persistent decades-long economic progress in the black community from the early 1900's to the 1950's, achieved in the face of virulent antiblack discrimination, slowed in conjunction with the ramping of government spending in the 1960's War on Poverty. Black family structure deteriorated (as Daniel Patrick Moynihan was attacked by Progressives for observing), and most objective scorecards show little was accomplished by the War on Poverty. Not all government policies are wise or far-sighted. For example, some academic researchers argue that changes in public housing policies advocated by Progressives in the early 1970's to give priority for apartments to unwed mothers over married families incented young women to become pregnant in order to secure apartments otherwise beyond their reach, and thereby contributed to both a decline in two-parent black families and deterioration of the public housing social environment. Progressive Democrats don't understand that the government should be held accountable for demonstrating the effectiveness of government policies and spending.
Equity vs Opportunity. America as a land of opportunity is deeply engrained in the American psyche. The idea that anyone can rise from difficult circumstances to high achievement if they have talent and work ethic is central to our collective national self-image, in part because this story happens so often in America. But Critical Race Theory (CRT) has emerged in academia in the last forty years arguing that Equity (equal outcomes) is more important than Opportunity (equal chances), and this is currently creating tremendous tension regarding access to the most selective public high schools. For example, Lowell High School in San Francisco used selective admissions with a grade and test-score cutoff for applicants until 2020, when the San Francisco Board of Education "temporarily" suspended those admissions standards in favor of a randomized lottery during the pandemic, and then in 2021 made the lottery admissions system permanent. Asian American enrollment declined eight percent in this year's freshman class, and the Asian American community spearheaded a successful recall election against the San Francisco Board of Education. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson Technical High School in Alexandria, Virginia is rated among the best public high schools in the U.S. and recently adopted "wholistic" admissions criteria which included a "student portrait sheet...and experience factors", which led to Asian American enrollment falling nineteen percent this year. A federal judge recently struck down these admissions policy changes, which were also the epicenter of the successful Republican effort to win the Virginia governor election in November 2021. Progressive Democrats don't understand that meritocracy and equal opportunity are the only sustainable social framework to bind together a multiracial and multicultural democracy.
Abuse of Those Who Disagree. As Democrats struggled in recent months to build a 50 vote Senate coalition supporting Build Back Better legislation they contended with two wavering Democrats -- Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Failing to persuade Manchin and Sinema on the merits, Progressives unleashed torrents of verbal derision, name-calling and bullying towards Manchin and Sinema -- even harassing Sinema in the bathroom at Arizona State University and posting the video to Facebook where it was viewed over four million times. Democratic leaders including President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were silent. I think Manchin and Sinema are probably operating in good faith to reflect what they perceive to be the policy preferences of their constituents in two "purple" states, which is what they were elected to do. Progressive Democrats don't understand that democracy cannot thrive in an atmosphere of intimidation and abuse.
Capitalism vs Socialism. The incentives of capitalism are the source of personal energy, creativity, and work effort which drives superior economic growth. Capitalism thrives on Opportunity, not the Equity of equal outcomes promised by socialism. This is how capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty around the world than any other economic system. This is why China adopted "state capitalism" in the late 1970's, and enjoyed an "economic growth miracle" in the ensuing forty years. But anticapitalist ideology is part of the Progressive creed rampant on many American university campuses. Progressive Democrats, many of whom label themselves "democratic socialists", don't understand that most Americans prefer the economic growth opportunities afforded by capitalism over the disincentives implicit in socialism.
Voter Accountability. My recent blog "Talking About Public Education"noted that black students achieved their pro rata share of test-based admissions to selective Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City until the 1980's, when Progressive politicians touting Equity eliminated tracking and accelerated classes in many black neighborhood schools. Now, few black students pass Brooklyn Tech's admissions test, and high potential black students are mired in "equity of mediocrity". But rather than admit their policy error, Progressive politicians are pushing to eliminate test-based admissions. Progressive politicians also usually align with teachers' unions to block expansion of charter schools and vouchers. I think that one factor driving the shifting WSJ polls is increased black and Hispanic voter recognition that Progressive politicians should be held accountable for their well-meaning but misguided policies. Accountable for misguided housing policies; accountable for misguided education policies; accountable for misguided social policies; and accountable for misguided economic policies. I think most Americans want Opportunity -- for education, for work, for achievement, and for wealth. What do you think?