BRANDON COLLIGAN, PUSHING FORWARD
While Donald Trump remains deeply unpopular, Democrats should be cautious to assume it will lead to their victory.
Donald Trump assumed power with an extremely small coalition of loyal supporters, who with the help of the Electoral College, won the presidency by a slim margin. This is certainly not good news for the president, and does not guarantee him a popular mandate. While he remains a deeply divisive politician, his approval ratings remain relatively strong with his core supporters and with party loyalists. Yet there is reason to believe that some of the voters that gave into him over Hillary Clinton are now leaving his tenuous coalition. This should naturally be a sign for optimism among Democrats looking to take advantage of Trump’s low approval ratings and overall dismay of 73% of the U.S electorate that did not support him or refused to vote. However, if the Democrats are to win in the current electoral system, they need to creatively rebrand themselves in states that they suffered losses in.
They must also overcome some of their largest challenges such as low turnout in house races, and relatively high Trump approval in poorer, redder districts. While history tells us that low incumbent approval generally leads to greater support for the opposition in elections, the Democrats should be slow to take that as prophecy. Elections in the U.S and around the globe show that recently contextual factors are challenging once common assumptions. There are always consistencies, but this uncertainty guarantees that no party, or candidate for that matter, much of anything.
The echo chamber of the left-leaning, mainstream media foretold a guarantee of a Clinton victory in the 2016 presidential election. As we know however, the opinions of many voters are far different from those in New York. This is telling of the greater phenomenon we see in the U.S. as voters see themselves as increasingly isolated from other attitudes and perspectives. This greater phenomenon was seen at the national level as a Trump victory shocked the nation and showed the limitations of traditional ways to measure popular support. While Clinton earned the most votes by far, she ultimately underperformed in the places that mattered electorally and over-performed in places that were already heavily Democratic. This is telling of the greater problem in U.S politics as polarization has all but eliminated purple districts for the time being. This shows the limitations of the Electoral College in that any candidate who has a dedicated coalition of voters in critical states has the upper hand. It is specifically problematic for Democrats, as some of their greatest loss amongst supporters were in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. If Democrats can’t win back those voters, they will still struggle when opposing Trump or any other conservative candidate in a national election. The upside for Democrats, however, is that these ‘stolen voters’ are more likely to disapprove of the president after voting for him once.
Donald Trump remains a deeply unpopular president nationally and is losing support by practically every measure. He is also losing some support within his base, which is terrible news if Trump were to run for a second term. This should generally be seen as an area of optimism for Democrats going into 2018. Democrats are seeing an upswing in support in recent special elections, particularly in districts that were once thought of as non-competitive.
Yet, there are some key voting blocs that should not be overlooked as the Democrats go into the midterms and beyond. Some of these are obvious strengths for Trump. They include some of his most consistent supporters such as Southern evangelicals. Additionally, uneducated, working class voters are still generally supportive of the president. This remains true in primarily red districts and those that flipped from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016.
2020 is still three and a half years away, and yet Democrats are not necessarily seen as a viable alternative for these voters, particularly in the Rust Belt states. If the Democrats are to win back these key voters, they must ultimately tailor their policy platform accordingly and run popular, local candidates in these states to pave the way for 2020.
The devil is in the details and nothing should be taken for granted going into the midterm elections and beyond. While Trump remains deeply unpopular now, there is no telling how he might recover if he were to run for a second term. The Democrats should also be cognizant of incumbency advantage and the level of support for local, incumbent Republican candidates. Liberals failed to see the local factors that lead to their losses in 2016 and these could come back to haunt them. They would be wise to run internal polling in Rust Belt states if they haven’t already, and in districts where Republican incumbents are generally popular if they are to successfully quantify their own support when running against them. It may also be difficult to measure the significance of the anti-Trump effect on voter outcome. Their success will also depend on the popularity of candidates running against the Republicans and other contextual factors that could play to their advantage .
Not everything is up to random chance however, and the Democrats should be keen to resolve their shortcomings as soon as possible. While they will have to face off against strong Republican incumbents, this could actually play to their advantage. Running strong, local candidates with little political experience could be the perfect mix for those frustrated with the current political environment. Yet, the Democrats don’t have to entirely buy into the Bernie Sanders-style populism. Nor should they. What they should do, however, is run candidates that fit the values and policy priorities of their respective districts. In past elections, their losses have been, in part, due to the failure to create a platform that serves differing priorities. While running on a platform to address key social issues may be effective at gaining votes in deep blue pockets, it does not serve as well in places like Dayton, Ohio.
The Democrats must learn to be electorally pragmatic going into 2018 and beyond. If they fail to effectively sell their message, particularly in key states, they will be ill-posed to leverage Donald Trump’s low approvals into votes. The president’s low approval ratings give Democrats a unique window of opportunity to turn support at virtually every level of government.And they must do so quickly if they are to turn a ‘Never Trump’ prophecy into reality.