Sunday, November 4, 2018

Bob Edlin: Why the Democrats should brace for some serious soul-searching

Washington Correspondent:  Democrats hoping for decisive victories in the US mid-term congressional elections next Tuesday must be increasingly nervous. Polling guru Nate Silver still gives the Democratic party a six in seven chance of regaining control of the House of Representatives but he now says it would take a systematic opinion polling error (ie, most pollsters making the same mistakes) for them to win back the United States Senate.  And despite his excellent record, he still missed the Trump surge in 2016.

This is quite a change from the optimism of mid-year.  If the Democratic Party falls short of expectations, there will need to be some serious soul-searching.

Issues to consider might include:
Not all outrage is the same
Lots of Republicans and independents didn’t like Donald Trump in 2016 but preferred him to the alternative.  Harping on that choice is not the best way to win them over.  Republicans have been smart in emphasising the strong economy, streamlined regulation, conservative supreme court appointments and tough talk on immigration.
Candidates still matter
Rather like the Republicans in 2010 during the Tea Party eruption, Democrats in their fervour have chosen more candidates with non-centrist backgrounds – and those backgrounds are being scrutinised.  Their candidate for the Arizona senate seat is in a bit of trouble for agreeing to the proposition that joining the Taliban was a valid personal decision.   By contrast, West Virginia’s Joe Machin was the only Democrat senator to support both Donald Trump’s supreme court appointments and despite a double digit polling lead is strenuously avoiding campaigning as a Democrat.
Unpick the headline unpopularity ratings 
US President Donald Trump has been more unpopular than popular pretty much since he was elected two years ago.  But his core support base seems to have been robust in the face of media criticism and, unlike a number of past presidents, his approval rating has been on a slow but clear upward trend for the twelve months leading into the mid-term elections.
Trump is a skilful campaigner.  The media helps a lot
Whether by design or luck, Trump has an ability to speak directly to his base, usually forcing the media to amplify his messages, rather than interpret them. If Republicans manage to overcome the Democratic edge in voting intentions, it will be by mobilising more of their supporters. Trump will be able to claim much of the credit.
Gender issues are hard to figure out and then change some more
The difference in voting preference by sex in opinion polls is at unprecedented levels: Democratic voting intentions among women are nearly 20% higher than Republican, while Republicans have a much smaller edge among men.  These gender differences were surely crucial to the handling of the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court and the brutality of the politics around it.  Whatever the impact on these elections, the development of these gender trends is a candidate for the most significant political development of this generation.  It is extraordinarily hard to imagine, let alone predict, the politics of a society where gender is main political dividing line.
Political operators in other Western countries will be watching these elections closely, assessing the similarity of trends in their own societies and calculating how American approaches might play in their environments.  ‘Tough on China’ – now that has a nice ring to it.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.

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