Nobody wants to say it, but maybe the problem isn’t that Democrats suck at messaging or that the media is wired for Republicans. Maybe too many American voters are just…dumbasses.
A New York Times interview with a Democratic pollster who conducted post-election focus groups with suburban Virginia Biden-Youngkin voters got me thinking about this. (A caveat: the pollster, Brian Stryker, was commissioned by Third Way, and they have an agenda.) Some excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is [the Democratic Party’s] branding problem, in a nutshell?
A: People think we’re more focused on social issues than the economy — and the economy is the No. 1 issue right now.
Huh. I’m not in Virginia, but I saw a Youngkin ad featuring a weepy white mom talking about how McAuliffe let Toni Morrison hate-crime her son. Not seeing the economic angle there, and actually, the economy is pretty damn good.
That said, we know there is a disconnect between perceptions and reality. Stryker says his focus group participants were fixated on the cost of gas and groceries. He also said this:
Voters don’t think that in general a lot of Democrats felt really bad about closing the schools or felt like it was really a negative on people. I think showing some empathy on that could go a long ways in terms of: Yes, closing schools was hard on kids and hard on parents.
Grownups shouldn’t require that level of hand-holding, but okay, there’s probably some truth to that. Biden ran on reopening schools safely, but some people probably just heard local squabbling about it, saw their kids regressing and understandably got pissed off. It costs nothing to acknowledge the difficulty. It’s real.
Here’s the part that made me want to fill a half-empty, two-liter bottle of Coke with a pint of bourbon, drop in a handful of Mentos and chug the resulting geyser:
Q: One of the things you also said in the memo was that McAuliffe’s strategy of linking Mr. Youngkin to former President Donald Trump was ineffective. What in the conversations with your groups made that clear?
A: The respondents kind of laughed at that approach. They said, “Oh, these silly ads that compared Youngkin to Trump — he just doesn’t seem like that guy.” The thing that these people disliked about Trump was that they didn’t like Donald Trump the person; it wasn’t Donald Trump the constellation of policies…
Q: How much does Mr. Biden himself take the blame with these voters? Is his name invoked?
A: It’s Biden, Democrats — they all come together.
Q: But it’s not like with Trump, where voters single him out?
Got that? Almost without exception, Republicans behave like servile worms, propping up the most unpopular president in American history as he bungled a deadly pandemic, presided over an economic collapse, lost the presidency, House and Senate and then tried to overthrow the government to cling to power. None of that sticks to them. Democrats hold power during an unprecedented jobs boom, but gas and chicken part-pack prices go up. It sticks to every single one of them. WTF?