Will the 2022 midterms produce a red wave … or a red wedding for Democrats? Based on this 14-point swing in the gap for party registration since Joe Biden took office, better work on your RSVPs and butcher’s aprons. Gallup’s latest look at the composition of the electorate shows just how badly Biden and Democratic leadership bungled away a potential generational opportunity:
On average, Americans’ political party preferences in 2021 looked similar to prior years, with slightly more U.S. adults identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic (46%) than identified as Republicans or leaned Republican (43%).
However, the general stability for the full-year average obscures a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter. …
Both the nine-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter and the five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter are among the largest Gallup has measured for each party in any quarter since it began regularly measuring party identification and leaning in 1991.
How dramatic is this change? The nine-point lead for Democrats at the beginning of 2021 was its best standing in eight-plus years — and that previous lead registered during and after Barack Obama’s re-election. It matched earlier highs that lasted throughout the final two years of George W. Bush’s term and into Barack Obama’s first quarter as president. In that period, Democrats swept back the House and Senate, and wound up with nearly filibuster- and veto-proof majorities in doing so while winning a landslide presidential election.
The 2020 election didn’t reflect a nine-point Democratic lead, but the January 6 Capitol Hill riot and the natural honeymoon phase of a new presidency bolstered Joe Biden and Democrats. The third tranche of COVID stimulus no doubt also helped … briefly. The collapse began not long afterward, as the charted quarterly averages show:
— Bruce Mehlman (@bpmehlman) January 17, 2022
The Q3 numbers began in July and extended through the end of September. Squarely in the middle of that period was Biden’s disgraceful retreat from Afghanistan and abandonment of thousands of Americans to the Taliban, as well as tens of thousands of American allies. Biden had just insisted that Afghanistan wasn’t close to collapse and that his withdrawal wouldn’t produce another last-helicopter-out-of-Saigon moment. Instead, it produced a horrorshow at the Kabul airport, with people clinging to the planes and falling to their deaths as the US rushed out of the collapse.
That triggered a confidence-crisis cascade in Joe Biden that other polling has aptly demonstrated ever since. Gallup’s data shows that the confidence-crisis cascade also impacts the Democratic Party, and not just on the fringes:
It definitely seems like a shift across the board with the biggest movement coming in the middle.
And that should scare the life out of Democrats because it's not MAGA but more moderate voters leaving for the GOP. pic.twitter.com/SfAfiqFug6
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) January 17, 2022
Note well that the hard-core identifiers in both parties haven’t changed much outside the margins of error. The decline for Democrats has been almost entirely in the middle, and even full-on independents trended down slightly. This isn’t a MAGA conversion, but instead a statement of disgust in the electorate with Biden and his party where Democrats can least afford it.
With that in mind, neither Biden nor Democrats appear to recognize the peril here. The last time the GOP had this kind of a lead was 1995, after a massively successful red wave. Having it in advance of a midterm with a first-term Democratic president bodes very, very ill for Biden and his party. And yet Biden and the party’s leadership remain committed to continuing the same losing legislative strategy that led to this party-identification crater and convinced voters that Democrats don’t care about what impacts them at all.
Salena Zito explains why Biden may have cemented this trend for at least the next year, if not the next three:
If President Joe Biden’s disorderly and lethal Afghanistan withdrawal was the moment that fractured voters’ regard for him, then his vicious Atlanta speech last week may be the moment that defines his presidency.
Speaking Tuesday at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, Biden uttered venomous, brutal accusations lacking factual basis. His shouting-in-the-wind delivery was inexplicable, and his decision to lash out at members of his own party — Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — appears to have only strengthened their resolve not to give in to his demands.
Biden called those who disagree with his political views on legislation “domestic enemies.” He compared them to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and former Alabama Democratic Party Committeeman and ardent, violent segregationist Bull Connor. In American politics, that is about as divisive as one can get — at least he didn’t mention Hitler.
Biden bears no resemblance today to the man who ran for president, pledging over and over again to unify the country and restore a sense of calm and normalcy to politics. From the day he was sworn in to office and signed executive orders putting thousands out of work in the energy industry, he ceased to be that guy from Scranton that people thought he was. …
This moment and the associated loss of credibility that Biden is suffering will have lingering effects in the American psyche. They might not remember all of the words, but they will remember Biden’s vicious, nasty, bad-faith accusations, his flagrant falsehoods, and his petulant tone.
In September, I predicted that Afghanistan would trigger this confidence-crisis cascade and that Biden lacked both the self-awareness and political talent to recover. His speech in Georgia may have proven that latter point beyond all expectations. Democrats had better prepare for a disaster in the midterms, and might want to consider doing so by jettisoning their current leadership class in toto.
Addendum: Republicans should take a very long look at where this shift has taken place, too. This is not a mandate for more MAGA, but instead a cri de coeur from the center for a true governing party. Democrats’ overreach and this result should be an object lesson for GOP leadership too.