Today’s Edition:  We control our destiny.

October 11, 2021

          Editorial note: If you are nervous about the spate of stories about Biden’s recent polling woes, read to the end. As always, I try to be realistic in discussing bad news, but not fatalistic. In short, the theme of this newsletter is “Don’t panic.” Indeed, we are a long way from needing to panic and still have a strong chance of achieving a once-in-a-generation victory that will provide a solid footing for the upcoming electoral battles.  

          On a slow news day, the media gravitated to a narrative about the “troubles” faced by Biden as reflected in his declining favorability ratings. A recent Quinnipiac University Poll reported that Biden’s overall favorability rating is the lowest of his tenure (40%) and his unfavorability rating is at its highest (53%). Those topline numbers reflect underwater ratings on almost every issue included in the Quinnipiac poll. That poll spawned dozens of opinion articles that warned of looming defeat for Democrats and Biden in 2022 and 2024. See, e.g., The Hill, “Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt.” While falling poll numbers are always unwelcome news, they are no reason to panic (yet).

          Polls matter—in the aggregate and over time. Smart politicians will use polling to refine messaging (something everyone agrees that Democrats must improve ASAP). But we should not confuse polling with voting, governing, or reality. As noted yesterday, one-third of eligible voters (80 million people) did not vote in 2020. We can change the predicted outcomes by motivating more eligible Americans to register and vote. It’s that simple.

          We should not sugarcoat the bad news for Biden in the most recent polling. Nor should we confuse polling with destiny. And we should definitely not accept the media spin on polling as reality. In the hands of journalists, even respected journalists, polling is grist for the voracious mill that demands a constant stream of “breaking news” regardless of the presence or absence of real news.

          A case in point is an op-ed in the NYTimes by Charles M. Blow, “The Democrats Are in Danger of a Midterm Rout.” I respect Charles Blow greatly. I frequently cite his op-ed essays in my newsletter. Everything he says in his piece in the NYTimes is accurate, well-reasoned, and understated. Blow cites to the Quinnipiac poll as he lists the challenges, stumbles, and delays experienced by the Biden administration. In his reckoning, the polling and the challenges portend disaster for Democrats.

          There is a flaw in Blow’s approach. While Blow meticulously lists the challenges facing Democrats, he ignores the strife that is riving the Republican Party. Indeed, Blow does not mention the GOP at all, and mentions Trump only once. Blow concludes his essay as follows:  

          Biden is better than Trump, but that’s not enough. People didn’t just vote for Biden to vanquish a villain; they also wanted a champion. That champion has yet to emerge.

          By focusing only on the challenges faced by Democrats, Blow provides a skewed view of reality. And saying only that “Biden is not Trump” trivializes the fact that Trump is the only president to attempt a coup by inciting a violent insurrection. Blow ignores the fact that the GOP is expelling everyone from the party who refuses to endorse the mass delusions of the Big Lie and antivaxxer propaganda. True, Biden has his troubles, but he has yet to be impeached for extorting an ally or inciting an insurrection. That’s not nothing.

          Nor does Blow acknowledge that there is a nascent resistance to Trump from within the GOP. The day after Blow’s essay, the Times published on op-ed by prominent Republicans Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman, “We Are Republicans. There’s Only One Way to Save Our Party From Pro-Trump Extremists.” Taylor and Whitman say that they are part of a coalition of 150 conservative Republicans leaders who are dedicated to stopping Trumpism. Their suggested remedy is breathtaking: Elect Democrats in 2022. Taylor and Whitman write,

       So, for now, the best hope for the rational remnants of the Republican Party is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year — including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.

          So, yes, Blow is right. Democrats face challenges. But at least the Democratic Party does not have a cohort of leading Democrats calling for the election of Republicans to Congress. That’s a relevant fact that bears inclusion in any story that warns Democrats that they are in trouble in 2022.

          Readers sometimes write that I am “Pollyannaish” or “dismissive” of commentators who warn of the ugly threats of Trumpism. Without being defensive, let me say that I understand the threats but have little patience for commentators whose only skill is to predict disaster without acknowledging that we control our destiny. So, if you are a reader who believes my analysis is dismissive or unrealistic, I refer you to an op-ed by Eugene Robinson in Washington Post, “Take the Democrats-are-doomed narrative with a grain of salt.”

          I urge everyone to read Robinson’s essay in its entirety. I wish I had written it. Robinson notes that the current media “Narrative” is that “Democrats are doomed.” His thesis is as follows:

          There’s always some truth in The Narrative but rarely an abundance of perspective.

          After reviewing the troubles besetting the GOP, he compares the political landscape to The Serengeti and closes his essay with the following:

          The thing about The Narrative is that it requires periodic plot twists. When the “Biden is toast” story line changes to “Biden is back,” take that, too, with a grain of salt. The Serengeti is wide, and there are many miles to go

          We are not yet at the one-year anniversary of Biden’s tenure, so predictions of doom are premature. And the single biggest factor driving Biden’s favorability rating is the course of the coronavirus pandemic. As the delta variant surged, Biden’s ratings declined. As vaccinations continue in 2021 and the delta variant runs out of new victims, it will wane. Will Biden’s favorability rise? If history is a reliable indicator, “Yes.”

          As one commentator noted, the summer of 2022 may be the first “Covid free” summer since 2019. If true, that timing would be fortunate for Biden. As Robinson says, there are always “plot twists” in the Narrative. It is way too early to predict “a rout” for Democrats in 2022. So, don’t fret about the current polling. Instead, focus on registering more voters. When more people vote, Democrats win. It’s that simple.

Climate Change.

          Talking about climate change is hard. Why? Because climate change is slow, subtle, and complex—until it is not. Helping people to care about climate change is a vexing problem. Let’s hope that a study published this week will grab attention. The study suggests that human-caused climate change has affected 85% of the world’s population. The original study is here, Nature Climate Change, “Machine-learning-based evidence and attribution mapping of 100,000 climate impact studies,” but a more accessible description is here, WaPo, “85 percent of the world population lives in areas affected by climate change, new study shows.”

          Knowing that human-caused climate change has affected 85% of the world’s population may be too abstract for some, who ask “But what about me? Has climate change affected me?” Most likely, “Yes.” See WaPo, “Already, 18 weather disasters costing at least $1 billion each have hit the U.S. this year.”

          Despite the accumulating first-hand evidence, climate activists (mostly Democrats) have a messaging challenge. In a recent op-ed by Ezra Klein, he reported on polling / data analysis by David Shor about Democratic messaging. See Ezra Klein, NYTimes, “David Shor Is Telling Democrats What They Don’t Want to Hear.” In a broad-ranging article, Klein discusses Shor’s analysis of messaging about climate change. Klein quotes Shor’s assessment as follows:

          “Very liberal white people care way more about climate change than anyone else. So, when you talk about climate change, you sound like a weird, very liberal white person.”

          Let me first say that Shor’s articulation of the problem is insensitive (at best). Obviously, people of every color and ethnicity care deeply about climate change, and caring about climate change is neither “weird” nor “white.” But Shor is in the business of extracting opinions from voters about messaging to win elections. Whether we agree with Shor’s articulation or not, his research is telling him that Democrats are failing to express the threat of climate change in a way that motivates people to vote for leaders who take climate change seriously.

          As I said, talking about climate change is hard. A month ago, I wrote an article saying that it is incumbent on every Democrat to be a climate activist. Until everyone is talking about climate change, we make it more difficult for leaders in the climate change movement to spread their message broadly. Let’s be part of the solution by helping everyone understand the threat of human-caused climate change.

Concluding Thoughts.

          We control our destiny. The surest way to do so is to help more Americans vote. There are many worthy organizations. In response to yesterday’s newsletter, a reader who is involved in “getting out the vote” suggested that people “channel their anxiety” by supporting Vote Save America—No “Off” Years. Check out the Vote Save America website, sign up for its newsletter, and help fund the effort to defend (and expand) our majorities in the House and the Senate.

          Talk to you tomorrow!