Nov 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Top Dems warn party is seen as extreme

Illustration of a distressed donkey with an ice pack on its head.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Third Way — a center-left think tank backed by some of the biggest names in Democratic politics — is sounding the alarm about deep-seated party flaws, based on its own new polling from Senate battlegrounds.

Driving the news: "If Democrats manage to hold on to the House and Senate, it will be in spite of the party brand, not because of it," Third Way writes in a memo synthesizing its conclusions, shared first with Axios.

  • "Despite a roster of GOP candidates who are extreme by any standard, voters see Democrats as just as extreme, as well as far less concerned about the issues that most worry them."

Why it matters: Lifelong, respected Democrats are saying the quiet part out loud — that if Republicans have a huge night on Tuesday, as polls are blaring, Democrats must blame "much deeper" problems than simply the "historical trends" that beset the party in power.

Flashback: James Carville, Ruy Teixeira and other Dems have been making this case for more than a year, seizing initially on the embrace of "defund the police" by some progressives.

In a brutal bill of particulars, the Third Way memo says under the headings "Out of Touch on Priorities ... Out of Touch Ideologically ... Out of Touch on Values":

  • "Democrats are underwater on issues voters name as their highest priorities, including the economy, immigration, and crime."
  • "While Democrats maintain a lead on handling certain issues like abortion and climate change, voters also rank these issues as lower priorities."
  • "[V]oters question whether the party shares essential values like patriotism and the importance of hard work. ... Only 43% of voters say Democrats value hard work, compared to 58% for Republicans."
  • "[E]ven in the areas where Democrats are trusted more [including education], it is not clear that voters are sold on Democrats’ approach or ability to get things done."
  • "Democrats are benefitting from a perception among voters that Republicans are extreme, but they cannot fully reap the gains of this view, as voters think Democrats are extreme as well."

The bottom line: Democrats need to make major changes to the party brand to avoid another potential wipeout in 2024.

Go deeper: Third Way memo ... Polling toplines

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