Democrats came out of the 2020 election with full control of the federal government and a pile of lingering questions. Privately, party leaders and strategists have been grappling with a dilemma: Why was President Biden’s convincing victory over Donald J. Trump not accompanied by large Democratic gains by ballot?
With that puzzle in mind, a group of Democratic advocacy groups quietly launched a review of the party’s performance in the 2020 election in an effort to shape the Democrats’ approach to the midterm campaign of the next year, said seven people close to the effort.
Democratic sponsors of the initiative are particularly concerned about the party’s losses in large-minority House districts, including Florida, Texas and California, people briefed on the initiative said. The review examines tactical and strategic choices across the map, including democratic messages on the economy and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as organizational decisions such as avoiding face-to-face canvassing.
Democrats predicted they would be able to expand their majority in the House, pushing into the historically red areas of the Sun Belt where Mr. Trump’s unpopularity had destabilized the GOP coalition. Instead, Republicans won 14 Democrat-held House seats, including a dozen Democrats captured in an anti-Trump election just two years earlier.
The results stunned strategists from both parties, raising questions about the reliability of campaign polls and apparently highlighting democratic vulnerabilities in rural areas and center-right suburbs. The Democrats also lost several contested races in the Senate by surprisingly wide margins, even as they narrowly took control of the chamber.
Strategists involved in the Democratic self-examination began interviewing elected officials and campaign consultants, and reaching out to lawmakers and former candidates in major House and Senate races where the party narrowly won or lost.
Four major groups are supporting the effort, spanning a range of democratic-leaning interests: Third Way, a centrist think tank; End Citizens United, a clean government group; the Latino Victory Fund; and Collective PAC, an organization that supports black Democratic candidates.
They are said to work with at least three influential organizations within the Democratic House caucus: the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the New Democrat Coalition, a group of centrist lawmakers. The groups retained the services of a Democratic consultancy firm, 270 Strategies, to conduct interviews and analyze electoral data.
Democrats feel considerable pressure to refine their political handbook ahead of the 2022 congressional election, when the party will defend tiny majorities in the House and Senate without a presidential race to boost participation on both sides.
Dan Sena, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party recognizes that despite Mr Biden’s victory, the 2020 cycle has not been an unadulterated democratic achievement.
“I think people know there was some good and some bad coming out of 20 and there is a desire to look under the hood,” Sena said.
Among the party’s goals, Sena said, would be to study their gains in Georgia and look for other areas where population growth and demographic change could provide the party with solid electoral goals in 2022.
“There were a series of factors that really made Georgia work in this cycle,” he said. “How do you start to find places like Georgia?”
Matt Bennett, senior vice president of Third Way, confirmed in a statement that the quadripartite project was aimed at positioning Democrats for the midterm elections.
“With narrow Democratic majorities in Congress and the Republican Party swayed by seditionists backing Trump, the stakes have never been higher,” he said. “Our organizations will provide Democrats with a detailed picture of what happened in 2020 – with a wide range of contributions from across the party voices – so that they are fully prepared to face the GOP in 2022.”
In addition to the external review, some of the party’s traditional committees are said to take smaller steps to review the 2020 results. Concerned about declining support for Latino men, the Democratic Congress campaign committee has held focus groups in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas earlier this year, said a person familiar with the study. It is not clear what conclusions emerged from the exercise.
So far, there is no equivalent process underway on the Republican side, party officials said, citing the general lack of appetite among GOP leaders to openly fight Mr. Trump’s impact. on the party and the wreckage it inflicted in key areas of the country.
As a candidate for re-election, Mr Trump collapsed in the Democratic-leaning Upper Midwest – abandoning his most important advances of 2016 – and lost to Mr Biden in Georgia and Arizona, two traditionally red states where the GOP has suffered a sharp decline in recent years. The party lost all four Senate seats in those states during Mr. Trump’s presidency, including three in the 2020 cycle.
But Mr. Trump and his political minions have so far responded with fury to criticisms of his party management, and there is no apparent desire to tempt his anger with a full analysis that is likely to yield little results. flattering. An unofficial review, conducted by Mr. Trump’s pollster Tony Fabrizio, concluded that Mr. Trump had provided significant support because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with particularly damaging losses among white voters.
In the past, democratic attempts at self-control have tended to come to somewhat soft conclusions aimed at avoiding controversy within the party’s multifaceted coalition.
The Democratic Party briefly appeared to be heading for a public record in November, as the party absorbed its setbacks in the House and failure to topple several Republican senators whom Democrats had seen ripe for defeat.
A group of centrist members of the House blamed left-wing rhetoric on democratic socialism and the removal of police funding for their losses in a number of conservative-leaning rural suburbs and districts. Days after the election, Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said the party should drop the word “socialism”, sparking the rejection of progressives like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
This spread of differences did not last long: Democrats quickly closed ranks in response to Mr. Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election, and party unity hardened after the second round of the 5 January in Georgia and the January 6 attack on the Capitol. But there are still significant internal disagreements over campaign strategy.
It has been eight years since either of the political parties conducted a comprehensive self-assessment which recommended fundamental changes in structure and strategy. After the 2012 election, when Republicans lost the presidential race and relinquished seats in both houses of Congress, the Republican National Committee formed a task force that called for major changes in party organization. .
The so-called 2012 autopsy also recommended that the GOP embrace the cause of immigration reform, warning the party faces a grim demographic future if it does not improve its position with communities of color. This recommendation was effectively rejected after House Republicans blocked a bipartisan immigration deal passed by the Senate and then completely wiped out by Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.
Henry Barbour, a member of the RNC who co-authored the committee’s post-2012 analysis, said it would be wise for both sides to reflect on their political positioning after the 2020 election. He said Democrats had been successful the election by running against Mr. Trump, but that the party’s shift to the left had alienated otherwise winnable voters, including some black, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities who gradually shifted to Mr. Trump.
“They’re running away from a lot of middle-class Americans who work hard to live in the heart of the country, or in the big cities or the suburbs,” Mr. Barbour said. “Part of it is that Democrats ran too far to the left.”
Mr Barbour said Republicans should also take a look at their performance in 2020. Mr Trump, he said, had not done enough to extend his appeal beyond a broad and loyal minority of voters.
“The Republican Party has to do better than that,” he said. “We are not just a party of one president.”
In addition to the quadripartite scrutiny on the Democratic side, several smaller projects are underway aimed at addressing shortcomings in the polls.
Democratic and Republican officials have found serious flaws in their investigative research, especially the House race polls that did not anticipate how far Republicans would come to recapture a majority. Both parties emerged from the campaign feeling that they had dramatically misjudged the competitive House race landscape, with Democrats unexpectedly losing seats and Republicans perhaps missing a chance to capture the House in result.
Major House race-focused Republican and Democratic super PACs – the Congressional Leadership Fund and House Majority PAC – are both studying their 2020 ballot and debating changes for the 2022 campaign, people close to them have said. of their efforts.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican group, is said to be undertaking a somewhat more in-depth review of its spending and messaging, although there are no plans to release a broader diagnostic for the party. “We would be foolish if we didn’t take a serious look at what worked, what didn’t and how you can grow and progress,” said Dan Conston, group president.
Several of the biggest Democratic polling companies are also consulting each other regularly to fill research gaps in 2020. Two people involved in the conversations said there was general agreement that the industry needs to update its practices before 2022 to assure Democratic leaders that they would no longer be taken by surprise.
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster involved in the last round’s research review, said the party was only digging deeper into the 2020 election results because the past few months have been dominated by other crises .
Several Democratic and Republican strategists have warned both sides face a challenge in formulating a plan for 2022: It has been more than a decade, she said, since a mid-term campaign. had not been dominated by a larger than life presidential figure. Based on the experience of the 2020 campaign, it is not clear that Mr. Biden is destined to become such a polarizing figure.
“It’s hard to know what an election looks like without Obama or Trump,” Ms. Greenberg said, “just normal, regular, regular people showing up.