The public took notice: President Biden’s approval rating for handling the virus jumped to 51% among all adults, his highest since last summer and up from 44% in February, according to a new report. Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Still, most voters turned their attention to other issues, particularly inflation, which Post poll and others showed, without largely rewarding Biden and Democrats for taming the worst of the pandemic. And many Democrats continue to act as if their party remains on the defensive on the issue.
As recently as Tuesday, seven Senate Democrats joined 48 Republicans in approving a measure that would cancel a mask mandate in all federal Head Start programs for children from low-income families under age 5, for which he there is still no vaccine available. The largely symbolic measure is going nowhere in the House, but some Democrats still fear they are on the wrong side of Covid outrage – six of the seven who sided with Republicans face tough races this year or in 2024.
Republicans believe they can still find ways to stoke pandemic-related anger, like in last fall’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey, when voters punished Democrats on a number of issues, including their handling of school closures during the pandemic.
“This is a general critique of liberalism during the pandemic, especially in Washington, where there was a deep disconnect with the experience of working Americans on a daily basis,” said Josh Holmes, political adviser to the chief executive. minority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Holmes also works for the Adam Laxalt (R) campaign, which is challenging Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.). Laxalt accused the incumbent of being a “no show” for closing its offices during the pandemic and handling voter services by telecommuting.
His staff calls it a “desperate lie” and points to nonstop voter services, with offices open for in-person visits for more than a year.
Cortez Masto’s campaign banked on her work to help stabilize Nevada early on, with her first two ads focusing on pandemic relief she brought back to the state.
“Although things have not yet fully returned, if it had not been for Catherine Cortez Masto, we would all be worse off,” a restaurant chef says in an announcement, congratulating the senator on obtaining the “fair share” of relief from Nevada. funds.
Many Democratic strategists say their candidates should tout the party’s efforts to turn the corner on the pandemic, but warn it should only be an opening argument that is quickly followed by talk of fighting inflation. and reducing the daily cost of living.
Democrats also remain nervous about taking a victory lap for fear of appearing as the president last year. Biden’s first popularity came amid the first wave of mass vaccinations and dwindling case numbers last spring and early summer, when voters endorsed his pandemic performance of more than 2 to 1, according to Post polls.
Then, after a premature declaration of victory last July, several variants of the coronavirus ricocheted around the world over the fall and winter, infecting tens of millions of Americans and killing hundreds of thousands. As inflation soared and crises erupted in Afghanistan and Ukraine, overall approval for Biden’s jobs plummeted.
The last few months have brought about a virus reversal. Out of five questions posed to voters in late April – inflation, job creation, relations with Russia, the economy and the coronavirus – his endorsement of the pandemic drew his strongest position, a net positive of eight percentage points, according to the Post poll.
The Democratic dilemma is that many voters no longer seem to care about beating the pandemic. Gallup has regularly asked what the “biggest problem” facing the country is between economic and non-economic issues.
In January, 20% of Americans chose the pandemic as the most important non-economic issue, essentially the main issue at the time; which fell to 13% in February. In March, just 3% of Americans cited the pandemic as the most important issue.
NBC News polls have shown a similar decline, from the pandemic ranked first among voters’ concerns last August to just 3% of Americans choosing it as the country’s top problem at the end of March.
It comes as nearly a million people in the United States have died and the pace of vaccinations has come to a virtual standstill, with more than a third of Americans refusing to get vaccinated. More than 70% of parents of children aged 5 to 11 have refused to vaccinate their children against the virus, and cases have started to climb again in recent weeks while hospitalizations have increased – although deaths, a lagging indicator , continue to decrease.
With voters adopting this attitude of what you’ve done for me lately, Democrats are facing limits on how much they should be talking about the pandemic.
One thing Democrats will do differently, compared to the 2020 election, is the kind of face-to-face activity that has long been considered their political bread and butter: knocking on doors, talking about the issues that motivate them, registering new voters. and turn them out in the fall.
“We pulled out of the field in 2020, for public health reasons, but the Republicans didn’t. And I told my parents that we were going to knock on doors if we had to wear moonsuits, because it has never been more important,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a brief interview last week.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the DCCC have both dedicated $30 million each to bolster their voter turnout operations in key battlegrounds, doing the kind of old-fashioned campaigning they lacked two years ago. .
“We’re taking all the great creative lessons we learned in 2020 and using them in an on-pitch campaign that feels more like 2018,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said.
Two years ago, Slotkin hosted outdoor events with remote seating. She spent a large sum buying ads on gas pump video screens, knowing that voters still had to fill up their cars. His campaign aides went door-to-door but almost never spoke directly to voters, leaving literature taped to front doors.
This year, Democrats say they are safe, masking up if necessary, but they are holding events indoors and outdoors, trying to rally their constituents ahead of this tough election season.
Slotkin, who won by more than 3.5 percentage points in a district Biden narrowly lost, said there was no substitute for direct interaction with voters, not text messages or digital advertising.
“You need neighbors talking to neighbors, not just a digital ad. My peers were always talking about ‘digital is the way of the future’. And I’m like, come to the Midwest. That actually party, but talking to human beings is still the most effective way,” she said.
Cortez Masto officially launched her re-election campaign in March in a cramped union hall in Reno, with dozens of supporters around her, some masked, some not. She held a similar mid-April event with Latino activists in Las Vegas.
Republicans are hoping there’s still some mileage left in their covid scandal machine. But it’s also possible that the pandemic will fade deep into the background, if there are no major surges of virus variants and schools stay open into the fall as they did during the most of this year.
Democrats would like to tout this as a major success, but even if it drifts into an almost forgotten issue, they will be better off than where they were over the fall and winter.
“Our way of life has largely returned to normal,” Slotkin said. “So I just don’t know if it’s that important, if that message is that important. Because nobody’s restricting people.