A leading Democratic group — Priorities USA — is warning party leaders they could squander a strong political climate in 2018 if they don't start to emphasize pocketbook issues over loose and unfocused critiques of Donald Trump.
According to internal polling by the super PAC, President Trump's approval rating climbed to 44 percent in the first week of February, compared to 53 percent who disapprove. That mirrors Trump's improving position in public polls.
In November, the same survey found his approval rating at 40 percent, with 54 percent disapproving.
The group’s survey also showed the Democratic Party’s generic ballot advantage had shrunk, with 46 percent preferring Democrats to 42 percent for Republicans.
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The memo says that a broad range of metrics show the political climate is still favorable for Democrats. But it also makes an unambiguous diagnosis for Trump’s recent rise: Democrats this year have stopped focusing on economic and health care issues, topics that demonstrably hurt his approval during his first year in office.
Priorities’ polling found that while people in November readily mentioned Trump’s health care and tax reform measures, by February they were instead more cognizant of his tweets.
Democrats, the memo said, must “not allow themselves to be sidetracked and distracted by Trump’s latest tweets.”
“While still on track for a successful November, the extent of Democratic gains will be blunted if Democrats do not reengage more aggressively in speaking to the economic and health care priorities of voters,” it said.
The memo comes amid a rancorous debate on Capitol Hill over immigration, in which Democrats in January temporarily pushed to shut down the federal government because of the absence of a DACA agreement. The Priorities missive does not say the party should avoid a debate over immigration, but says time and time again that the absence of fiscal criticism of Trump has allowed him to one-sidedly extoll the benefits of a growing economy.
“There’s no question that Trump benefits when a critique of his tax and health care policies is not front and center – especially when voters are hearing Trump’s side of the story on the economy,” the memo said.
Priorities is one of a litany of Democratic leaders or organizations making the case the party must focus on the economy to best take advantage of the midterm election climate, especially as it tries to both win back working-class white voters who backed Trump in droves and energize its own base, including African-American and Latino voters.
The memo was compiled by Priorities in conjunction with Global Strategy Group and GarinHartYang Research Group, two of the Democratic Party’s leading political consultancies. It surveyed 1,001 voters from Feb. 2 through Feb. 7 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
The poll included voters who cast a ballot in the 2012 or 2016 presidential race.
Despite its admonishment of the party, Democrats have reason to still be upbeat about the 2018 midterm election, the memo argues. Although its generic ballot edge was just four points, Priorities found that just 35 percent of undecided voters approved of Trump — compared to 60 percent who disapproved. (Data on undecided voters in a generic ballot test is rarely provided in other polls.)
And 51 percent of voters said they want more Democrats elected to Congress this year to be a “check and balance on Trump,” compared to 39 percent who want to elect more Republicans to help “Trump pass his policies and programs.”
The polling also found increased level of enthusiasm for 2018 among Democrats while Trump was underwater in nearly all measures of his performance. The president, however, did have a plurality of support for his tax and economic policies, while views of his health care policies have improved significantly since November.
The memo also shows that most voters think the GOP’s tax reform plan favors the rich and large corporations at the expense of the middle class.
“When voters have heard messages from both Democrats and Republicans on the tax bill, Democrats have won,” it says. “Unfortunately, that debate has been relatively one-sided recently and voters have not heard nearly as much from Democrats.”