Democrats and Republicans agree that inflation has been the pre-eminent political issue this spring, at least until a draft ruling was leaked that suggested the Supreme Court could overturn Roe vs. Wade. The abortion issue now threatens to change the electoral calculus. But voters will also hear about crime, education, immigration and jobs before they cast their ballots.
inflation and the economy
Inflation is a constant presence on voters’ minds as they shop for groceries, fill their gas tanks, or pay home heating bills. There is no escaping it and unless there is significant easing in the coming months it will continue to be a major concern.
The topic overshadows what would otherwise be an economic story that the Biden administration would like to talk about, especially the number of jobs created and the low unemployment rate. Democrats also see possible ways to assuage concerns about rising prices by talking about their efforts to lower the cost of, say, prescription drugs. It could be a hard sell.
The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that nearly 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of the way President Biden has handled the issue of inflation. Fifty percent say they trust Republicans to handle the problem, compared to 31 percent who say they trust Democrats more.
Abortion was catapulted to the forefront in May after Politico published an authentic draft of an opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., showing that the Supreme Court was in a position to overrule Roe vs. Wade in the case involving Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law.
[The Supreme Court’s draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade, annotated]
demolition Roe Could Boost Democrats mobilize supporters of abortion rights and potentially reduce the enthusiasm gap that exists between Republicans and Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believes the GOP’s continued attacks on women’s rights will help them in 25 competitive races to be held in largely suburban districts that also have a significant minority and college-educated population.
Some Democratic strategists pointed to 2018, when Democrats expressed fear that Republicans would remove precondition coverage in health insurance as a way to motivate their voters. But there have always been more voters motivated by opposition to abortion rights than those who support abortion rights, and the question remains how much that could change if the court overturns Roe.
“It is now absolutely necessary that they elect senators who share their values, who will protect women’s right to reproductive freedom,” said Sen. Gary Peters (Michigan), chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argued the issue won’t ruin the GOP lead because most voters “are not where the Democrats are” on abortion and continue to feel the burden daily inflation.
But since last year, Republican strategists had been weighing the negative effects that would topple Roe could have on them electorally, possibly depressing the GOP’s recent gains with suburban women, who in turn could influence their husbands not to vote Republican.
Republicans see other problems to exploit beyond inflation. Crime is one such problem, at a time when many major cities are experiencing rising homicide rates and increases in other types of crime. New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) is running to reduce the crime rate, but his first few months have seen the issue remain a hot topic in America’s most populous city.
Echoes of “defund the police” rhetoric in the months after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis continue to haunt Democrats. Biden has repeatedly taken the opposite view. “The answer is not to defund the police,” he said in his State of the Union address. “The answer is to fund the police.” The fact that he had to say it underscores the Democrats’ vulnerability.
Related to that is the surge of undocumented immigrants along the US-Mexico border. The Biden administration has yet to get this under control, and there is now a split within the party over the administration’s proposal to lift Title 42, a public health regulation instituted during the Trump administration that prevents asylum seekers from crossing the border. Several Democratic senators in competitive races have spoken out against the change, fearing such an action would spark more border crossings and threaten them politically.
Education and identity
For years, the Democrats were voters’ favorite party to discuss education issues. Now, education policy has changed, as Republicans have seized on the issue of critical race theory as shorthand for attacking Democrats on a variety of education-related grievances.
Republicans see the problems as helping to attract suburban parents unhappy with various school policies. Democrats find themselves in the unusual position of being on the defensive on an issue where they have long had the upper hand.
Democrats say critical race theory isn’t actually taught in public schools, but the CRT label has become a proxy for a variety of educational issues. These include how race and racism are taught in schools, a charged debate at a time when racism has become more visible in the country. They also include the role of parents in schools, the power of teachers’ unions, and persistent anger over school closures and mask mandates. Republican strategists are wary of injecting CRT as an issue in every race, instead encouraging candidates to pinpoint the niche education issue in their districts or states and frame it around parental rights .
Another set of issues that have come up on the GOP agenda encompasses LGBTQ rights. In Texas, efforts have been made to restrict gender-affirming attention by parents of trans teens. Multiple states have tried to ban transgender students from participating in school sports. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation restricting the teaching of gender identity and related topics to students in kindergarten through third grade.
The risk for Republicans is that their focus on divisive cultural issues could backfire in swing states and districts with more moderate voters, like Pennsylvania, where some traditionally Republican voters have switched their identification in recent years to independents.
the war in Ukraine is a wild card theme. So far, despite the media attention it receives and public revulsion at Russia’s invasion and atrocities, Ukraine has not become a mainstream American political issue, in part due to support for Ukraine and defense of the US aid in both parties. The accolades Biden has won from the foreign policy establishment or from European allies have also not translated into positive marks for his overall handling of national security issues. But no one is ready to predict where this problem will be by next fall.
Some of Biden’s best ratings are now coming from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. But covid has declined as a topic mentioned by voters. A recent NBC News poll showed a 21-point drop in the percentage of people who consider it an important issue between January and March. Still, Too much covid continues to affect the political environment, contributing to what one strategist called a “sulky” electorate.
Democrats acknowledge they are defensive on many of these issues, but argue there are contrasts they can draw with Republicans that will force voters to rethink their options this fall. They are trying to focus voters on a Scott-driven agenda that calls for middle-class Americans to pay more taxes. Scott’s ideas have been denounced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans, but that’s not stopping Democrats from pursuing them.