Democracy Is on the Ballot. But Will It Decide the Election?

Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden delivered a major address on the threats to American democracy. It was the second time he had taken the podium to sound these themes in the past two months and can be seen as his closing argument to voters for the 2022 midterms. Biden started by speaking about the assault on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which the president plausibly connected with the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. As Biden noted, the alleged attacker reportedly shouted out, “Where’s Nancy?” This was also the cry of the insurrectionists on January 6.

Biden fortrightly declared, “The extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party—which is a minority of that party…but is its driving force—is trying to succeed where they failed in 2020 to suppress the rights of voters and subvert the electoral system itself.” He blamed these MAGA Republicans as the source of violent threats to election officials as well as lies about election results and the reliability of the system. Biden was at his best when describing actual examples of the electoral system being subverted. Given the real violence that has lately been visited upon members of Congress, their families and their staff, as well as electoral officials trying to do their job of counting the vote, it’s hard to deny Biden’s contention that “democracy is on the ballot this year.”

Biden is betting that the democracy issue is important enough to settle the midterms in the favor of the Democrats. It’s true that voters do tell pollsters that they care about the issue, although whether that concern adds up to more votes for the Democrats is uncertain. According to a Pew poll conducted in October, 70 percent of voters listed democracy as a top issue, putting it second only to the economy (listed as important by 79 percent of voters). This result is less impressive if one considers the breakdown: 70 percent of Republicans list democracy as a top issue, as do 80 percent of Democrats. Those Republicans presumably believe some version of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. In other words, they believe the threat to democracy is the Democratic Party. Making the election a referendum on democracy does nothing to win those voters over and merely replicates the existing partisan divide.

Democracy is an issue that mobilizes partisan Democrats—but doesn’t necessarily win over even independent voters, let alone Republicans. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent notes that “messages about the threat to democracy mean different things to different voter groups, which means they help Democrats in some ways but not in others.” Sargent cites the research of Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who in focus groups found “something troubling for Democrats. Swing voters aren’t moved by these topics, Lake says, because they see both parties in a similar light: They think both manipulate democracy to their advantage, and they see the 2020 urban unrest amid police protests as akin to Jan. 6.”

Source link