Democrats and Republicans agree inflation has been the predominant political issue this spring — at least until a leaked draft ruling suggested the Supreme Court could overturn Roe vs. Wade. The issue of abortion now threatens to upset electoral calculations. But voters will also hear about crime, education, immigration and jobs before they vote.
inflation and the economy
Inflation is a constant presence on the minds of voters as they buy groceries, fill their gas tanks or pay their home heating bills. There is no escaping it, and unless there is significant easing in the coming months, it will continue to be one of the main areas of concern.
The question overshadows what is otherwise an economic story the Biden administration would like to talk about, particularly the number of jobs created and the low unemployment rate. Democrats also see possible ways to ease concerns about rising prices by talking about their efforts to lower the cost of, say, prescription drugs. It might be a tough sell.
The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll finds nearly 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of President Biden’s handling of the inflation problem. Fifty percent say they trust Republicans to handle the problem, compared to 31% who say they trust Democrats more.
Abortion catapulted to the fore in May after Politico published an authentic draft opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., showing that the Supreme Court was able to strike down Roe vs. Wade in the case involving Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law.
[The Supreme Court’s draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade, annotated]
reversal deer could stimulate the Democrats in mobilize abortion rights supporters and potentially reduce the enthusiasm gap that exists between Republicans and Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee estimates that the GOP’s continued attacks on women’s rights will help them in 25 competitive races taking place in largely suburban districts that also have a large minority and college-educated population.
Some Democratic strategists have pointed to 2018, when Democrats raised fears that Republicans would eliminate health insurance prerequisite coverage in order to motivate their constituents. But there have always been more voters motivated by opposition to abortion rights than those who support those rights, and the question to come is how much that might change if the court overturns deer.
“Now it is absolutely incumbent on you to elect senators who share your values, who will protect a woman’s right to reproductive freedom,” said Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), Chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee .
Senator Rick Scott (Florida), chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, argued that the issue will not benefit the GOP because most voters are “not where the Democrats are” on abortion and continue to resent the daily burden of inflation.
But since last year, Republican strategists have been weighing the staggering negative effects deer could have on them electorally, perhaps depressing the GOP’s recent gains with suburban women, which in turn could influence their husbands not to vote Republican.
Republicans see other issues to exploit beyond inflation. Crime is one such problem, at a time when many major cities are suffering from rising homicide rates and increases in other types of crime. New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) has tried to reduce the crime rate, but his first few months have seen the problem remain at the forefront in America’s most populous city.
Echoes of “defunding the police” rhetoric in the months following the 2020 killing 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 defund the police.” The fact that he had to say so underscores the vulnerability of Democrats.
Added to this is the influx 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 under the Trump administration that prevents asylum seekers to cross the border. Several Democratic senators in competitive races have spoken out against the change, fearing such action would spur additional border crossings and threaten them politically.
Education and Identity
For years, the Democrats have been voters’ preferred party to address education issues. Now, education policy has changed, as Republicans have seized on the issue of critical race theory as a shortcut to attack Democrats on a range of education-related grievances.
Republicans see the issues as helping to attract suburban parents unhappy with various school policies. Democrats find themselves in the unusual position of being put on the defensive on an issue over which 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 education 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 ongoing anger over school closures and mask mandates. Republican strategists are wary of injecting CRTs as a problem in every race, instead encouraging candidates to determine the niche education problem in their districts or states and frame them around parental rights.
Another set of issues that have been raised on the GOP agenda concerns LGBTQ rights. In Texas, efforts have been made to restrict gender-affirming care by parents of trans teens. Several states have sought to ban transgender students from participating in school sports. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) signed legislation restricting the teaching of gender identity and related issues 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, such as in Pennsylvania, where some traditionally Republican voters have shifted their identification in recent years to independent.
The war in Ukraine is a generic issue. So far, despite the media attention it receives and public revulsion at Russia’s invasion and atrocities, Ukraine has not become a dominant American political issue, in part because of the support for Ukraine and advocacy for US aid on both sides. The praise Biden has won from the foreign policy establishment or European allies has 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 top marks now relate to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. But covid has declined as an issue mentioned by voters. A recent NBC News survey showed a 21 point drop in the percentage of people calling it a major problem between January and March. Still, the covid overhang continues to affect the political environment, contributing to what one strategist called an “unpleasant” electorate.
Democrats acknowledge they are on the defensive on many of these issues, but say they can draw contrasts with Republicans that will force voters to think again about their choices this fall. They are working to focus voters on an agenda pushed by Scott that calls on 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.