But a few events on August 9 convinced me.
The first was a special election for a House seat in Minnesota. The Democrats did not win. But, in losing, their nominee was about 3 percentage points ahead of Joe Biden’s 2020 margin in the district and roughly tied with the Democratic nominee in 2020 for the seat. These numbers are similar to the results we saw in the June 28 special election for Nebraska’s first congressional district. Again, the Republican won. But he won with numbers somewhat weaker than Trump’s in 2020 and roughly flat with the performance of House Republicans.
These are two random races, but they provide a real ground test of the national political climate. The generic ballot shows the Democrats trailing ever so slightly, which is exactly where they were in 2020. It’s hard to believe. But the special election results in Nebraska and Minnesota were consistent with local 2020 results. In other words, they’re exactly what you’d expect if this generic poll is correct.
The other data point comes from primaries held in Washington state on the same day as the Minnesota special election. Washington uses a “top two” electoral system. Instead of Democrats and Republicans running in separate primaries, everyone participates in a two-phase process. The first phase, the vote which took place on August 9, brought together candidates from both parties. Whichever candidates finish first and second — usually but not always a Democrat and a Republican — face each other in November. This system allows us to aggregate all the votes received by the different Democrats and all the votes received by the different Republicans and to have an overview of the November election.
State House race results were similar to what they were in 2016 and 2020 — far better for Democrats than in 2010 or 2014 — in line with a very close national race for control of the House of Commons. American representatives.
Again, I wouldn’t bet a ton of money based on just one set of primaries and two special elections. But what is impressive is that these results are consistent with each other and, most importantly, with the poll. They suggest the national political climate for Democrats has improved significantly since voters in Virginia and New Jersey headed to the polls last November.
What explains the reversal? Probably a mix of three factors.
The first is that gasoline prices started to fall, eventually leading to headline inflation of 0% in July. Year-over-year price increases remain at a generational high, but the near-term trend has been good lately.
The other is that the Republicans have no convincing argument against the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. It delivers exactly what Republicans say they want — an innovation-focused package designed to increase energy production in the United States — but they won’t support it because the GOP is still committed to low taxes on the rich deeper than any other principle.
Last but not least, the overthrow of Roe v. Wade lets the Republicans play with political dynamite. The presidential party’s midterm losses are normally driven by a sense of backlash over excessive politics. But this summer, it was the Republican Party, via its control of the Supreme Court, that brought about a visceral and alarming change in policy. Chief Justice John Roberts, one of America’s most effective politicians today, tried to persuade fellow conservatives to roll back abortion rights without making alarming headlines. But they didn’t listen, and recklessness has a price.
How can Democrats keep up the momentum? Unfortunately, there is little they can do to ensure that inflation continues to weaken. But anything they can think of is worth trying, especially when it comes to crucial energy products. Part of the benefits of passing a major climate bill should be the freedom to work hand-in-hand with fossil fuel companies to solve immediate problems like refining capacity – rather than s to appease environmentalists.
Beyond that, it is important to continue to highlight Republican extremism on the issue of abortion. This should include moving a series of soft federal bills to establish a national floor on abortion rights. Will the Republicans at least agree to guarantee access in the event of rape? Towards a refuge for doctors who believe in good faith that an abortion is vital for the health of a pregnant woman? To the sole authority of the FDA on prescription drugs? To the freedom of Americans to cross state borders for treatment? It would be nice if one of the two could pass, although I’m afraid neither can get 60 votes in the Senate – which is a shame but also instructive for voters.
Last but not least, Democrats must avoid further missteps. It is not entirely a coincidence that their political fortunes revived at a time when blue states finally abandoned most non-pharmaceutical interventions and accepted endemic Covid as a fact of life. What is unclear is whether this spirit of normality will govern the school year which begins in a few weeks. Of course, if the children are sick, they should stay home, as sick children always have. But the rituals of testing and quarantine must end so students can enjoy a near-normal school year. A hard line on this will of course agitate some parents and teachers. But Democrats should avoid reigniting arguments around schooling that did them a disservice last year.
The economy matters above all. But the return to sight of some traditional issues — abortion rights and taxing the rich — has helped Democrats regain their mojo. They should do their best to stick with that rather than opening new fights or reopening old ones.
More other Bloomberg Opinion writers:
• The mid-term guessing game just got weirder: Jonathan Bernstein
• Why are Democrats losing Latino voters? :Robert A.George
• A crushing defeat in November would help the Democrats: Clive Crook
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Matthew Yglesias is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. Co-founder and former columnist of Vox, he writes the Slow Boring blog and newsletter. He is the author, most recently, of “One Billion Americans”.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion