Home Opinion OPINION: Tribalism and fundamentals at work

OPINION: Tribalism and fundamentals at work

For years, I used to tell people who said, “Well, I vote for the person not the party,” that once that person is elected, they vote with party in Congress or the state legislature. Now, that message has clearly sunk in and while I might have been right, I wish I weren’t. People now are voting for the party and the person be damned. It’s the only thing keeping Republicans viable.

Down in Georgia, most voters know that Hershel Walker is not a very admirable person, despite how well he may have carried a football. He pretty much admits to physically abusing his wife. His ex-sister-in-law claims Walker threatened to kill his ex-wife and her husband. He’s lied about having a law enforcement background. He even brags that he’s “not that smart,” partially to lower expectations about his upcoming debate performance.

Polls show voters know about Walker’s poor character. Only 43% say he has a strong moral character, only 44% consider him a good role model, and only 28% say he has the right experience to serve as a Senator. And, yet, he only trails incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock by 2% in the latest CBS poll. He actually leads by 2% in the AJC poll earlier this week.

In contrast to Walker, Warnock is clearly respected. A solid majority, 56%, of Georgia voters approve of his job performance. Similar numbers say he has strong moral character, is a good role model, and has the right experience for the job. If experience or character mattered in politics, Warnock would be leading Walker by double digits.

No, most of it’s about tribalism. Eighty-six percent of Walker voters say they will vote for him to help Republicans take the Senate. A plurality say they will vote for him because he opposes Warnock. Only 20% will support him because they like him. Republican voters, and some swing voters, don’t care what the GOP will do; they fear what Democrats will do.

Democrats need to spend some time trying to understand exactly what scares people who say they respect a Warnock far more than they do a Walker, but will vote for the lesser candidate. Those people should at least be persuadable. MAGA may be unreachable, but they aren’t. Some of those folks may be upset about the economy, but I suspect a lot have reservations about cultural and societal issues like immigration, transgenderism, and crime. It may be too late to reach them in 2022, but Democrats need to figure out how to get to them going forward.

As I’ve said before, Democrats do a lousy job of promoting their successes. While Biden has certainly done a better job of touting his victory in the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act, the party really has not educated the public very well about their accomplishments and how they will impact people’s lives. They should have been traveling the country after the success of the transportation bill. They should be bragging more.

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Within the Democratic Party, a debate is raging about what the party needs to do. One group, the popularists, argues that the party should appeal to voters based on their self-interests. Another, more ideological wing believes that Americans really support the Democratic agenda if Democrats will just pass it.

David O. Atkins, a progressive activist, says Democratic policies have brought the party back from the brink of disaster. He argues that passing the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS bill, and gun control this summer at the same time Republicans are working to ban abortion in the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade has voters trending toward Democrats. As he says, “Interestingly, it turns out that when both Republicans and Democrats get real substantive things they want, voters are impressed by Democrats and repulsed by Republicans.”

I suspect Atkins is taking a premature victory lap. Instead, the Democratic accomplishments have brought Democratic base home early and criminalizing abortion has motivated more young women to get involved. Democrats closed a yawning enthusiasm gap, but they really haven’t started to reel-in the small number of swing voters who determine elections and the party still faces headwinds seven weeks before the election.

Contrary to what Atkins believes, the fundamentals are still holding. The Georgia poll bears that out. Otherwise, the popular Warnock would be crushing the unpopular Walker. People are still self-interested, more concerned about inflation, the economy, and immigration, according to an NBC poll. Right now, those issues probably break for Republicans, regardless of what Democrats have done on climate, guns, prescription drugs, taxes, or student loans. Democrats are certainly in a better place than they were just a few month ago, but I’m dubious that they are any more popular with more skeptical voters because of what they’ve accomplished.

So, Democrats certainly need to let Americans know about their successes, but they also need to understand the fears that allows a party controlled by con man and grifter remain competitive in a race like the one in Georgia. If Hershel Walker goes to the Senate, that says more about the perception of the Democratic Party than it does about Senator Warnock.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com.

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