Both Democratic policy proposals and attacks on President Donald Trump are falling flat with voters heading into 2018, with a new report bluntly stating "none of it is working."
In a story out Wednesday from Politico, swing-state data from a range of focus groups and internal polls "paint a grim picture" for the Democratic Party, which is out of power in Congress and the White House after a disastrous 2016 cycle.
The range of attacks on Trump include he hasn't accomplished much, his campaign colluded with the Russians, and that he's used the White House to enrich himself, but it's not forming a "succinct narrative" with voters, according to one focus group conductor:
Voters are also generally unimpressed by claims that Trump exaggerates or lies, and they don’t see the ongoing Russia investigation adding up to much.
"There are a number of things that are raising questions in voters’ minds against him," said Matt Canter, who’s been conducting focus groups for Global Strategy Group in swing states. "They’re all raising questions, but we still have to weave it into one succinct narrative about his presidency."
Stop, Democratic operatives urge voters, assuming that what they think is morally right is the best politics. A case in point is Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. The president’s equivocation on neo-Nazis was not as much of a political problem as his opponents want to believe, Democratic operatives say, and shifting the debate to whether or not to remove Confederate monuments largely worked for him.
Even while voters have described themselves as exhausted with the chaotic nature of the Trump White House and prefer Congress to hold him in check, they still view the president as the outsider he said he would be.
Focus group participants reveal they are impressed with Trump's business background and give his administration credit for an improving economy.
"People do think he’s bringing about change, so it’s hard to say he hasn’t kept his promises," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
A Democratic strategist fretted "we're going to drive right into the ocean" if the data was accurate about the electorate's attitude toward Democrats.
Also, liberal policy proposals like Medicaid for all, a $15 minimum wage, and free college tuition "test poorly among voters outside their base." Those in the polls and focus groups look at such ideas as empty promises, according to the report.
The call for free college is particularly unpopular:
The call for free college tuition fosters both resentment at ivory tower elitism and regret from people who have degrees but are now buried under debt. Many voters see "free" as a lie — either they’ll end up paying for tuition some other way, or worse, they’ll be paying the tuition of someone else who’ll be getting a degree for free.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Gerstein Bocian Agne Strategies conducted online polling of 1,000 Democrats and 1,000 swing voters across 52 swing districts for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Their advice to candidates afterward: Drop the talk of free college. Instead, the firms urged Democrats to emphasize making college more affordable and reducing debt, as well as job skills training, according to an internal DCCC memo.
"When Democrats go and talk to working-class voters, we think talking to them about how we can help their children go to college, they have a better life, is great," said Ali Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, which supports Democratic House candidates. "They are not interested. … It’s a problem when you have a growing bloc in the electorate think that college is not good, and they actually disdain folks that go to college."
Democrats enjoy an advantage with voters on the issue of health care, with voters saying they prefer Obamacare to be fixed and trusting the party more than the Republicans on the issue. Trump, however, still holds the upper hand on immigration and trade.
Despite Trump's historically low approval ratings given his administration is less than a year old, Democratic leaders say simply running against him does not look like a recipe for success.
Democrats did so successfully in 2008 when both President George W. Bush and the Iraq War were unpopular, but it's not as simple now.
"It may have worked then," said former Rep. Steve Israel, the DCCC chair in the 2012 and 2014 cycles. "I’m not sure it’s going to work now, because the middle class is clamoring for help. Just saying we’re not Trump isn’t going to help."