OPINION — “I can’t get no satisfaction,” sang Mick Jagger. Apparently, neither can the majority of the country’s voters. So says our latest Winning the Issues survey, conducted May 31-June 1.
“Are you satisfied or not satisfied with what the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has done so far?” That was the neutral question we asked voters in the survey, trying to get a handle on just how the new Democrat-led house is doing. In essence, we were asking people to rate whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her new majority had met their expectations in these first six months.
It’s not a report card you’d want your child to bring home.
Starting with the overall electorate, our survey found 51 percent of voters said they were not satisfied with the Democrats, while only 34 percent, roughly the Democratic base, said they were satisfied. Not good news for Democrats.
The breakdown of the vote is more alarming. Not surprisingly, Republicans weren’t happy with the Democrat-controlled House, with 19 percent satisfied and 72 percent not satisfied. What we didn’t expect to see was 26 percent of Democrats unhappy with what their party has done to date.
Democrats seem to be experiencing the same curse that plagued the Republican majorities of the past decade — a significant portion of their party base has greater expectations than their leadership can deliver. For Republicans, it was the failure to get rid of Obamacare. For Democrats, it is the failure to get rid of Donald Trump or pass “Medicare for All.”
But the most worrying number for Democrats is the dissatisfaction of independents with the Democratic House majority. Independent voters said they weren’t satisfied 22-59 percent (satisfied vs. not satisfied) with the Democrats’ first six months in control. In the 2018 election, Democrats won this important group by 12 points, a key to their victory then and likely just as crucial to maintaining their majority in 2020.
This poll clearly shows independents are not happy. And the critical suburban women’s vote? Only 36 percent of suburban women said they were satisfied with the Democrats’ first six months, while 43 percent said they weren’t.
Another way to understand what this question tells us is to look more specifically at the key voter groups who flipped the House by voting for the Democratic candidate in the 2018 congressional elections.
Where are they now in terms of their vote? Are they satisfied consumers or suffering buyer’s remorse?
Overall, those who voted Democratic in 2018 are satisfied with the Democratic House majority by 56-27 percent, but among two of the crucial groups that formed their majority coalition — independents and women — the satisfaction level was lower.
Both of these groups made the difference in the outcome of that election, but six months into the new majority, barely half of female voters who voted for congressional Democratic candidates (53 percent) are satisfied with what they have seen. Remember, these are only women who voted Democratic, not all women.
In terms of independents who voted Democratic, we see only a neutral response in this survey, with 40-42 percent satisfied vs. unsatisfied.
These lukewarm levels of satisfaction likely relate to what voters are seeing and hearing from congressional Democrats. Although Democrats made health care the centerpiece of their campaigns last year, they have spent very little of their time in the majority focusing on the issue.
This is especially true when compared to their nonstop focus on the president and related investigations. Voters told us the message they’ve heard most from congressional Democrats has been all about impeachment of the president (19 percent heard), followed by the Mueller investigation/report (14 percent) and allegations of Trump ties to Russia (12 percent). Their most positive message was the Affordable Care Act and health care, but only 5 percent of the electorate reported hearing it.
Digging down a little further, the survey also shows that voters in congressional districts that flipped from Republican to Democrat aren’t satisfied either, with 28 percent satisfied and 57 percent not. And the Rust Belt? Only slightly better for Democrats, with 31 percent saying they are satisfied, while 47 percent said they can’t “get no satisfaction.”
Even a third of voters who disapprove of Trump aren’t happy with House Democrats. Forty-six percent said they were satisfied, while 34 percent were not. Think about that. Even among people who dislike Trump, Democrats couldn’t manage a majority of “satisfied customers.”
These weak numbers should set off alarm bells not just for House Democrats but senatorial and presidential candidates as well.
The ability to manage expectations is one of the most important attributes of any political leader. With the pro-impeachment hounds nipping at her heels almost daily, dominating the media coverage, Nancy Pelosi is forced to operate and legislate in an almost constant state of insurgency — not unlike the environment John Boehner and Paul Ryan faced. But voters aren’t in the market for excuses when it comes to promises made and kept.
One survey doesn’t give us all the answers, but it can give us a read on the political state of play and where the electorate is at. Most voters are a long way from making up their minds on how they’ll vote 18 months from now, and when they do, they won’t be voting in a vacuum.
If you’re not satisfied with a product, how likely are you to buy it again?
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.
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