WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: The Senate side of the US Capitol is shown October 11, 2016 in Washington DC. House and Senate Republicans are in a close race with Democrats to keep control of both houses of Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(CNN)There’s lots of bad poll numbers out there for President Donald Trump these days. He has historically low job approval ratings, and nearly 6 in 10 voters believe he lacks the judgment or personality to be an effective president, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
What the focus on Trump’s numbers misses, however, is that Democrats aren’t in a great place with voters either.
One number in the Post-ABC poll really stood out to me as something that should worry Democrats pondering the party’s future: Asked whether the Democratic Party is in touch with the concerns of the average person, just 28% of respondents said it is — as opposed to 67% who said Democrats are out of touch. Those numbers are worse than the “in touch/out of touch” numbers for either the Republican Party or Trump in that same poll.
More amazing to me is that only 52% of self-identified Democrats said their party was in touch with peoples’ concerns, while 44% said it was out of touch. (Also of concern for Democrats: Fewer than 1 in 5 independents — 18% — said the Democratic Party was in touch with the average person.)
Those numbers — particularly among Democrats — are striking. Party leaders in Washington have positioned the party as the voice of the little guy since the earliest days of the Trump presidency: Their side would be the one to stand up for the disenfranchised people in the country whose lives Trump neither cared about nor even thought much about.
As evidence of the organic groundswell behind this idea, Democrats touted the successes of things like Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “nevertheless she persisted” moment with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor. Twelve million people watched Warren reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on Facebook Live! Republicans were on the ropes, courtesy of a populist punch-out!
The problem with that conclusion is exposed in the numbers above. Yes, there are lots and lots of Democrats who support Warren, buy “nevertheless, she persisted” T-shirts and wear them proudly. But that doesn’t mean the party can automatically be assumed to be the voice of “the people.”
What it also means is that Trump’s election isn’t a panacea for the Democratic Party. While it’s easier to attribute the party’s 2016 loss to stated (and unstated) racism and sexism in the country — and there was some of that! — that analysis absolves Democrats of the sort of internal review the party badly needs.
Consider this: A billionaire businessman raised in New York City was able to successfully cast his Democratic opponent as the candidate of the elites in this country. How? Because there was already a preconceived notion within the populace that Democrats were coastal snobs — shopping at Whole Foods, sending their kids to private school and viewing the rest of the country with utter disdain. That sentiment still very much exists in the country.
It’s possible that even if Democrats do nothing between now and the 2018 election, they will make major gains in Congress — and could well end up in the House majority in early 2019.
But that won’t solve the existential problem facing the party which, simply put, is this: Most people don’t think Democrats “get” them.