How Democrats are feeling about the midterm elections

Less than four months until midterm elections, Democrats are facing a series of headwinds on inflation, gun violence and abortion rights. A New York Times-Siena College poll just out shows 60 percent of voters, including a quarter of Democrats, disapprove of the job President Biden is doing. Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling group, joins Laura Barrón-López to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are now less than four months until the midterm elections in this country, and Democrats are facing a series of headwinds, from inflation, to gun violence to abortion rights, that are affecting the attitude of Democratic voters.

    Meantime, as we have reported, a new New York Times/Siena College poll out this week shows 60 percent of voters, including a quarter of Democrats, disapprove of the job President Biden's doing.

    Laura Barrón-López has more on that Democratic discontent.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Judy, despite the president's low approval ratings, that same poll shows the picture may not be as bleak for Democratic congressional candidates. Voters are evenly divided on which party should control Congress after the midterms.

    To discuss how Democrats are feeling about this election year, I'm joined by Celinda Lake. She is the president of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling group that regularly conducts focus groups with voters. She was also an adviser for President Biden's 2020 campaign.

    Celinda, thanks for joining us.

    Let's look beyond the numbers, because you're talking to Democrats and new voters in these focus groups. It's been three weeks since Roe was overturned. There's a new gun law. Why are President Biden's approval ratings stuck, while Democrats are starting to see favorable movement?

  • Celinda Lake, Democratic Pollster:

    Well, I think it's always slower. The presidential numbers are always slower to move. And the presidential numbers are very tied to the economy. And inflation is still a big problem.

    People don't expect their congressperson to solve the economy. They unrealistically do expect their president to solve his economy, including their own personal gas prices and the price for steak and their grocery store.

    So I think that, when you get to the congressional races, people are voting a lot more their local issues and what's happening in their states. They're voting things that are clear distinctions between the candidates. And there is no clearer distinction between the candidates right now than opinions on the overturning of Roe v. Wade and access to abortion and birth control for women.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    You mentioned Roe. And I wanted to ask you, what are voters saying about what appears to some within his party a cautious approach by President Biden in terms of executive actions to expand abortion access, as well as shield patients?

  • Celinda Lake:

    Well, voters don't see it as cautious. Voters actually see the president as being very vocal. And the vice president has been very vocal as well.

    And when — nothing's penetrating right now. There's so much noise out there. It's really hard to break through. But when you rely on what the president and the vice president have been doing, what they have said they're going to try to do, that they want to do away with the filibuster to codify Roe, that they are applying every lever at their disposal, people are pretty impressed with that agenda.

    People are worried about what they can do and what can still be done with this really dramatic and out-of-the-mainstream decision. And they want to ensure that people have access to abortion care, access to birth control, access to safe and legal and nonintrusive miscarriage care.

    And they're also worried about the slippery slope. They're worried about, what happens now to marriage equality? What happens to interracial marriage? Where are we going next?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    On another issue of inflation, which is a big issue for Democrats heading into the midterms, consumer prices are up 9.1 percent since last year, and that's driven by food prices up 12 percent. The cost of housing is up nearly 6 percent.

    Is this dragging down Democrats? And what do voters want them to do about it?

  • Celinda Lake:

    Well, voters want to hear from Democrats on it to begin with.

    Voters are very concerned when Democrats were saying this was going to be temporary inflation or transitional inflation. And voters would say things like, what planet are these economists living on? I'm not getting a transitory wage increase to deal with my transitory inflation.

    So the first thing is to recognize the problem. And you don't have a Democrat out there who's not articulate on this problem. And then using, again, all the tools at their disposal to deal with inflation, whether it's supply issues and baby formula, whether it's opening up petroleum reserves, whether it's going after price gouging on prescription drugs, they want action.

    But, in the end, I think that we can only battle to even on the economy. And then I think the winning issues in this fall are going to be things like gun violence and voting rights and Roe v. Wade.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    I want to cover two more quick topics with you, Celinda.

    The January 6 hearings have provided new evidence about former President Trump's efforts to pressure Justice Department officials, to even pressure his own vice president to overturn the 2020 election results. Are these revelations coming up in your focus groups with Democratic or independent voters?

  • Celinda Lake:

    They really are, and they're coming up with Democrats a lot.

    First of all, 65 percent of voters are aware of the hearings and at least aware of some of the findings from the hearings. And among independent voters, it's actually slightly higher. It's 71 percent. That is unheard of. You never have independents paying more attention than Democrats and Republicans to what's going on.

    Voters think it's a crime; 82 percent of voters want accountability. Independents and Democrats really want accountability. And they're furious about the will of the people being overturned.

    And January 6 is just the beginning. That attack on our country was the beginning of overturning elections, overturning the will of the people, overturning people's votes. And now we have Roe, overturning people's will there, with voters solidly opposing the decision.

    So this is a very big issue. And it's penetrated way more than anyone would have imagined.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Despite all of those issues that you just mentioned that could very well potentially motivate Democratic voters, recent polling shows that a majority of Democrats don't want President Biden to be the nominee in 2024.

    But are they naming any alternatives?

  • Celinda Lake:

    Oh, I think that those numbers are very flawed, honestly. It's a really silly question.

    In some ways — first of all, people are not naming alternatives. Secondly, Democrats give the president solidly positive job performance ratings, three-quarters or better. Thirdly, voters almost say it as in the sense of it's a really hard job, and maybe I will offer him a retirement, because it'll be easier on him, not that it'll be better for us.

    So those questions are extremely flawed. And I think what you will see is Democrats uniting behind Democrats, Democrats uniting behind the president, and supporting his agenda overwhelmingly.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Celinda Lake, thank you so much for joining us today.

  • Celinda Lake:

    Thank you so much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you, Laura.

    And we will be speaking with a Republican strategist about these and similar topics in coming days.

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