New polling indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the Democratic Party does not stand for anything other than opposing President Donald Trump. The data indicates that Democrats will have to formulate a compelling message if they want to capitalize on the president's own low approval rating and retake the House majority in 2018.
On July 17, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 36 percent of national adults approved of Trump's job performance while 58 percent disapproved. Meanwhile, the survey also indicated that his opposition is facing their own share of problems.
The poll found that only 37 percent of respondents believed that the Democracy Party stood for something while 52 percent said it only stood against Trump. Among registered voters, 35 percent said that Democrats had a message while 54 percent said their only message was that they were not the polarizing president, The Washington Post reports.
Following the 2016 presidential election, Democrats were in dire electoral shape. The party had lost the White House, remained the minority in both chambers of Congress, controlled only 18 state legislatures and only 17 governorships, according to Daily Kos.
Democratic lawmakers have been tussling with how the party can move forward after such a dispiriting defeat. The broad consensus has been that the party must find a new message to regain control of government, although different factions have disagreed over what that message should be.
On June 25, the Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, asserted that his party could not count on Trump's potential unpopularity come 2018 in order to win back seats.
"People don't like Trump; he's at 40 percent [approval rating]," Schumer told ABC News. "But they say, 'What the heck do the Democrats stand for?' We better stand for something, and it can't be baby steps."
Several Democratic lawmakers have called for a fiercer focus on economic issues. On June 21, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut accused his colleagues of allowing the GOP to dominate economic messaging.
"Everything Democrats talk about when it comes to the economy has to be more: higher wages, more college education to get better job, lower taxes for folks we’re targeting," Murphy told MSNBC. "I just think we have to be hyper-focused on wage growth and job growth and don’t get scared off by that message just because it’s been what Republicans have been talking about."
The 2016 Democratic primary also created a schism between supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. On July 7, Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona expressed concern that this divide would make it impossible for the party to form a coherent message.
"We are rapidly losing our ability to cohere around a formula that everyone -- whatever his or her feelings about Clinton, Sanders, James Comey or any other public figure -- can reproduce to regain a governing majority," Grijalva wrote in an editorial for Time.
On July 16, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, asserted that his party members were aware of their messaging problem.
"That message is being worked on," Crowley told The Associated Press. "We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that’s coming together now."
While Democrats attempt to reconcile their internal disagreements, the party leadership has signaled an understanding that voters will not flock to them purely out of antipathy toward Trump.
"Democrats would make a mistake if we thought pounding Trump and not having an authentic message of our own is a winning strategy," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. "The message of Democrats has to be about issues that matter to people at their kitchen table."
Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez concluded: "The Democratic Party needs to up its game."