The Democrats’ election performance was disappointing.  

Not only did Joe Biden’s narrower-than-expected victory not coincide with the down-ballot blue wave that Democrats anticipated, but it is also clear that Donald Trump would have been reelected, most likely easily, if not for the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn that followed. 

The first in-depth post-election poll – which was conducted among 1,000 national respondents on Nov. 8-9, 2020, by our firm, Schoen Cooperman Research (SCR) in order to lend an explanation to Democrats’ relatively poor election performance – reveals that voters view the Democratic party as too left-wing and out-of-touch. Yet, the Republican party is seen as striking a more appropriate balance, and as ideologically closer to the electorate. 


Despite the structural challenges facing Trump in the election, the perception of the Democratic party’s leftward movement and the relative weakness of the Democrats’ economic message, as well as the relative strength of the Republican message, proved to be a stronger force than most pre-election polls accounted for.  

Indeed, the election results taken together with SCR’s survey findings show that it was the Democratic party’s leftward movement – and with it, the Democrats’ focus on social and cultural issues at the expense of economic issues – that represents a clear drag on their level of support and a potential problem going forward for the party both in governing and in the 2022 midterm elections.    


Thus, the Democrats need to find their way back to the center, reestablish themselves as the party of working people, and return to a pro-economic growth, moderate agenda. If not, the party will be on track to lose big in the 2022 midterm elections – and in many more elections to come.  

Accordingly, a majority (62%) of SCR’s survey respondents take Biden’s likely victory as a mandate for centrist policies, compromise and coming together with Republicans; as opposed to a mandate for Biden to pursue progressive policies (28%).  

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Even stronger majorities of Republicans (74%) and Independents (64%) support this notion that Biden’s probable win is a mandate for centrism, while both groups largely reject the idea that Biden should pursue a progressive agenda. 

However, it is not certain that the Biden campaign apparatus and indeed the party have integrated this message. On last Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, made a statement to the opposite effect, declaring that Biden would “make good on [his] commitments” to pursue an “incredibly progressive agenda.” 

Yet, SCR’s survey shows that a plurality (39%) of voters already believes the Democratic party’s agenda is too left-wing, while less than 3-in-10 (29%) voters believe the Republican agenda is too right-wing. All the while, a plurality (43%) believes that the Republican agenda strikes an appropriate balance.  

To this end, our survey findings also reveal that Democratic candidates were hurt by their party’s associations with far-left attitudes and movements –  in particular, the movement to defund the police. 

By a 12-point margin, 35% to 23%, respondents said that the movements across the country to defund the police made them less likely to vote for Democrats. Likewise, by a 12-point margin, 32% to 20%, respondents said that these movements made them more likely to vote for Republicans. 

We also found that more than two-thirds (68%) agreed with moderate Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s assertion that “defund the police movements and misguided talks of socialism hurt [the Democrats] in many races and even cost them many elections.” 

Our findings additionally suggest that most voters believe that Democrats focus too much on social and cultural issues – largely at the expense of economic issues.

Our findings additionally suggest that most voters believe that Democrats focus too much on social and cultural issues – largely at the expense of economic issues.  

In SCR’s poll, nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents agreed with former Sen. Claire McCaskill that, “instead of focusing on social issues and cultural issues, Democrats need to get back to kitchen table issues, focus on helping people take care of their families and stop acting like they’re smarter than everyone else.” 

Further, according to exit poll data from Edison Research, Trump won 82% of the vote among the 35% of the electorate that named the economy as its top priority. And in SCR’s post-election poll, by a 5-point margin, 49% to 44%, voters believed that Trump would do a better job of rebuilding the economy. 

Taken together, our findings reveal that, if Biden and the Democratic leadership advance a left-wing progressive agenda to appease the far-left – one that centers on social and cultural progressive causes, at the expense of pro-growth economic policies – the Democrats could suffer a historic defeat in the 2022 midterm elections.   

Midterm elections are already traditionally weak for the party of the president. According to Gallup polling, in midterm elections since 1946, the average loss for the president's party is 25 U.S. House seats, and presidents with an approval below 50% see their party lose an average of 37 House seats. 

The Democrats must govern with this in mind, especially given that the ideological balance of the electorate already tilts conservative. A plurality (37%) of respondents in SCR’s survey self-identified as conservative and a similar share considered themselves to be moderate (36%), while less than one-quarter (24%) self-identified as liberal.  


In addition, respondents preferred that the candidates who were elected this year pursue right-leaning policies (45%), rather than left-leaning policies (31%) while in office. 

Thus, it is our hope that the Democrats’ move to the middle begins with the new administration. Ultimately, the election results and our polling suggest strongly that Biden must enter office with a mandate to work across the aisle with Republicans on an economic stimulus, immigration reform, health care reform, and a national response to the coronavirus.  


Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are partners of Schoen Cooperman Research, a public opinion and research firm. 

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