Poll: Democratic Party less popular than Trump

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee D-Texas, left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., right, and other members of Congress, hold small candles aloft in front of the Supreme Court during a news conference about President Donald Trump's recent executive orders, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As Democrats were mounting their resistance to President Trump's first major legislative initiative, an overhaul of the Obama-era healthcare law, a new national poll was released by Suffolk University showing that the opposition party had some of the lowest approval ratings.

November 8, 2016, was the ultimate poll, and it saw Democrats lose the House, the Senate, the White House and seats in state houses across the country. But after Trump's first fifty days in office, the latest poll showed there was no rebound for Democrats. Donald Trump, who currently ranks as the most unpopular president in modern American history polled nine points ahead of the Democratic Party. And disapproval of Democrats was four points higher than Republicans.

Adding insult to injury, a new book is trending as's #1 best-seller titled, "Reasons to Vote for Democrats" by Michael Knowles. What is the book about? About 266 pages of blank paper.

"It took a very long time to research this book," Knowles admitted in a Fox News interview. "When I observed their record and reasons to vote for them — on reasons of economics or foreign policy or homeland security or civil rights and so on — I realized it was probably best to just leave all the pages blank."

When President Obama was leaving office, he touted his achievements over eight years. The economy had bounced back from the Great Recession and added 15 million new jobs, more Americans had health care coverage than ever before, the stock market had tripled in value, and the poverty rate fell.

"In other words, by so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started," Obama said at his final White House press conference. The Democratic Party, however, had been decimated.

The Democrats began hemorrhaging seats in 2010, losing their majority in the House, and losing 680 seats in state legislative races. By 2016, the Democrats had lost a total of 1,042 seats at the state and federal level. In the presidential race, Trump made a clean sweep across the vast majority of counties, including in states pollsters expected would vote Democrat.

Sinclair Broadcast Group caught up with Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) at the Capitol, a leader in the House Progressive Caucus and the new deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Ellison lost a close election last month for the top DNC leadership position to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.

Asked what the Democrats need to do in order to rebuild their base of popular support, Ellison responded that the party needs to more effectively get across its message and its policy positions. "Over the last several years we have not consistently made it absolutely crystal clear that we are waveringly on the side of working Americans," he said. "And anytime a billionaire with a bad labor record can say: jobs, fair trade and infrastructure and they believe him more than they believe us, that's bad."

Since losing the election, many news stories have been written about the Democrats suffering an identity crisis. But many forgot that the Republicans had their own identity crisis throughout the election process. Out of the sixteen Republican presidential candidates who sought their party's nomination, all but one marketed themselves to voters as representing mainstream conservative ideas. And so there was Trump.

"They all got beat by someone who had never held office before. Maybe they need to do some soul-searching on that point," Ellison recommended. "I think both parties need to figure out the impact of income inequality over the last four decades and the impact of globalization on the average working American. Both do."

The DNC's selection of Ellison to be the second in command is part of the 2017 shake-up in the party's leadership. In the Senate, the Democrats tried to broaden their appeal by bringing into leadership positions people who were formerly seen only at the fringes of the party. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-declared Democratic socialist who was snubbed by the party during his bid for president last year, was brought onto the leadership team, along with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, of West Virginia.

On the House side, the party's leadership was more entrenched and kept Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in the top leadership seat. She was challenged by the congressman from Youngstown, Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan, who was defeated when a large majority of his colleagues voted to keep the status quo.

"We have a brand that's not connecting to average working class people," Ryan said of his party's fall from grace. "Our brand is really bad and we're scattered. We're not focused and that is why we are where we are."

Even as Democrats look to reinvent themselves under the futuristic banner of "America 2.0," there are others in the party who see their colleagues getting distracted from their core issues every time President Trump signs in to his Twitter account.

"For Democrats, I think one of our challenges has been feeling like we have to respond to a Trump tweet every single day," said Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). "He says so many things that are off, that are false ... There's just a lot of things that are diverting everybody's attention."

There is no doubt that the loss of the blue collar vote hurt Democrats in 2016, along with a completely absent ground-game in the formerly industrial Midwest, where Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. One of the messages that resonated with voters was the idea that the entire political system was "rigged," specifically that the people in Washington were doing the bidding of lobbyists, special interests and big campaign contributors, not working for the people.

The role of money in politics is something that the Democrats have to deal with because it has had an effect on their policy agenda, as well as the agenda of the Republicans, said Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.).

"I think the perception by Americans that this place is rigged is an accurate perception," DeSaulnier said. He continued that he sees both the left and the right in succumbing to the influences of big money, and that has affected both party's policy decisions.

"The real problem is how we raise money in this country to get elections," he said. "And until we get at that, I think the Trump phenomenon is something people are focused on when the real problem is this connection with money and politics."

The co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) agreed that the Democratic Party has a kind of split personality, between progressives on one side and the establishment Democrats who have tended to focus on fundraising goals and courting big contributors.

"I think sometimes we're a little tepid, we're a little risk averse," he said, explaining that the party shouldn't be afraid to take on corporate America. "They need to pay their fair share. I don't think we should be afraid to say tax cuts on top of tax cuts for the wealthiest one or two percent of this country makes no economic sense."

The big concern is that if the party doesn't adopt a bolder message, especially on the populist economic platform that prompted many former Democrats to support Trump and many Independents to support Bernie Sanders, then the party is destined to be in the minority.

"Sometimes, in order to galvanize people, you have to go out on a limb. Our reluctance to go out on a limb has hurt us," Grijalva said.

President Obama, in one of his last final interviews on NBC in January, reflected on his role in the 2016 election. "I had trouble transferring my personal popularity or support to the broader cause of the Democratic Party," he said. Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, despite standing side by side with the president whose popularity was hovering around 50 percent, just didn't have that "it" factor that the Republicans had with the Manhattan billionaire turned reality-TV star.

"Celebrity matters," Ellison said, reflecting on his home state of Minnesota which elected pro-wrestler Jessie "the Body" Venture as governor. "It's an unfortunate reality, but it's a reality."

But even star status will only get a person so far. "We have got to sharpen our message, focus it," he said, adding that sometimes even messaging by politicians is overrated. "We all make decisions not on what do you say, but what do you do. Our policy needs to match our message and if it doesn't, it runs us into problems."

Democrats have already begun thinking about the next election season, with a heavy focus on their ground game making sure they are broadcasting their message in as many counties as possible.

Lois Frankel was optimistic about the party's future, saying no one should "panic" because the 2018 elections are around the corner. "I think in the end, we will prevail," she said smiling. "Otherwise, I'll just be here for the resistance."

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