New 2020 Election Retrospective from Third Way, The Collective PAC, and Latino Victory Reveals Challenges and Opportunities for Democrats

Six-Month Project the most Extensive Review Yet of 2020 Congressional Races

Washington, D.C. – Third Way, The Collective PAC, and Latino Victory today announced the results of their major review of the 2020 House and Senate races. The study, conducted by Lynda Tran and Marlon Marshall, included nearly 150 interviews as well as a deep dive into the polling and voter file data, tv and digital advertising, and other aspects of key 2020 campaigns. The project sponsors and staff consulted throughout the process with Members and staff from the New Democrat Coalition, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as staff from the NewDem Action Fund, CBC  PAC, CHC BOLD PAC, and ASPIRE PAC, among countless others with deep knowledge of how these campaigns were run.

Third Way EVP Matt Bennett said the review was not a classic “post-mortem,” because Democrats did end up with the White House and narrow majorities in both Congressional chambers. Rather, he said “the purpose was to answer the main question for Democrats in the wake of 2020: ‘Given the big win at the top of the ticket, why didn’t House and Senate Democrats do as well as had been expected?’”

The study offers a data-driven look at what worked well for Democrats running for Congress in 2020 and some of the challenges they faced. The team leading it produced an extensive report. Its main findings can be summarized as follows:

  • Voters of color are persuasion voters who need to be convinced: Despite historic turnout, even where Black voters were key to Democratic successes in 2020, the data show a drop-off in support for the Party compared to previous cycles. As worrying, drop-off among Latino and AAPI voters fueled losses in key races. 
  • Republican attempts to brand Democrats as “radicals” worked, including with key voters of color: In many districts where “defund the police” or “socialism” was a continued GOP drumbeat, there was a higher share of Black/Latino/AAPI voters who supported Republicans.
  • Polling was a huge problem – even after 2016 adjustments: Polling failed to reach the right people – especially white, non-college voters – and the methodology changes made after 2016 led to an overly optimistic map, with the Party chasing races that were not really in play.
  • COVID-19 affected everything: The pandemic changed voter outreach and health care conversations, and many Democrats missed the opportunity to talk about the need to get COVID under control through an economic lens as the cycle progressed.
  • Year-round organizing worked, as did cross-Party collaboration: But races that did not have the benefit of longer-term infrastructure investments – voter registration, continual in-person organizing, and local outreach – underperformed most.
  • Democrats’ hopes for 2020 were just too high: Although more Americans turned out to vote than in any other election in 120 years, this extraordinary turnout and excitement about the presidential election benefited Republicans in some places and Democrats in others, contrary to common assumptions that new voters are primarily progressive.

In the interviews, some common themes emerged. One was that developing a strong candidate identity, coupled with a clear vision for growing the economy, will help battle ongoing Republican efforts to paint Democrats as radicals. These attacks were effective with both candidates of color and white candidates, and with swing voters across racial demographics as well. The study found the attacks were best countered when Democrats established a positive story about their biography early and where campaigns responded directly to GOP lies.

Collective PAC Founder and President Quentin James and Senior Advisor Stefanie Brown James said, “While we may have saved our democracy in 2020, we didn’t do as well as we should have. This post-election analysis confirms what The Collective PAC has known for a while – Black voters are not a monolith. We need to be treated as persuasion voters and there needs to be early and ongoing engagement. Democrats must seriously address this problem while we still have time.”

“The report results reflect opportunities for Democrats to build on our successes in 2020 and create an even more robust strategy for victory in 2022 and 2024,” said Nathalie Rayes, Latino Victory President and CEO. “While the turnout among Latino voters sky-rocketed by 30 percent, and they voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, there’s still ample space for Democrats and allied organizations to create a long-term engagement strategy that includes early investment coupled with culturally competent messaging. We need to stop telling Latinos to vote. We need to give them a reason to vote—something to vote for— in order to earn their votes.”

“This report once again highlights the centrality of voters of color to the Democratic coalition and the critical role that Latino voters play in Democratic victories up and down the ballot,” said CHC BOLD PAC Chairman Ruben Gallego. “But it also serves as a reminder that how campaigns engage with them makes all the difference. Latinos are not a monolithic community — we are multi-faceted and approach different issues in different ways. Campaigns need to treat Latino voters with the same nuance and thoughtfulness they give to other communities. That’s the only way to keep winning Latino support, which will be absolutely critical to defending the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate this cycle.”

“The CBCPAC is happy to contribute as thought partners for this important project,” said Yolonda Addison, CBCPAC Executive Director. “This post-election analysis is exactly the guide we need coming out of 2020. We should always be talking to our base voters, especially Black voters on why they should continue to vote for us. All votes are earned, not given.”

“As Chairman of the CBCPAC, it is my job to not only keep our current caucus Members but also expand and protect our House and Senate Majority. This analysis sharpens our toolbox and prepares us to do the hard work of earning the support of our voters in the midterm elections and demonstrate how we are the party of economic growth and self-determination,” said Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, CBCPAC Chairman.

A deck with the main findings of the study can be found here.

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