By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Curiosity did not kill the cat, as my old history teacher remarked; the fault lies with complacency. I used this phrase at the start of the month when discussing what the Democrats stand for in the Trumpian era - and how it will affect their chances in the November midterms. And it seems all the more relevant now as the party looks beyond taking control of the House, and positions itself in the battle for the White House.
The midterm elections will act as a barometer for the feeling of the country as they take to the ballots. There was supposed to be a blue wave coming, in response to Trump and his chaotic administration, but it could very well turn into a trickle.
According to a new CNN poll, the Democrats' edge over Republicans is continuing to tighten - falling within the poll's margin of sampling error for the first time this cycle. With around six months to go until the midterms, 47 per cent of registered voters say they back the Democratic candidate in their district, whilst 44 per cent back the Republican. The Democrats' advantage in the generic congressional ballot has dipped from 16 points in February to six points in March and to just three points now.
This should be a cause for concern. The 2018 midterms could impact the result of the 2020 presidential race. One of the biggest messages they will need to win is the state of the economy. The Hill reports that Democrats are growing worried about the strong economy - and more importantly, Donald Trump's messaging about his "economic stewardship". If voters are swayed by the president's message, it could "help Republicans in this year's midterm elections and have an even greater impact in 2020".
The performance of the economy is one of the four crucial variables, listed by the New York Magazine, that will affect the 2020 race. The other crucial variables include: the Russia investigation; the identity of the Democratic nominee; and the possibility of intra-party opposition - where incumbent presidents are badly damaged by primary opposition without his own party.
The Democrats cannot afford to put just anybody up for their presidential nomination. NBC News observe that there is a "comforting, yet dangerous, fantasy [that] pervades liberal thought": nearly any other Democrat could have beaten Trump. Their line of thought means that if they run a different candidate in 2020, the contest will somehow be assured.
NBC disagrees: "Donald Trump was and is an unusual candidate with a lot of unprecedented liabilities, for certain, but he also had some real strengths. Beating him as an incumbent president will require facing the latter head-on, not simply fixating on the former."
The voting demographics are shifting favourably towards the Democrats, but the party should still be concerned. FiveThirtyEight examines a new project of the voting population, and argues it "shows demographic problems for Republicans and Electoral College problems for Democrats".
They break down the eligible voting population for 2020 into this:
44 per cent white people without college degrees (down from 46 percent in 2016)
23 per cent white people with college degrees (compared to 22 percent in 2016)
13 per cent black people (12 percent in 2016)
13 per cent Latinos (12 percent in 2016)
8 per cent people who are either Asian or another race or ethnicity that is not black, white or Latino (7 percent in 2016)
"Those numbers are good for Democrats and bad for Republicans in the sense that parts of the electorate that are expected to increase by 2020 (non-whites and white people with college degrees) are generally much more supportive of Democrats," they write.
If you were to rerun the 2016 election with the 2020 numbers, the small increases in the number of minorities and college-educated voters would turn Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from narrow GOP wins to narrow Democrat wins. Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College if she had carried those three states.
Again, there is no room for complacency. This does not automatically sway the presidential election in the Democrats' favour. In fact, the study reveals that the Democrats need to do a better job wooing white working-class voters from Trump, and getting more black people to vote.
There is still a long way to the 2020 presidential election, and a lot of work for the Democrats to do. The first big test will be the midterms in November. Complacency killed the cat, and it could very well kill the Democrats' electoral hopes if they are not too careful.