A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 6 in 10 Democrats say they're optimistic about their party's future, and Democrats nearly universally -- 92% -- approve of the way Biden is handling his job. Both moderates and liberals view the Democratic president favorably.
The party is split over which strategy will work best to achieve its goals. Around half of Democrats believe they should compromise with Republicans even if that means giving up some things they desire. Half of the other side believe Democrats should hold firm to their positions, even if that means finding a way for laws to be passed without Republican support.
These numbers show a division on Capitol Hill. Biden and other Democratic leaders prioritise a bipartisan infrastructure bill above other Democratic initiatives that are less likely to be negotiated -- such as voting rights and immigration. Even though Biden has been criticised for his strategy, the numbers show that even disgruntled Democrats don't have a problem with him.
Anjanette Anderson (47-year-old Democrat from Fort Walton Beach in Florida) said, "He's set an agenda that, if he succeeds," will help move us forward so much, and most people."
Anderson said that party leaders should not allow Republican opposition to slow them down. She said that the recent years have been a struggle for Republicans to cooperate across the aisle. Democrats will need to push if we want to keep moving in the direction that benefits the many, not the few.
The strong support for Biden and the two-thirds of Democrats stating that the country is heading in the right direction, 53% of Democrats said they were pessimistic about U.S. political policies generally. Only 27% of respondents say they are optimistic and 19% have neither.
Interviews with Democratic voters show those concerns are rooted in a deep distrust of Republicans, especially in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump as Congress convened to certify Biden's victory.
Those Democrats cast the GOP as a threat to democracy. They cited the obstruction by Republicans of federal election and voting rights bills and the absence of GOP participation to an official inquiry into Jan. 6 insurrection. The struggle to pass an infrastructure program was also mentioned. However, a bipartisan breakthrough could be possible.
Anderson stated that "we could have another Jan.6 kind of event" following the next presidential election. Or we could just have states that say, "Hey, we know what our people voted but we're going give our electoral votes anyway." That would be scary.
This poll is coming after a relatively honeymoon period during Biden's presidency. Democrats passed nearly $2 trillion in pandemic response packages without Republican votes. The administration, working together with state governments, significantly increased distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that were developed during Trump's presidency.
Democrats interviewed by the AP cited those accomplishments, along with displacing Trump's bombastic leadership style, as reasons for their optimism about the party.
Diana Hilburn, 56, is a resident of College Park, Georgia. She praised the American Rescue Plan's health insurance assistance.
"I was able to get on an exchange plan because of that," she said, recounting how she lost health insurance after being laid off as an Atlanta airport shuttle driver at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. Because Georgia, one of twelve Republican-run states, has not expanded Medicaid since 2010, when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act, she was not eligible for Medicaid.
Hilburn isn't yet rehired as a driver, but she's optimistic about the long-term economy and Democrats' management of it. She warned that there is no guarantee of success for all Americans.
"Everything is picking up, however, so many places want $9 an hour, $10 per hour -- and my rent can go up to $650 per month. She spoke out about the Clayton County businesses that she knows.
Hilburn believes that Democrats shouldn't waste time trying to reach a compromise with Republicans in Congress. She pointed out that Democrats want to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour, but face GOP opposition, and that many Republican governors, such as hers, have suspended weekly unemployment insurance increases Congress approved during the pandemic.
"Do what they've done to us. Just move it through," said Hilburn, noting Sen. Mitch McConnell's success in blocking Democratic priorities as minority leader and speeding through judicial confirmations when he had a GOP Senate majority. Hilburn stated that voters "will understand" any Democratic turnaround.
Eric Staab (a 43-year old Democrat who teaches highschool government in Topeka Kansas) advocates for a more peaceful approach.
Staab said, "We're just that angry, divided and partisan." He said that Democratic leaders should have "hard deadlines" to "good-faith negotiation," but added that they must "put out the olive branch."
Democrats are still positive about the party's leadership at Capitol Hill. Aside from high ratings for Biden's leadership, 81% of Democrats favor Vice President Kamala Harris. They are more likely to be favorable than unfavorable about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (67 to 23%) and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (53%-16%).
Party faithful, meanwhile, more harshly assess Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who opposes changing the Senate filibuster rule that allows Republicans to block any bill that doesn't have 60 votes. About a third of Democrats see Manchin negatively, while only 2 out 10 have a positive opinion. Half the respondents say that they don't have enough information to comment.
Walter Russell, Olanta, South Carolina said, "It's one and the same to watch the Republicans doing this, but now Joe Manchin out there basically supporting them," referring to the blocking of Democrats' agenda.
Russell, a 70-year-old veteran of the military, described himself as moderate but claimed that the GOP has escalated opposition to unacceptable levels. He said, "I don’t understand why Manchin doesn’t see that."
Baron Walker, a Davisville-born Democrat, summarized the political calculations on which Democrats depend in Manchin's state: Democratic voters won't be blamed first.
Walker is critical of Manchin, but more so of Republicans. Lies about the results of the 2020 elections have done "lasting damage" to democracy, he said.
He said, "There are so many conspiracy theories surrounding everything."
Walker stated that he believes Manchin is the best option for West Virginia, regardless of how disappointed he feels. Walker stated that he doesn't see any scenario in which he would vote for anything other than Democrat, even if it meant staying home.