In an interview with CNN Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the Democratic Party's brand is "pretty bad," and acknowledged that the party needs to articulate a clear alternative vision for America, rather than simply opposing President Trump.
"I speak as the longest serving independent in American congressional history: The Democratic brand is pretty bad," Sanders told Anderson Cooper on Friday. "I think the Trump brand is also pretty bad, as is the Republican brand. That's why so many people are giving up on politics."
Although Sanders is not a member of the Democratic Party (he calls himself a Democratic Socialist, though he is officially an independent), he does caucus with Democrats in the Senate, giving him a somewhat unique vantage point on this issue.
According Huffington Post's polling average, the Democratic Party is viewed unfavorably by 49.7 percent of Americans and favorably by just 38.1 percent of Americans as of June 6. That's a popularity deficit of about 10 points, and an overall popularity of less than 40 percent. Gallup found that the Democratic Party's favorability has actually fallen since the election, dropping from 45 percent to 40 percent between November and May. These numbers are indeed, as Sanders put it, "pretty bad."
This isn't to say that the Republican Party is faring any better in the public eye. In fact, it's faring a little bit worse. Gallup has the GOP at 39 percent favorability as of mid-May, while Huffington Post's average has the Republican Party's favorability at just 33 percent, compared with 55.9 percent unfavorable. That's a gap of more than 20 points, twice as big as the Democratic Party's deficit.
Despite some small differences in popularity between the parties, one thing is clear: Nobody in Washington is very popular these days. Democrats, Republicans, and Trump are all in the same ballpark favorability-wise, and it's not a very nice ballpark.
"They're looking at Washington, and what the average American is saying is, 'I'm in a lot of pain. My kid can't afford to go to college. I'm making ten bucks an hour,'" Sanders told Cooper on Thursday. "'What are you going to do for me?' And they don't hear much coming out of Washington." Cooper then said that Democrats seem to be having a hard time proposing an affirmative agenda that isn't simply an anti-Trump agenda, a proposition with which Sanders agreed.
Democrats appear to be in a similar place to where Republicans were four years ago as the opposition party. During Barack Obama's first term, the GOP was often criticized for lacking an ideological vision of its own and, instead, simply opposing everything that Obama did. Many critics saw the Republican Party as the "party of no," and doubted that knee-jerk opposition to the president was a winning strategy.
It was a winning strategy, however: Republicans won huge in the 2010 midterms. But considering the special election losses it's sustained since Trump's inauguration, the Democratic Party's agenda of opposing Trump has thus far appeared less effective.