A new battery of battleground state polls from New York Times-Siena College reinforces what has been evident for a while now: A year out from the 2024 elections, Joe Biden is in real danger of losing the presidency to Donald Trump. He trails the 45th president in five of the six states that are almost certain to decide the 2024 election; Biden carried all of them in 2020. The surveys echo what Emerson College and Bloomberg-Morning Consult found last month in their own state surveys. The prospect of a successful Trump comeback can no longer be explained away as a media overreaction or a bad dream. It’s now at least even money that this terrifying man full of vengeful plans to ravage the federal government and every institution that has defied his will to power will return to the nation’s top office.
Ironically, the source of this looming potential defeat is that the elements of the electorate whose values are most distant from Trump’s are the least alarmed by what a second Trump administration might unleash. It’s the Democratic base of young and nonwhite voters that is Biden’s big problem, as Nate Cohn explains:
On question after question, the public’s view of the president has plummeted over the course of his time in office. The deterioration in Mr. Biden’s standing is broad, spanning virtually every demographic group, yet it yields an especially deep blow to his electoral support among young, Black and Hispanic voters, with Mr. Trump obtaining previously unimaginable levels of support with them.
Biden’s lead among nonwhite voters under the age of 45 in the battleground states is down to six points; he won them by 39 points in 2020. That’s calamitous. And beyond candidate preferences, these voters seem systemically alienated not just from Biden and the Democratic Party but from a host of civic institutions and the people who run them. Harvard Institute of Politics polling director John Della Volpe argues that millennials and Gen-Z Americans distrust older generations so deeply that engagement with contemporary politics is extremely difficult:
Today many young people see wars, problems and mistakes originating from the older generations in top positions of power and trickling down to harm those most vulnerable and least equipped to protect themselves. This is the fabric that connects so many young people today, regardless of ideology. This new generation of empowered voters is therefore asking across a host of issues: If not now, then when is the time for a new approach?
It’s not an ideal time for Democrats to be led by the oldest president in American history. And as Della Volpe notes, younger voters are showing robust interest in “new approaches” like those offered by crackpot conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
It’s a bit too late in Biden’s career for him to reinvent himself and his party in the kind of adventurous plunge to the populist left that might dislodge negative impressions of him, particularly among voters who aren’t paying much attention to political messaging or various indices of national well being. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear that Biden’s long, careful effort to convince unhappy Americans that they’ve never had it so good is failing; another year of boasts about “Bidenomics” will not overcome deeply entrenched perceptions that living standards are declining and economic insecurity is rising. Again, these perceptions are particularly evident among Democratic base voters, as Axios observes in its take on recent presidential polling:
Biden’s lead among Hispanics is in single digits in the six swing states polled (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). Democrats typically win among Hispanics by 30+ points.
A CBS News/YouGov poll out Sunday had a similarly worrisome finding for Democrats: “Hispanic voters are much likelier to say their finances would improve under Trump than Mr. Biden. And most Black voters do not expect their finances to change if Mr. Biden wins again.”
What’s happening: Hispanic ranchers, Mexican American oil workers and non-college-educated Latino voters are shifting measurably from Democrats, with potentially devastating electoral repercussions, reports Axios’ Russell Contreras, who has studied the Latino vote back to JFK’s victory in 1960.
Reasons include rural issues like opposition to protections for endangered species, plus efforts to move away from fossil fuels with no immediate alternative for well-paying jobs.
Among Black voters, stress from inflation and interest rates — and especially the cost of cars and housing — is hurting Biden.
It’s possible that conditions in the country (and the world) will improve enough over the next year that a second Biden term will seem a safer choice than more MAGA; that’s more or less how Biden won in 2020. But it’s not a great bet, and the stakes for getting 2024 wrong will be terrible and long-lasting.
What needs to happen is that the horror of left-of-center (and some right-of-center) elites toward a second Trump presidency be communicated regularly and loudly to voters who should but do not share that horror. Since no one opposing Trump has a more visible perch than Biden or the the kind of political machinery he commands, it’s time to go very negative on the former president and paint a lurid yet entirely accurate picture of what life may be like under his renewed and (in his mind) vindicated rule. His xenophobia, racism, sexism, and megalomania; his disdain for facts, science, and any sort of expertise; his extreme vulnerability to flattering manipulation; and most of all, his refusal to accept adverse decisions by voters, judges, juries, and law-enforcement officials. All these familiar features of the 45th president’s character need to be brought back up, documented, and hammered in, lest his relentless misconduct become normalized.
Some Trump opponents assume the legal peril he’s now in will bring him down without any particular effort on the part of Biden or Democrats (or indeed, Trump’s 2024 Republican rivals). Why gratify his desire to politicize his criminal activity? Why not just watch and wait for the inevitable fall? Short of actual incarceration prior to the 2025 inauguration, it’s unclear Trump’s exposure to criminal prosecution is going to cost him politically without an extraordinary effort to explain what he’s done and what it means for the country’s future if he returns to the White House. Keep in mind that these recent battleground polls with their terrible numbers have taken place against the background of 91 felony charges and constant maneuverings by Trump and prosecutors in federal and state courts. When will his misconduct begin to matter?
I am not, to be clear, proposing a pro-Biden counterpart of the famous 2016 “Flight 93 Election” essay, rationalizing support for an extremist presidential candidate as a civic emergency. Biden need not violate the constitution nor even cut corners to win reelection. But he does need to abandon the bland reassurance that has been his political signature as president and begin making the 2024 election a choice voters cannot avoid.
Louisiana faced a similar crisis in 1991 when former Ku Klux Klan leader and unrepentant white supremacist David Duke made it into a jungle primary runoff with scandal-plagued former governor Edwin Edwards. Duke led Edwards in some early polls; it appeared his Klan background was absorbed by many white voters as an irrelevant biographical detail. Only when Edwards drew attention to incidents of Duke dressing up in Nazi regalia and giving the Hitler salute while a grad student at LSU (“David, I was working on welfare reform when you were still goose-stepping around Baton Rouge,” Edwards said in a debate) did the election turn into a landslide win for Edwards. The popular bumper sticker of the day read, “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
Perhaps Biden supporters do not have to print signs and bumper stickers reading, “Vote for the Geezer. It’s Important.” But the sentiment does need to be expressed early and often to those whose unhappiness with this or that aspect of the Biden presidency might lead them to help usher in an authoritarian regime they would like a whole lot less.
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