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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cox and Teixeira: The 2024 Presidential Election: Familiar Partisan Divisions Drive Evolving Political Coalitions

Daniel A. Cox and Ruy Teixeira have an article, “The 2024 Presidential Election: Evolving Political Coalitions and Familiar Partisan Divisions” up at the Survey Center on American Life of the American Enterprise Institute. Among their observations:

Political coalitions are complicated and fluid, and they evolve in response to emerging issues, political leaders, and public priorities. A new survey, conducted among more than 6,000 adults living in the United States by the Survey Center on American Life, a project of the American Enterprise Institute, reveals deep fissures currently dividing the American electorate and how they crosscut and define today’s Republican and Democratic parties.

The new survey, detailed below, finds an American public torn between optimism and pessimism for the country but, perhaps surprisingly, largely maintaining faith in the ability of individuals to attain the American dream. Less surprisingly, the public expresses far less confidence in current political leaders’ ability to put the country on the right course. Instead, the public is divided, both between and within parties, on what key priorities political leaders should address.

Despite the partisan rancor so prominent in our country today, supporters of both parties declare a preference for candidates who can appeal to moderate voters rather than remain consistently liberal or conservative. Moreover, when political parties have more moderate reputations, they are generally viewed more favorably than when they are operating at the ideological extremes.

In the early days of the 2024 presidential campaign, we find the probable candidates—Joe Biden on the Democratic side and Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis on the Republican side—to be fairly evenly matched in voters’ current preferences, and we reveal key weaknesses in the coalitions they would hope to assemble to support their candidacies.

However, at least at this early stage, DeSantis appears to be the somewhat stronger Republican challenger. Biden remains a weak incumbent, but his leading opponents have their own liabilities. For example, Biden is viewed without enthusiasm among young voters, a key Democratic constituency, while Trump appears to be losing support among one of his strongest previous constituencies: white evangelicals.

Cox and Teixeira review the data on “American Optimism and pessimism,” “The American Dream,” and “America’s Most Pressing problems.” Regarding the 2024 presidential election, they note:

Neither Biden nor Trump is especially well regarded by the American public. Roughly four in 10 Americans have favorable views of Biden and Trump (41 percent vs. 38 percent, respectively). A majority of Americans view the current and former presidents negatively. Sixty percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, and 54 percent have an unfavorable view of Biden. However, Trump engenders much stronger negative feelings than Biden does. Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans have a “very unfavorable” view of Trump, compared to 38 percent with a correspondingly negative view of Biden.

Biden also has a slight advantage over Trump among partisans. Eighty percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Biden, while 75 percent of Republicans view Trump favorably. Nearly one in four (23 percent) Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Fewer (18 percent) Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of Biden.

They analyze the Trump, Biden and DeSantis coalitions, and write:

Americans hold nearly identical views of the country’s primary political parties’ ideological profiles. Almost seven in 10 (66 percent) Americans believe the Democratic Party is liberal, including 37 percent who say the party is very liberal. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans say the Republican Party is conservative, including 39 percent who say the GOP is very conservative.

Not only do Americans have similar views about the ideological profiles of the Democratic and Republican parties, they generally agree about how the parties have changed over time. Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe the Democratic Party has become much more liberal (40 percent) or somewhat more liberal (27 percent) in recent years. Six in 10 (60 percent) Americans say the Republican Party has become much more conservative (37 percent) or somewhat more conservative (23 percent).

Cox and Teixeia probe the depth of divisions among various constituencies and conclude:

Our country is divided, but not hopelessly so. Faith in the American dream remains strong, and interest in partisan moderation is considerable. But the 2024 election seems likely to present Americans with a choice between candidates who fail to generate much enthusiasm outside of hard-core partisans. The findings in our survey suggest there are abundant opportunities for both parties to reshape political coalitions in their favor, even if they currently seem reluctant to step outside their comfort zones. These opportunities will be explored in depth in a forthcoming AEI report on the evolution of party coalitions from early American history to the present day.

This upcoming report will trace the evolution of American political coalitions from early American history through the current partisan stalemate. The core political dynamic of this period—close elections with power alternating between the parties—is unusual in a historical perspective and suggests a failure of the American party system. But it is likely also a phase that will pass and be replaced by one dominated by a relatively stable majority coalition. Either party may have a path to becoming that next majority. But for either party, that would require a greater awareness of the nature of its failure, which in turn requires a greater awareness of the modern evolution of the party coalitions, the changing demographics and priorities of the electorate, and what it takes to build a durable majority.

The authors have much more to say in this thoughtful and data-rich exploration of the 2024 presidential campaign 16 months from Election Day.

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