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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gardner and Greenberg: They Don’t Want Trump OR Biden. Here’s How They Still Can Elect Biden

Page Gardner of PSG Consulting is a senior political and communications strategist who founded the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information and has recently launched Innovating for the Public Good: R&D for Democracy. Stanley B. Greenberg, a founding partner of Greenberg Research, Democracy Corps, and Climate Policy & Strategy, and Prospect board member, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-author of ‘It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!’ The following article is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

President Biden and Donald Trump have now each won enough delegates to ensure their respective presidential nominations. Yet we are facing an election in which an unprecedented share of voters desperately wish that the two major parties don’t nominate these leaders.

We’ve had such “dual haters” before. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton faced Donald Trump, they comprised 18 percent of the voters and they played a pivotal role in putting Trump in the White House. They gave Trump an over 20-point margin in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

This year, the “dual haters” are 23 percent of the electorate, and they will not be easy voters for Biden to win. Right now, he is losing them by 8 points in a two-way contest and by 10 in the multicandidate field.

These numbers come from a survey of 2,500 potential voters in battleground states that Democracy Corps and PSG Consulting conducted at the end of 2023, which included 500 over- samples of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians at the end of the year. Our survey used the thermometer scale used by the University of Michigan’s National Election Studies, asking voters to give “warm” and “cool” ratings on a 100-degree thermometer.

The most important finding was the share of these “dual haters” who are potential swing voters. Fully 45 percent are independents; 51 percent are moderates. Only 4 percent are “very conservative.” And a 55 percent majority say they’ll vote for independent candidates, led by Robert F. Kennedy. In a simulated race against Biden, 57 percent said they’d choose Nikki Haley.

This is a group of voters that could break for Biden.

We cheered President Biden’s spirited State of the Union speech, which could reverse the momentum and get this race back to parity. It was a speech that could well have won over some moderate Republicans and Liz Cheney conservatives.

But the president was not yet speaking to the “dual haters,” though he will have many more opportunities to do that in this long campaign.

The president started the speech by declaring “the state of our Union is strong and getting stronger”—which probably didn’t ring true for these alienated and angry voters. A daunting 91 percent of such voters say the country is “on the wrong track.” They are looking for a big change; barring that, many would choose not to vote. Only a third chose 10 on the 1-to-10 ladder that measures voter interest, compared to over half of all voters. They are not close news-watchers and might well have skipped a 68-minute speech.

Democrats will have a better chance of winning them if they bring a more accurate view of what they have achieved and how it impacted people. The expanded Child Tax Credit, for example, expired and many reductions in prescription drug prices are anticipated in the future. Working people saw bigger wage gains under Trump; consumer confidence is still 20 points below its level when Biden took office; and by a wide margin, “dual haters” think Trump will help more than Biden in ensuring wages keep up with prices. They give the Republicans a 33-point advantage on “getting things done.”

But Biden can still get ahead with these voters because our survey of the battleground shows he has the potential to get heard on abortion and women’s rights, and on opposition to MAGA Republicans. He can connect with these voters’ fear of autocracy and white supremacists. They liked his joining a picket line and getting billionaires to pay taxes. They wanted to hear more on climate change.

This is just the launch of the 2024 campaign. Past Democratic presidential campaigns have altered their strategy and message and made dramatic gains around the time of the Democratic conventions in August.

Consider the example of two presidential campaigns that co-author Greenberg advised.

In 2000, Al Gore trailed George W. Bush by about 10 points for the entire year before the party conventions. After the Republican convention, Bush’s lead grew to a remarkable 17 points.

At the Democratic convention, though, Gore delivered a powerful pro­–working class acceptance speech. That wiped out Bush’s long-held lead. The candidates were tied after Labor Day, and this working-class message and strategy gave Gore a small lead going into the debates at the end of September.

The debates were a disaster, however. They put Bush into the lead, though our polls showed us with a fraction-of-a-point lead on Election Day. (And, of course, Gore did beat Bush in the national popular vote count.)


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