washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

April 19: Will Chaos of Chicago ’68 Return This Year?

A lot of people who weren’t alive to witness the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago are wondering if it’s legendary chaos. I evaluated that possibility at New York:

When the Democratic National Committee chose Chicago as the site of the party’s 2024 national convention a year ago, no one knew incumbent presidential nominee Joe Biden would become the target of major antiwar demonstrations. The fateful events of October 7 were nearly six months away, and Biden had yet to formally announce his candidacy for reelection. So there was no reason to anticipate comparisons to the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention, when images of police clashing with anti–Vietnam War protesters in the Windy City were broadcast into millions of homes. Indeed, a year ago, a more likely analog to 2024 might have been the last Democratic convention in Chicago in 1996; that event was an upbeat vehicle for Bill Clinton’s successful reelection campaign.

Instead, thanks to intense controversy over Israel’s lethal operations in Gaza and widespread global protests aimed partly at Israel’s allies and sponsors in Washington, plans are well underway for demonstrations in Chicago during the August 19 to 22 confab. Organizers say they expect as many as 30,000 protesters to gather outside Chicago’s United Center during the convention. As in the past, a key issue is how close the protests get to the actual convention. Obviously, demonstrators want delegates to hear their voices and the media to amplify their message. And police, Chicago officials, and Democratic Party leaders want protests to occur as far away from the convention as possible. How well these divergent interests are met will determine whether there is anything like the kind of clashes that dominated Chicago ’68.

There are, however, some big differences in the context surrounding the two conventions. Here’s why the odds of a 2024 convention showdown rivaling 1968 are actually fairly low.

Gaza isn’t Vietnam.

Horrific as the ongoing events in Gaza undoubtedly are, and with all due consideration of the U.S. role in backing and supplying Israel now and in the past, the Vietnam War was a more viscerally immediate crisis for both the protesters who descended on Chicago that summer and the Americans watching the spectacle on TV. There were over a half-million American troops deployed in Vietnam in 1968, and nearly 300,000 young men were drafted into the Army and Marines that year. Many of the protesters at the convention were protesting their own or family members’ future personal involvement in the war, or an escape overseas beyond the Selective Service System’s reach (an estimated 125,000 Americans fled to Canada during the Vietnam War, and how to deal with them upon repatriation became a major political issue for years).

Even from a purely humanitarian and altruistic point of view, Vietnamese military and civilian casualties ran into the millions during the period of U.S. involvement. It wasn’t common to call what was happening “genocide,” but there’s no question the images emanating from the war (which spilled over catastrophically into Laos and especially Cambodia) were deeply disturbing to the consciences of vast numbers of Americans.

Perhaps a better analogy for the Gaza protests than those of the Vietnam era might be the extensive protests during the late 1970s and 1980s over apartheid in South Africa (a regime that enjoyed explicit and implicit backing from multiple U.S. administrations) and in favor of a freeze in development and deployment of nuclear weapons. These were significant protest movements, but still paled next to the organized opposition to the Vietnam War.

Political conventions are different today.

One reason the 1968 Chicago protests created such an indelible image is that the conflict outside on the streets was reflected in conflict inside the convention venue. For one thing, 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey had not quelled formal opposition to his selection when the convention opened. He never entered or won a single primary. One opponent who did, Eugene McCarthy, was still battling for the nomination in Chicago. Another, Robert F. Kennedy, had been assassinated two months earlier (1972 presidential nominee George McGovern was the caretaker for Kennedy delegates at the 1968 convention). There was a highly emotional platform fight over Vietnam policy during the convention itself; when a “peace plank” was defeated, New York delegates led protesters singing “We Shall Overcome.” Once violence broke out on the streets, it did not pass notice among the delegates, some of whom had been attacked by police trying to enter the hall. At one point, police actually accosted and removed a TV reporter from the convention for some alleged breach in decorum.

By contrast, no matter what is going on outside the United Center, the 2024 Democratic convention is going to be totally wired for Joe Biden, with nearly all the delegates attending pledged to him and chosen by his campaign. Even aside from the lack of formal opposition to Biden, conventions since 1968 have become progressively less spontaneous and more controlled by the nominee and the party that nominee directs (indeed, the chaos in Chicago in 1968 encouraged that trend, along with near-universal use of primaries to award delegates, making conventions vastly less deliberative). While there may be some internal conflict on the platform language related to Gaza, it will very definitely be resolved long before the convention and far away from cameras.

Another significant difference between then and now is that convention delegates and Democratic elected officials generally will enter the convention acutely concerned about giving aid and comfort to the Republican nominee, the much-hated, much-feared Donald Trump. Yes, many Democrats hated and feared Richard Nixon in 1968, but Democrats were just separated by four years from a massive presidential landslide and mostly did not reckon how much Nixon would be able to straddle the Vietnam issue and benefit from Democratic divisions. That’s unlikely to be the case in August of 2024.

Brandon Johnson isn’t Richard Daley.

Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley was a major figure in the 1968 explosion in his city. He championed and defended his police department’s confrontational tactics during the convention. At one point, when Senator Abraham Ribicoff referred from the podium to “gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago,” Daley leaped up and shouted at him with cameras trained on his furious face as he clearly repeated an obscene and antisemitic response to the Jewish politician from Connecticut. Beyond his conduct on that occasion, “Boss” Daley was the epitome of the old-school Irish American machine politician and from a different planet culturally than the protesters at the convention.

Current Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson, who was born the year of Daley’s death, is a Black progressive and labor activist who is still fresh from his narrow 2023 mayoral runoff victory over the candidate backed by both the Democratic Establishment and police unions. While he is surely wary of the damage anti-Israel and anti-Biden protests can do to the city’s image if they turn violent, Johnson is not without ties to protesters. He broke a tie in the Chicago City Council to ensure passage of a Gaza cease-fire resolution earlier this year. His negotiating skills will be tested by the maneuvering already underway with protest groups and the Democratic Party, but he’s not going to be the sort of implacable foe the 1968 protesters encountered.

The whole world (probably) won’t be watching.

The 1968 Democratic convention was from a bygone era of gavel-to-gavel coverage by the three broadcast-television networks that then dominated the media landscape and the living rooms of the country. When they were being bludgeoned by the Chicago police, protesters began chanting, “The whole world is watching,” which wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Today’s media coverage of major-party political conventions is extremely limited and (like coverage of other events) fragmented. If violence breaks out this time in Chicago, it will get a lot of attention, albeit much of it bent to the optics of the various media outlets covering it. But the sense in 1968 that the whole nation was watching in horror as an unprecedented event rolled out in real time will likely never be recovered.


Will Chaos of Chicago ’68 Return This Year?

A lot of people who weren’t alive to witness the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago are wondering if it’s legendary chaos. I evaluated that possibility at New York:

When the Democratic National Committee chose Chicago as the site of the party’s 2024 national convention a year ago, no one knew incumbent presidential nominee Joe Biden would become the target of major antiwar demonstrations. The fateful events of October 7 were nearly six months away, and Biden had yet to formally announce his candidacy for reelection. So there was no reason to anticipate comparisons to the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention, when images of police clashing with anti–Vietnam War protesters in the Windy City were broadcast into millions of homes. Indeed, a year ago, a more likely analog to 2024 might have been the last Democratic convention in Chicago in 1996; that event was an upbeat vehicle for Bill Clinton’s successful reelection campaign.

Instead, thanks to intense controversy over Israel’s lethal operations in Gaza and widespread global protests aimed partly at Israel’s allies and sponsors in Washington, plans are well underway for demonstrations in Chicago during the August 19 to 22 confab. Organizers say they expect as many as 30,000 protesters to gather outside Chicago’s United Center during the convention. As in the past, a key issue is how close the protests get to the actual convention. Obviously, demonstrators want delegates to hear their voices and the media to amplify their message. And police, Chicago officials, and Democratic Party leaders want protests to occur as far away from the convention as possible. How well these divergent interests are met will determine whether there is anything like the kind of clashes that dominated Chicago ’68.

There are, however, some big differences in the context surrounding the two conventions. Here’s why the odds of a 2024 convention showdown rivaling 1968 are actually fairly low.

Gaza isn’t Vietnam.

Horrific as the ongoing events in Gaza undoubtedly are, and with all due consideration of the U.S. role in backing and supplying Israel now and in the past, the Vietnam War was a more viscerally immediate crisis for both the protesters who descended on Chicago that summer and the Americans watching the spectacle on TV. There were over a half-million American troops deployed in Vietnam in 1968, and nearly 300,000 young men were drafted into the Army and Marines that year. Many of the protesters at the convention were protesting their own or family members’ future personal involvement in the war, or an escape overseas beyond the Selective Service System’s reach (an estimated 125,000 Americans fled to Canada during the Vietnam War, and how to deal with them upon repatriation became a major political issue for years).

Even from a purely humanitarian and altruistic point of view, Vietnamese military and civilian casualties ran into the millions during the period of U.S. involvement. It wasn’t common to call what was happening “genocide,” but there’s no question the images emanating from the war (which spilled over catastrophically into Laos and especially Cambodia) were deeply disturbing to the consciences of vast numbers of Americans.

Perhaps a better analogy for the Gaza protests than those of the Vietnam era might be the extensive protests during the late 1970s and 1980s over apartheid in South Africa (a regime that enjoyed explicit and implicit backing from multiple U.S. administrations) and in favor of a freeze in development and deployment of nuclear weapons. These were significant protest movements, but still paled next to the organized opposition to the Vietnam War.

Political conventions are different today.

One reason the 1968 Chicago protests created such an indelible image is that the conflict outside on the streets was reflected in conflict inside the convention venue. For one thing, 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey had not quelled formal opposition to his selection when the convention opened. He never entered or won a single primary. One opponent who did, Eugene McCarthy, was still battling for the nomination in Chicago. Another, Robert F. Kennedy, had been assassinated two months earlier (1972 presidential nominee George McGovern was the caretaker for Kennedy delegates at the 1968 convention). There was a highly emotional platform fight over Vietnam policy during the convention itself; when a “peace plank” was defeated, New York delegates led protesters singing “We Shall Overcome.” Once violence broke out on the streets, it did not pass notice among the delegates, some of whom had been attacked by police trying to enter the hall. At one point, police actually accosted and removed a TV reporter from the convention for some alleged breach in decorum.

By contrast, no matter what is going on outside the United Center, the 2024 Democratic convention is going to be totally wired for Joe Biden, with nearly all the delegates attending pledged to him and chosen by his campaign. Even aside from the lack of formal opposition to Biden, conventions since 1968 have become progressively less spontaneous and more controlled by the nominee and the party that nominee directs (indeed, the chaos in Chicago in 1968 encouraged that trend, along with near-universal use of primaries to award delegates, making conventions vastly less deliberative). While there may be some internal conflict on the platform language related to Gaza, it will very definitely be resolved long before the convention and far away from cameras.

Another significant difference between then and now is that convention delegates and Democratic elected officials generally will enter the convention acutely concerned about giving aid and comfort to the Republican nominee, the much-hated, much-feared Donald Trump. Yes, many Democrats hated and feared Richard Nixon in 1968, but Democrats were just separated by four years from a massive presidential landslide and mostly did not reckon how much Nixon would be able to straddle the Vietnam issue and benefit from Democratic divisions. That’s unlikely to be the case in August of 2024.

Brandon Johnson isn’t Richard Daley.

Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley was a major figure in the 1968 explosion in his city. He championed and defended his police department’s confrontational tactics during the convention. At one point, when Senator Abraham Ribicoff referred from the podium to “gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago,” Daley leaped up and shouted at him with cameras trained on his furious face as he clearly repeated an obscene and antisemitic response to the Jewish politician from Connecticut. Beyond his conduct on that occasion, “Boss” Daley was the epitome of the old-school Irish American machine politician and from a different planet culturally than the protesters at the convention.

Current Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson, who was born the year of Daley’s death, is a Black progressive and labor activist who is still fresh from his narrow 2023 mayoral runoff victory over the candidate backed by both the Democratic Establishment and police unions. While he is surely wary of the damage anti-Israel and anti-Biden protests can do to the city’s image if they turn violent, Johnson is not without ties to protesters. He broke a tie in the Chicago City Council to ensure passage of a Gaza cease-fire resolution earlier this year. His negotiating skills will be tested by the maneuvering already underway with protest groups and the Democratic Party, but he’s not going to be the sort of implacable foe the 1968 protesters encountered.

The whole world (probably) won’t be watching.

The 1968 Democratic convention was from a bygone era of gavel-to-gavel coverage by the three broadcast-television networks that then dominated the media landscape and the living rooms of the country. When they were being bludgeoned by the Chicago police, protesters began chanting, “The whole world is watching,” which wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Today’s media coverage of major-party political conventions is extremely limited and (like coverage of other events) fragmented. If violence breaks out this time in Chicago, it will get a lot of attention, albeit much of it bent to the optics of the various media outlets covering it. But the sense in 1968 that the whole nation was watching in horror as an unprecedented event rolled out in real time will likely never be recovered.


April 17: A Closer Look at the “Uniparty” Fable

RFK Jr. and MTG are using the same dismissive term for major-party differences. I took at look at this phenomenon at New York:

Partisan polarization has been steadily growing in the U.S. since roughly the 1960s. Ironically, during this time, the complaint that the two parties are actually too alike has become increasingly prevalent. For years, right-wing Republicans have called people in the GOP who don’t share their exact degree of ideological extremism RINOs, or “Republicans in name only,” suggesting they’re basically Democrats. Left-wing Democrats occasionally echo these epithets by calling (relative) moderates “DINOs,” “ConservaDems,” or — back when maximum resistance to George W. Bush was de rigueur — “Vichy Democrats.”

Today the term “Uniparty” has come to denote the idea that Democrats and Republicans are actually working for the same evil Establishment enterprise, their loudly proclaimed differences being a mere sham. This contention was the culmination of a five-page letter Marjorie Taylor Greene recently sent her Republican colleagues calling for House Speaker Mike Johnson’s removal, unless he changes his ways instantly. She wrote:

“With so much at stake for our future and the future of our children, I will not tolerate this type of ‘leadership.’ This has been a complete and total surrender to, if not complete and total lockstep with, the Democrats’ agenda that has angered our Republican base so much and given them very little reason to vote for a Republican House majority …

“If these actions by the leaders of our conference continue, then we are not a Republican party – we are a Uniparty that is hell-bent on remaining on the path of self-inflicted destruction.”

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also leaned heavily into the Uniparty idea in his recent speech introducing running-mate Nicole Shanahan:

“Our independent run for the presidency is finally going to bring down the Democrat and Republican duopoly that gave us ruinous debt, chronic disease, endless wars, lockdowns, mandates, agency capture, and censorship. This is the same Trump/Biden Uniparty that has captured and appropriated our democracy and turned it over to Blackrock, State Street, Vanguard, and their other corporate donors. Nicole Shanahan will help me rally support for our revolution against Uniparty rule from both ends of the traditional Right vs. Left political spectrum.”

The Uniparty claim is ridiculous, of course, as FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley demonstrates:

“[O]ur current political moment is arguably farther away from having anything resembling a uniparty than at any other time in modern U.S. history. Based on their voting records, Democratic and Republican members of Congress have become increasingly polarized, and both the more moderate and more conservative wings of the congressional GOP have moved to the right at similar rates. Meanwhile, polling suggests that Americans now are more likely to view the parties as distinct from one another than in the past, an indication that the public broadly doesn’t see a uniparty in Washington. Although there are areas where the parties are less divided, the broader uniparty claim is at odds with our highly polarized and divided political era.”

Kennedy’s subscription to the Uniparty notion is understandable on two points. The first is that his candidacy is vastly more likely to tilt the 2024 presidential campaign in the direction of one of the two major-party candidates (likely Donald Trump, according to most of the polling) than to actually succeed in winning the presidency. Maintaining that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s Biden or Trump running the country is essential to maintaining RFK’s appeal as November approaches and the futility of his bid becomes clearer. Second, Kennedy’s pervasive conspiracy-theory approach to contemporary life lends itself to the argument that the apparent gulf between the two major parties is a ruse disguising a sinister common purpose.

MTG’s Uniparty contention also reflects dual motives. In part she is simply echoing Trump’s weird but useful contention that he’s an “outsider” battling a Deep-State Establishment that secretly controls both parties, which is pretty rich since he dominates the GOP like Genghis Khan dominated the Golden Horde. But there is a marginally more legitimate sense in which key elements of the two parties really are in line with each other on isolated issues that happen to obsess Greene, such as aid to Ukraine. If you are a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail.

The same is true of other implicit Uniparty claims, particularly those made by progressive pro-Palestinian protesters who adamantly argue that the need to smite “Genocide Joe” Biden for his pro-Israel policies outweighs all the reasons it might be a bad idea to help Trump return to the White House (including the fact that Trump is palpably indifferent to Palestinian suffering). If the two parties do not appear to differ on your overriding issue, then the fundamental reality of polarization can fade into irrelevance.

So we’re likely to hear more Uniparty talk even as Democrats and Republicans head toward another highly fractious election with very high stakes attributable to their differences.


A Closer Look at the “Uniparty” Fable

RFK Jr. and MTG are using the same dismissive term for major-party differences. I took at look at this phenomenon at New York:

Partisan polarization has been steadily growing in the U.S. since roughly the 1960s. Ironically, during this time, the complaint that the two parties are actually too alike has become increasingly prevalent. For years, right-wing Republicans have called people in the GOP who don’t share their exact degree of ideological extremism RINOs, or “Republicans in name only,” suggesting they’re basically Democrats. Left-wing Democrats occasionally echo these epithets by calling (relative) moderates “DINOs,” “ConservaDems,” or — back when maximum resistance to George W. Bush was de rigueur — “Vichy Democrats.”

Today the term “Uniparty” has come to denote the idea that Democrats and Republicans are actually working for the same evil Establishment enterprise, their loudly proclaimed differences being a mere sham. This contention was the culmination of a five-page letter Marjorie Taylor Greene recently sent her Republican colleagues calling for House Speaker Mike Johnson’s removal, unless he changes his ways instantly. She wrote:

“With so much at stake for our future and the future of our children, I will not tolerate this type of ‘leadership.’ This has been a complete and total surrender to, if not complete and total lockstep with, the Democrats’ agenda that has angered our Republican base so much and given them very little reason to vote for a Republican House majority …

“If these actions by the leaders of our conference continue, then we are not a Republican party – we are a Uniparty that is hell-bent on remaining on the path of self-inflicted destruction.”

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also leaned heavily into the Uniparty idea in his recent speech introducing running-mate Nicole Shanahan:

“Our independent run for the presidency is finally going to bring down the Democrat and Republican duopoly that gave us ruinous debt, chronic disease, endless wars, lockdowns, mandates, agency capture, and censorship. This is the same Trump/Biden Uniparty that has captured and appropriated our democracy and turned it over to Blackrock, State Street, Vanguard, and their other corporate donors. Nicole Shanahan will help me rally support for our revolution against Uniparty rule from both ends of the traditional Right vs. Left political spectrum.”

The Uniparty claim is ridiculous, of course, as FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley demonstrates:

“[O]ur current political moment is arguably farther away from having anything resembling a uniparty than at any other time in modern U.S. history. Based on their voting records, Democratic and Republican members of Congress have become increasingly polarized, and both the more moderate and more conservative wings of the congressional GOP have moved to the right at similar rates. Meanwhile, polling suggests that Americans now are more likely to view the parties as distinct from one another than in the past, an indication that the public broadly doesn’t see a uniparty in Washington. Although there are areas where the parties are less divided, the broader uniparty claim is at odds with our highly polarized and divided political era.”

Kennedy’s subscription to the Uniparty notion is understandable on two points. The first is that his candidacy is vastly more likely to tilt the 2024 presidential campaign in the direction of one of the two major-party candidates (likely Donald Trump, according to most of the polling) than to actually succeed in winning the presidency. Maintaining that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s Biden or Trump running the country is essential to maintaining RFK’s appeal as November approaches and the futility of his bid becomes clearer. Second, Kennedy’s pervasive conspiracy-theory approach to contemporary life lends itself to the argument that the apparent gulf between the two major parties is a ruse disguising a sinister common purpose.

MTG’s Uniparty contention also reflects dual motives. In part she is simply echoing Trump’s weird but useful contention that he’s an “outsider” battling a Deep-State Establishment that secretly controls both parties, which is pretty rich since he dominates the GOP like Genghis Khan dominated the Golden Horde. But there is a marginally more legitimate sense in which key elements of the two parties really are in line with each other on isolated issues that happen to obsess Greene, such as aid to Ukraine. If you are a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail.

The same is true of other implicit Uniparty claims, particularly those made by progressive pro-Palestinian protesters who adamantly argue that the need to smite “Genocide Joe” Biden for his pro-Israel policies outweighs all the reasons it might be a bad idea to help Trump return to the White House (including the fact that Trump is palpably indifferent to Palestinian suffering). If the two parties do not appear to differ on your overriding issue, then the fundamental reality of polarization can fade into irrelevance.

So we’re likely to hear more Uniparty talk even as Democrats and Republicans head toward another highly fractious election with very high stakes attributable to their differences.


April 11: Presidential Race is Back to Square One

As part of my regular poll-gazing, I took a look at the presidential trends at New York:

Joe Biden is continuing his snail-like progress toward a dead heat with Donald Trump in polling this week. The RealClearPolitics polling averages for a national head-to-head contest between the two presidents now show Trump up by a mere 0.2 percent (45.5 to 45.3 percent), his smallest lead in these averages dating back to last October. If you took a very outlierish Rasmussen Poll giving Trump an eight-point lead out of the equation, Biden would actually be ahead. As it is, he leads Trump in the most recent surveys by Reuters-IpsosI&I-TIPPData for ProgressNPR-PBS-Marist, and Quinnipiac, a pretty impressive collection of pollsters (all but I&I-TIPP are in the top-25 outfits, according to FiveThirtyEight’s ratings).

Trump is maintaining a slightly larger lead (1.9 percent) in the national five-way polls that include Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West, and Jill Stein, per RCP’s averages. RFK Jr. holds 10 percent of the 13.2 percent going to non-major-party candidates. So the larger field continues to help Trump and hurt Biden, albeit marginally.

Battleground-state polling has been sparse in recent weeks; the last public polls in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin were from a March 24 Wall Street Journal survey. So Trump maintains his relatively robust leads in all those states. New polling in North Carolina (from High Point University and Quinnipiac) shows Trump’s lead in that state shrinking slightly to 4 percent. And fresh data from Pennsylvania via Franklin & Marshall has given Biden a slight (0.1 percent) lead in that state in the RCP averages. The trends for Biden overall are positive, albeit very slightly and slowly so.

In terms of where the numbers might go as we approach November, there are some even more positive sights for the incumbent. A fascinating new national survey from NORC published by FiveThirtyEight looked at how demonstrated propensity to vote affected presidential-candidate preferences, and the findings are potentially significant:

“When we broke out respondents by their voting history, we found dramatic differences in whom they support for president in 2024. President Joe Biden performed much better among frequent voters, while Trump had a large lead among people who haven’t voted recently. Specifically, among respondents who voted in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 general elections, Biden outpaced Trump 50 percent to 39 percent. But among respondents who were old enough to vote but voted in none of those three elections, Trump crushed Biden 44 percent to 26 percent.”

This survey reinforces evidence elsewhere that the traditional Democratic reliance on “marginal voters” has ended, and that now it’s Republicans who need an unusually high-turnout election to get Trump’s supporters to the polls. In the short term, this could mean that when pollsters begin to shift from registered-voter to likely-voter samples, Biden will probably get a boost (the sort of boost Republican candidates used to count on) in the comparative numbers. Whether that carries over to the actual results in November may depend on overall turnout levels, with Democrats holding an unusual advantage among the voters most likely to show up at the polls.

There are, of course, many other factors that will influence the direction of this contest, including the strength, wealth, and wisdom of the campaigns and of the national and state parties supporting them. But one thing to watch is whether the Kennedy candidacy, which is marginally hurting Biden right now, gets onto the ballot in all or most of the battleground states. At present, Kennedy’s campaign claims it has enough signatures to gain ballot access in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan, and it’s in a dispute with Nevada over an early deadline for identifying a vice-presidential candidate that it missed, which may land in court. If Kennedy does gain the ballot access he needs, the big question will be whether his conspiracy-theory-drenched appeal has the sort of staying power that non-major-party candidates usually lack. If he fades, it will likely benefit Biden.

Real-world developments outside the campaign trail could matter as well. Team Biden has to worry about signs of renewed inflation. And all of Trump’s efforts to avoid a preelection criminal trial appear to have failed, at least in New York.

For now, this contest seems to be back to square one: very close and subject to a lot of cross-currents and events we can’t really predict.


Presidential Race Is Back to Square One

As part of my regular poll-gazing, I took a look at the presidential trends at New York:

Joe Biden is continuing his snail-like progress toward a dead heat with Donald Trump in polling this week. The RealClearPolitics polling averages for a national head-to-head contest between the two presidents now show Trump up by a mere 0.2 percent (45.5 to 45.3 percent), his smallest lead in these averages dating back to last October. If you took a very outlierish Rasmussen Poll giving Trump an eight-point lead out of the equation, Biden would actually be ahead. As it is, he leads Trump in the most recent surveys by Reuters-IpsosI&I-TIPPData for ProgressNPR-PBS-Marist, and Quinnipiac, a pretty impressive collection of pollsters (all but I&I-TIPP are in the top-25 outfits, according to FiveThirtyEight’s ratings).

Trump is maintaining a slightly larger lead (1.9 percent) in the national five-way polls that include Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West, and Jill Stein, per RCP’s averages. RFK Jr. holds 10 percent of the 13.2 percent going to non-major-party candidates. So the larger field continues to help Trump and hurt Biden, albeit marginally.

Battleground-state polling has been sparse in recent weeks; the last public polls in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin were from a March 24 Wall Street Journal survey. So Trump maintains his relatively robust leads in all those states. New polling in North Carolina (from High Point University and Quinnipiac) shows Trump’s lead in that state shrinking slightly to 4 percent. And fresh data from Pennsylvania via Franklin & Marshall has given Biden a slight (0.1 percent) lead in that state in the RCP averages. The trends for Biden overall are positive, albeit very slightly and slowly so.

In terms of where the numbers might go as we approach November, there are some even more positive sights for the incumbent. A fascinating new national survey from NORC published by FiveThirtyEight looked at how demonstrated propensity to vote affected presidential-candidate preferences, and the findings are potentially significant:

“When we broke out respondents by their voting history, we found dramatic differences in whom they support for president in 2024. President Joe Biden performed much better among frequent voters, while Trump had a large lead among people who haven’t voted recently. Specifically, among respondents who voted in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 general elections, Biden outpaced Trump 50 percent to 39 percent. But among respondents who were old enough to vote but voted in none of those three elections, Trump crushed Biden 44 percent to 26 percent.”

This survey reinforces evidence elsewhere that the traditional Democratic reliance on “marginal voters” has ended, and that now it’s Republicans who need an unusually high-turnout election to get Trump’s supporters to the polls. In the short term, this could mean that when pollsters begin to shift from registered-voter to likely-voter samples, Biden will probably get a boost (the sort of boost Republican candidates used to count on) in the comparative numbers. Whether that carries over to the actual results in November may depend on overall turnout levels, with Democrats holding an unusual advantage among the voters most likely to show up at the polls.

There are, of course, many other factors that will influence the direction of this contest, including the strength, wealth, and wisdom of the campaigns and of the national and state parties supporting them. But one thing to watch is whether the Kennedy candidacy, which is marginally hurting Biden right now, gets onto the ballot in all or most of the battleground states. At present, Kennedy’s campaign claims it has enough signatures to gain ballot access in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan, and it’s in a dispute with Nevada over an early deadline for identifying a vice-presidential candidate that it missed, which may land in court. If Kennedy does gain the ballot access he needs, the big question will be whether his conspiracy-theory-drenched appeal has the sort of staying power that non-major-party candidates usually lack. If he fades, it will likely benefit Biden.

Real-world developments outside the campaign trail could matter as well. Team Biden has to worry about signs of renewed inflation. And all of Trump’s efforts to avoid a preelection criminal trial appear to have failed, at least in New York.

For now, this contest seems to be back to square one: very close and subject to a lot of cross-currents and events we can’t really predict.


April 10: For Biden, Two Paths to Victory Are Better Than One

A perennial strategic topic has popped up a lot recently, so I addressed it at New York:

In 2020, Joe Biden won four states by a margin of less than 2 percent of the vote: Georgia (0.23 percent), Arizona (0.30 percent), Wisconsin (0.63 percent), and Pennsylvania (1.33 percent). Donald Trump won one state, North Carolina, by 1.34 percent. Biden carried two other key states by margins under three points: Nevada (2.39 percent) and Michigan (2.78 percent). These seven states represent what most strategists in both parties consider to be the Biden-Trump battlegrounds for 2024, though obviously some will argue that others should be targeted (many Republicans think they have a chance in Minnesota, which Biden carried by just over 7 percent, and an abortion referendum makes Florida, which Trump carried by 4.36 percent, tempting for Democrats). Polling tends to confirm these seven as highly competitive this year.

2024 polls also, however, show a distinct regional pattern whereby Trump is leading Biden by robust margins in the Sun Belt states of Arizona (4.5 percent in the RCP polling averages), Nevada (3.2 percent), Georgia (3.8 percent), and North Carolina (4.6 percent), while Biden is doing relatively well in the Rust Belt states of Michigan (Trump leads by 2.8 percent, per RCP), Pennsylvania (Biden leads by 0.1 percent), and Wisconsin (Trump leads by 0.6 percent). His campaign may be tempted to narrowly focus on a Rust Belt strategy for victory but would be well advised to keep his options open.

There are some underlying dynamics that reinforce the regional pattern, as Ron Brownstein explains:

“President Joe Biden’s breakthrough 2020 wins in Arizona and Georgia seemed to confirm that the party’s future was increasingly reliant on Sun Belt states rapidly growing more racially diverse.

“But seven months before his rematch with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, Biden’s most promising path may run directly through the three Rust Belt states that he recaptured in 2020 after Trump dislodged them from the ‘blue wall’ in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That’s the conclusion of a broad array of Democratic strategists.

“The shift in expectations reflects the upside-down racial dynamics of the 2024 race, with most national and state polls showing Biden largely holding his 2020 support among White voters, while facing, at this point, unprecedented erosion among Black and Latino voters. Biden, as I wrote last year, is likewise maintaining his 2020 support better among older than younger voters. These surprising patterns have made the relatively older and Whiter three industrial blue wall states appear a better bet for Biden.”

If everything else stays the same as in 2020, Biden could lose Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, along with North Carolina, and still win the presidency by the smallest possible margin in the Electoral College: 270 electoral votes to 268.

As Brownstein notes, the issue landscape in November could also make a Rust Belt strategy focused on white swing voters profitable:

“Biden is heavily stressing his support for legal abortion, and while polls show broad support for that position across racial lines, many pollsters believe it resonates most powerfully as a voting issue among college-educated White voters, especially women. Conversely, economic issues loom largest for most non-white voters; that’s a difficult dynamic for Biden across the Sun Belt because polls consistently show widespread discontent with his management of the economy, including among many Black and Latino voters.”

Another factor pushing Team Biden toward a Rust Belt strategy is the apparent strength of indie candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. among the Latino voters who are so prevalent in Arizona and Nevada, as Politico recently reported:

“[A] previously unreported poll in mid-February by Democratic group Equis Research … showed Kennedy performing surprisingly well among Latino voters in a dozen battleground states, effectively splintering Biden’s Hispanic coalition from 2020, when he garnered 59 percent Hispanic support …

“The poll of 2,010 registered Latino voters found Kennedy winning one in five young Latino voters, and also reported him capturing a sizable 17 percent Latino support in Arizona and an even more robust 21 percent in Nevada — the highest number among the battleground states polled.”

More generally, RFK Jr. seems to be taking votes away from Biden disproportionately in the Sun Belt. In the RCP averages, polls that include Kennedy and other minor candidates show Trump increasing his lead over Biden to 5.8 percent in Arizona5.5 percent in Nevada5.6 percent in Georgia, and 7 percent in North Carolina. These margins are pretty formidable.

Still, staking everything on sweeping Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would be perilous for Biden. Michigan still looks a bit shaky for the president thanks to Democratic base voters there who are unhappy with his position on the Israel-Hamas war. And you can argue that as November approaches, the Kennedy threat will fade as minor-party/indie candidacies typically do and that the Black and Latino voters so crucial in the Sun Belt are likely to return to the Democratic fold. In addition, Arizona and Nevada may have abortion-policy measures on the ballot in November that could help boost Democratic turnout. On Tuesday, Arizona’s high court reinstated a total abortion ban from 1864.

Fortunately for Biden, his campaign doesn’t have to commit to one region or the other just yet, and it has the resources to keep all the battleground states in play. But some Democrats may have a residual hangover from 2016, when Hillary Clinton vainly pursued Sun Belt votes while failing to shore up what was then called the “blue wall” of Rust Belt states that swung to Trump. The numbers indicate that Biden should indeed nail down Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin if he can. But it would be prudent to make a big play for one of the larger Sun Belt states as well (e.g., Arizona, Georgia, or North Carolina) in case things go wrong. Having just one narrow path to 270 electoral votes is never a good idea.


For Biden, Two Paths to Victory Are Better Than One

A perennial strategic topic has popped up a lot recently, so I addressed it at New York:

In 2020, Joe Biden won four states by a margin of less than 2 percent of the vote: Georgia (0.23 percent), Arizona (0.30 percent), Wisconsin (0.63 percent), and Pennsylvania (1.33 percent). Donald Trump won one state, North Carolina, by 1.34 percent. Biden carried two other key states by margins under three points: Nevada (2.39 percent) and Michigan (2.78 percent). These seven states represent what most strategists in both parties consider to be the Biden-Trump battlegrounds for 2024, though obviously some will argue that others should be targeted (many Republicans think they have a chance in Minnesota, which Biden carried by just over 7 percent, and an abortion referendum makes Florida, which Trump carried by 4.36 percent, tempting for Democrats). Polling tends to confirm these seven as highly competitive this year.

2024 polls also, however, show a distinct regional pattern whereby Trump is leading Biden by robust margins in the Sun Belt states of Arizona (4.5 percent in the RCP polling averages), Nevada (3.2 percent), Georgia (3.8 percent), and North Carolina (4.6 percent), while Biden is doing relatively well in the Rust Belt states of Michigan (Trump leads by 2.8 percent, per RCP), Pennsylvania (Biden leads by 0.1 percent), and Wisconsin (Trump leads by 0.6 percent). His campaign may be tempted to narrowly focus on a Rust Belt strategy for victory but would be well advised to keep his options open.

There are some underlying dynamics that reinforce the regional pattern, as Ron Brownstein explains:

“President Joe Biden’s breakthrough 2020 wins in Arizona and Georgia seemed to confirm that the party’s future was increasingly reliant on Sun Belt states rapidly growing more racially diverse.

“But seven months before his rematch with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, Biden’s most promising path may run directly through the three Rust Belt states that he recaptured in 2020 after Trump dislodged them from the ‘blue wall’ in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That’s the conclusion of a broad array of Democratic strategists.

“The shift in expectations reflects the upside-down racial dynamics of the 2024 race, with most national and state polls showing Biden largely holding his 2020 support among White voters, while facing, at this point, unprecedented erosion among Black and Latino voters. Biden, as I wrote last year, is likewise maintaining his 2020 support better among older than younger voters. These surprising patterns have made the relatively older and Whiter three industrial blue wall states appear a better bet for Biden.”

If everything else stays the same as in 2020, Biden could lose Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, along with North Carolina, and still win the presidency by the smallest possible margin in the Electoral College: 270 electoral votes to 268.

As Brownstein notes, the issue landscape in November could also make a Rust Belt strategy focused on white swing voters profitable:

“Biden is heavily stressing his support for legal abortion, and while polls show broad support for that position across racial lines, many pollsters believe it resonates most powerfully as a voting issue among college-educated White voters, especially women. Conversely, economic issues loom largest for most non-white voters; that’s a difficult dynamic for Biden across the Sun Belt because polls consistently show widespread discontent with his management of the economy, including among many Black and Latino voters.”

Another factor pushing Team Biden toward a Rust Belt strategy is the apparent strength of indie candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. among the Latino voters who are so prevalent in Arizona and Nevada, as Politico recently reported:

“[A] previously unreported poll in mid-February by Democratic group Equis Research … showed Kennedy performing surprisingly well among Latino voters in a dozen battleground states, effectively splintering Biden’s Hispanic coalition from 2020, when he garnered 59 percent Hispanic support …

“The poll of 2,010 registered Latino voters found Kennedy winning one in five young Latino voters, and also reported him capturing a sizable 17 percent Latino support in Arizona and an even more robust 21 percent in Nevada — the highest number among the battleground states polled.”

More generally, RFK Jr. seems to be taking votes away from Biden disproportionately in the Sun Belt. In the RCP averages, polls that include Kennedy and other minor candidates show Trump increasing his lead over Biden to 5.8 percent in Arizona5.5 percent in Nevada5.6 percent in Georgia, and 7 percent in North Carolina. These margins are pretty formidable.

Still, staking everything on sweeping Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would be perilous for Biden. Michigan still looks a bit shaky for the president thanks to Democratic base voters there who are unhappy with his position on the Israel-Hamas war. And you can argue that as November approaches, the Kennedy threat will fade as minor-party/indie candidacies typically do and that the Black and Latino voters so crucial in the Sun Belt are likely to return to the Democratic fold. In addition, Arizona and Nevada may have abortion-policy measures on the ballot in November that could help boost Democratic turnout. On Tuesday, Arizona’s high court reinstated a total abortion ban from 1864.

Fortunately for Biden, his campaign doesn’t have to commit to one region or the other just yet, and it has the resources to keep all the battleground states in play. But some Democrats may have a residual hangover from 2016, when Hillary Clinton vainly pursued Sun Belt votes while failing to shore up what was then called the “blue wall” of Rust Belt states that swung to Trump. The numbers indicate that Biden should indeed nail down Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin if he can. But it would be prudent to make a big play for one of the larger Sun Belt states as well (e.g., Arizona, Georgia, or North Carolina) in case things go wrong. Having just one narrow path to 270 electoral votes is never a good idea.


April 5: Will Abortion Vote Make Florida Competitive in November?

A complicated series of judicial decisions in Florida could have changed the state’s dynamics in 2024, and I wrote it all up at New York:

Not long ago, Florida was considered the ultimate presidential battleground state. It determined the outcome of the 2000 election, and as recently as 2012 it was carried by a Democrat, Barack Obama. But after being won twice by Donald Trump, as Republicans swept every statewide elected office and increased their grip on the state legislature and congressional delegation, Florida is now perceived as decidedly red-tinged. Nevertheless, as Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign ponders a path to 270 electoral votes complicated by poor polling in key 2020 states like Arizona and Georgia, Florida’s 30 electoral votes remain tempting. That’s particularly true after the Florida Supreme Court simultaneously let a six-week abortion ban take effect while clearing the way for a November ballot initiative aimed at overturning it. The very next day, the same court cleared a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis use as well.

Florida could theoretically become ground zero for a national Democratic strategy of making popular anger over abortion restrictions the big game-changer for 2024, offsetting economic unhappiness, border-security worries, and concerns about Biden’s age. As my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti has pointed out, ballot measures have become a turnout-booster for Florida Democrats: “In three of the last four election cycles, the party’s turnout appeared to be helped by ballot initiatives — on broadening medical marijuana laws in 2016, on restoring voting rights for felons in 2018, and on raising the minimum wage in 2020.”

But is Florida likely to be close enough in 2024 to make this issue-driven reach for a win feasible? That’s not entirely clear. Perceptions of Florida’s trajectory are being heavily affected by the 2022 midterm blowout that gave Ron DeSantis a landslide 19-point reelection win. But at the presidential level, the red tide in the Sunshine State has been less dramatic, if still highly significant. Obama carried the state by a mere 0.9 percent in 2012 and then Hillary Clinton lost it by 1.2 percent four years later. Trump’s margin then increased to 3.3 percent in 2020, though the Biden campaign did not really target Florida. Demographically Florida has been a haven for tax-leery white retirees, including the blue-collar folk who have been trending Republican, and it’s also Exhibit A in the much-discussed Latino voter surge toward the GOP (much of it driven by conservative Cuban American and South American immigrants, with some drift among Puerto Ricans as well).

Public polling of the 2024 general election in Florida has been sparse, but two polls taken in March both show Trump with a solid if not overwhelming lead (six points per St. Pete Polls and seven points according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies).

There’s no question the twin abortion and cannabis ballot initiatives should be appealing to Democratic constituencies in Florida (especially the crucial youth vote). And the state’s 60 percent requirement for approval of state constitutional amendments means those votes will be tantalizingly close and heavily publicized. It’s also likely that the abortion policy fight will attract serious national money, with some perhaps coming from ultrawealthy Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who is already donating heavily to abortion ballot initiatives in Arizona and Nevada.

On the other hand, past ballot-measure fights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022 have had a debatable effect on partisan-turnout patterns. Pro-choice forces have won them all, but often by attracting pro-choice Republican voters who still support their party’s candidates despite its anti-abortion positioning. The relatively late timing of Florida’s imposition of a near-total abortion ban (it was enacted last year but held up in the courts until this week’s judicial decision) could make the ballot fight in the state especially intense and accordingly dangerous for the Republicans responsible for this denial of basic rights.

Perhaps the best way to characterize Florida’s status in the presidential race right now is that it’s on the Biden campaign’s watch list and could move near the top if (a) subsequent polling looks promising and (b) other states counted on to win the president an Electoral College majority appear problematic. Even if it’s a reach, Team Biden would enjoy making a relatively cash-strapped Trump campaign devote precious resources to defending the 45th president’s home turf.

 


Will Abortion Vote Make Florida Competitive in November?

A complicated series of judicial decisions in Florida could have changed the state’s dynamics in 2024, and I wrote it all up at New York:

Not long ago, Florida was considered the ultimate presidential battleground state. It determined the outcome of the 2000 election, and as recently as 2012 it was carried by a Democrat, Barack Obama. But after being won twice by Donald Trump, as Republicans swept every statewide elected office and increased their grip on the state legislature and congressional delegation, Florida is now perceived as decidedly red-tinged. Nevertheless, as Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign ponders a path to 270 electoral votes complicated by poor polling in key 2020 states like Arizona and Georgia, Florida’s 30 electoral votes remain tempting. That’s particularly true after the Florida Supreme Court simultaneously let a six-week abortion ban take effect while clearing the way for a November ballot initiative aimed at overturning it. The very next day, the same court cleared a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis use as well.

Florida could theoretically become ground zero for a national Democratic strategy of making popular anger over abortion restrictions the big game-changer for 2024, offsetting economic unhappiness, border-security worries, and concerns about Biden’s age. As my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti has pointed out, ballot measures have become a turnout-booster for Florida Democrats: “In three of the last four election cycles, the party’s turnout appeared to be helped by ballot initiatives — on broadening medical marijuana laws in 2016, on restoring voting rights for felons in 2018, and on raising the minimum wage in 2020.”

But is Florida likely to be close enough in 2024 to make this issue-driven reach for a win feasible? That’s not entirely clear. Perceptions of Florida’s trajectory are being heavily affected by the 2022 midterm blowout that gave Ron DeSantis a landslide 19-point reelection win. But at the presidential level, the red tide in the Sunshine State has been less dramatic, if still highly significant. Obama carried the state by a mere 0.9 percent in 2012 and then Hillary Clinton lost it by 1.2 percent four years later. Trump’s margin then increased to 3.3 percent in 2020, though the Biden campaign did not really target Florida. Demographically Florida has been a haven for tax-leery white retirees, including the blue-collar folk who have been trending Republican, and it’s also Exhibit A in the much-discussed Latino voter surge toward the GOP (much of it driven by conservative Cuban American and South American immigrants, with some drift among Puerto Ricans as well).

Public polling of the 2024 general election in Florida has been sparse, but two polls taken in March both show Trump with a solid if not overwhelming lead (six points per St. Pete Polls and seven points according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies).

There’s no question the twin abortion and cannabis ballot initiatives should be appealing to Democratic constituencies in Florida (especially the crucial youth vote). And the state’s 60 percent requirement for approval of state constitutional amendments means those votes will be tantalizingly close and heavily publicized. It’s also likely that the abortion policy fight will attract serious national money, with some perhaps coming from ultrawealthy Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who is already donating heavily to abortion ballot initiatives in Arizona and Nevada.

On the other hand, past ballot-measure fights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022 have had a debatable effect on partisan-turnout patterns. Pro-choice forces have won them all, but often by attracting pro-choice Republican voters who still support their party’s candidates despite its anti-abortion positioning. The relatively late timing of Florida’s imposition of a near-total abortion ban (it was enacted last year but held up in the courts until this week’s judicial decision) could make the ballot fight in the state especially intense and accordingly dangerous for the Republicans responsible for this denial of basic rights.

Perhaps the best way to characterize Florida’s status in the presidential race right now is that it’s on the Biden campaign’s watch list and could move near the top if (a) subsequent polling looks promising and (b) other states counted on to win the president an Electoral College majority appear problematic. Even if it’s a reach, Team Biden would enjoy making a relatively cash-strapped Trump campaign devote precious resources to defending the 45th president’s home turf.