Can the Anti-Trump Coalition Hold?
While Trump grows stronger and more dangerous, the forces arrayed against him are fracturing and weakening.
AS PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN CONTINUES to lose support, former President Donald Trump has never had more. This isn’t only because prices, and Biden’s age, are too high. Many disillusioned Biden voters say they will not vote next year, but Trump is also winning converts.
A lot can change in a year but the electorate is shifting, and the anti-MAGA coalition is splintering.
Trump leads Biden in national polling and swing state polling. Biden’s overall approval hovers around 39 percent, nowhere near what is required for an incumbent to win a second term, and the numbers on his management of the economy—the number one issue—are worse.
A new Democracy Corps Battleground survey released Monday shows Biden down 5 points to Trump in battleground states (and 6 points down when accounting for independent candidates whose vote share is 17 percent). The poll found that voters don’t want to hear about job growth, dipping inflation, rising GDP, or that a recession has been averted. They are angry about prices and can’t buy things because of interest rates.
“Democrats talking about this strong economy and things moving in the right direction sounds like you are talking about a different country,” the poll’s key findings stated.
The survey found that after economic concerns, “Black, Hispanic and Asian voters put crime, homelessness and violence as their second worry.”
This is a change from the Trump years.
Gun ownership is at a record high, not just guns per person—the latest NBC News poll showed 52 percent of Americans claim they, or someone in their household, owns a gun, up 6 points since 2019.
Trust is down, and contempt for elites is bipartisan.
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SO WHO ARE THE VOTERS being newly persuaded by Trump? These potential new swing voters are not MAGA, they aren’t pumped for the release of the J6 tapes, and they don’t give a passing thought to the outrages of Hunter Biden. They are nonwhite, young, and independent, and they trust Trump more on the economy, foreign policy, and immigration.
While a second term of Trump will destroy democracy and potentially destabilize the entire world, these Americans either don’t know that, don’t believe it, or don’t care. Trump’s calls for internment camps, his interest in invoking the Insurrection Act on day one, promises of prosecution for political enemies, the probability he will pardon his own crimes (and the certainty that he will shut down federal investigations into them), and an overhauled government filled with cronies who will do Trump’s authoritarian bidding are not registering as a danger in these polls.
Those Democrats who do not concede Trump’s policies are winning over some of their own are clinging to real data too—for instance, data that shows abortion is a huge political liability for the GOP—and they tout a record of sustained electoral successes through 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. And yes, the anti-MAGA coalition remained remarkably intact through midterms, special elections, state elections, and a presidential election—consistently voting against Trump and his accomplices in the GOP.
But the electorate that turns out next year to vote for president, or does not, is not comparable to smaller, more distinctive groups of activated voters who turn out in off-cycle elections.
And this coalition was already fragile—Biden nearly lost to Trump in 2020, despite the fact that in 2019 and 2020, Biden led Trump in every single poll and Trump was never ahead in one. Clearly a good number of voters did not object to his causing the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans (he told Bob Woodward the virus was dangerous and airborne on February 7, 2020 while continuing to lie for months as it spread), the obstruction of justice that Robert Mueller detailed, Trump siding with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Lafayette Square, giving classified information to the Russian foreign minister, abandoning the Kurds, and, of course, trashing the men and women in our armed forces—particularly those who gave their lives.
And all that was before January 6th.
The Biden team assumed, when he announced in April that as the oldest ever president he would seek a second term, that his 2020 vote share was still nailed down, particularly after Trump led a coup attempt and tried to steal an election. And in an era of negative partisanship, and with an opponent like Trump, that should be true. Team Biden assumed an insurrection and four indictments would energize swing voters to join Democrats voting in strong numbers against Trump. And, of course, they thought Trump-to-Biden voters would never revert.
Listening to my Bulwark colleague Sarah Longwell’s The Focus Group podcast would sober them up. There are plenty of Americans who left Trump for Biden and will go right back to him, criminal charges, coup, and all. As for Never Trump Republicans, it’s not clear they will support Biden next year in strong numbers, or simply vote down-ballot, which would still help Trump.
WHILE THE DEMOCRATS’ EROSION with black and Hispanic voters became undeniable in 2020, the flight of young voters to Trump is a stunning and pivotal development. Some young progressives are critical of Biden’s posture in the Israel/Hamas war and are threatening to withhold their support because of it. And while those young voters now choosing Trump in surveys may not ultimately vote for him, they are ripe targets for third-party candidates, and their discontent is likely to remain a durable problem for Biden.
Biden won voters under age 30 by 24 points in 2020, and those ages 30–49 by 12 points. In several recent polls he loses them to Trump or is battling within the margin of error. In the New York Times/Siena poll conducted late last month, young voters chose Trump over Biden to handle the economy, with 62 percent of those ages 18–29 and 61 percent of those ages 40–44 years old. In that same poll, younger voters said they trusted Trump more than Biden to handle the war in the Middle East—by 10 points.
Young Americans came out of the pandemic likely more affected than their parents, into the Biden years in which prices rose sharply, the United States joined in defense of two nations in two new wars in two years, and AI arrived to disrupt, and potentially derail, what careers they had planned for. The argument that Trump will bring chaos isn’t likely to work with these voters because for them the Biden years have already been chaotic. And the argument that Trump will damage our democracy is also unlikely to succeed with them because they already don’t think our system is working.
The response from Team Biden to Trump’s strength is to stress the danger of Trump, the threat to democracy, and the threat to abortion rights. But the issue of abortion will not be enough to save Biden or unite the anti-MAGA coalition next year; it will take more than that. Especially if Trump runs, as he reportedly plans to, as a “moderate” on abortion. And thus far, it doesn’t appear the need to protect democracy is keeping together the voting bloc Biden needs to block Trump.
Pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded the Democracy Corps Battleground Survey findings show those issues won’t bring Democrats home.
“That is a dangerous strategy when the base of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTQ+ community, Gen Z, millennials, unmarried and college women give Trump higher approval ratings than Biden,” he wrote.
The shock and corruption of Trump has worn off for most Americans. And right now, with too many voters, he is winning the argument.