For the many Americans who are nervous about the polls showing that President Biden may lose to Donald Trump in November, there is one big source of comfort. Since Trump took office in 2017, Republicans have lost many more elections than they’ve won, sometimes even when the polls looked bad for Democrats.
The list of recent Democratic victories is striking: In the 2018 midterms, the party retook the House. In 2020, Biden beat Trump, and Democrats retook the Senate. In the 2022 midterms, Democrats fared better than many pundits expected. Last year, Democrats did well in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. They have also won many special elections to fill political offices that unexpectedly came open.
Voters may express dissatisfaction with Biden in surveys. When the stakes have been real, however, a crucial slice of these voters prefers Democrats to Trump-aligned Republicans. The pattern is a legitimate reason for Democrats — and others who fear the consequences of a second Trump presidency — to be hopeful about the 2024 election. The U.S. may indeed have an “anti-MAGA majority.”
But there is also one clear reason to question this narrative. In the latest edition of his newsletter, my colleague Nate Cohn — The Times’s chief political analyst — explains why Democrats shouldn’t take too much comfort from recent results.
2024 isn’t 2022
Nate’s key insight is that the electorate in a presidential race is different from the electorate in midterms or special elections. In off-year elections, fewer people vote. Those who do are more likely to be older, highly educated and close followers of politics, as this table shows:
As a result, midterms and special elections often revolve around turnout, rather than persuasion. And Democrats now have a turnout advantage.
In part, this advantage stems from the class inversion in American politics — namely, the shift of college graduates toward the Democratic Party and working-class voters toward the Republican Party. But the Democrats’ new turnout edge is not only about the class inversion. More broadly, Democrats of all demographic groups have been more politically engaged than Republicans since Trump won the presidency in 2016, at least when Trump himself is not on the ballot.
“This energy among highly engaged Democrats has powered the party’s victory in special elections, and in 2022 it helped the party hold its own in the midterms,” Nate writes.
A presidential electorate, though, is much larger. It includes many more voters who don’t follow politics closely. These less engaged voters are more likely to be independents and more open to persuasion. A presidential electorate also includes more young voters, more voters of color and more voters who didn’t graduate from college. These are precisely the voters with whom Biden is struggling to match his support from 2020.
A thin margin
Here’s one way to think about the situation: Biden won the 2020 election by a very small margin. Nationally, he beat Trump by seven million votes, but the Electoral College margin was much narrower. If the right mix of about 50,000 people across a few swing states had switched their votes, Trump could have won.
By almost any measure, Biden’s standing seems to be weaker today than it was in November 2020. Only 41 percent of Americans viewed him favorably in a recent Gallup poll, down from 46 percent shortly before the election four years ago.
This deterioration is arguably more meaningful than the string of Democratic victories since 2020. In November, Biden won’t be facing the electorate that shows up for midterms and special elections. He will be facing a presidential electorate that is less favorable to his party — and less favorable to him than it was four years ago.
The big question is whether Biden can come close enough to matching his 2020 support in 2024 to win re-election.
Nate is careful to explain that the answer may well be yes. One reason is that Trump also has weaknesses he didn’t in 2020, including his role in the Jan. 6 attack on Congress and his criminal indictments. The safest conclusion, I think, is the 2024 race will be so close that the events of the next eight months are likely to determine the outcome. But Democrats shouldn’t assume recent history will repeat itself.
I encourage you to read Nate’s piece.
THE LATEST NEWS
Biden imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, cutting them off from the U.S. financial system.
Biden also lamented “the trauma, the death and destruction in Israel and Gaza,” saying he was “actively working for peace, security, dignity” for Israelis and Palestinians.
Social media posts with opposing views of the Israel-Hamas war cost two New York doctors their jobs. Then their fates diverged.
For many Palestinians in the West Bank, life is now subject to even more restrictions, like at checkpoints.
Iran trained and funded the militia groups targeting ships and U.S. troops in the Middle East, Biden’s defense secretary said.
Iran is sending more conciliatory signals, sensing a line has been crossed. Its supreme leader wants to avoid war.
Aid to Ukraine
Lives Lived: Toni Stern, a sunny California poet, became a trusted lyricist for Carole King, on “It’s Too Late” and other songs during King’s chart-topping career. Stern died at 79.
N.F.L.: The Washington Commanders hired Dan Quinn, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, as head coach.
Mark Andrews: The Ravens’ tight end was feted as a hero for helping a woman with a medical emergency during a flight.
M.L.B.: Days after the team was sold, the Baltimore Orioles traded for the 2021 Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes.
Lindsey Horan: The U.S. women’s soccer captain said most American soccer fans “aren’t smart” and “don’t know the game” in a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic.
Ancient wonders: The Egyptian authorities recently announced a plan to cover the Pyramid of Menkaure, the smallest of Giza’s three main pyramids, with granite blocks of the kind that once clad part of its exterior. It has revived what experts say is a constant debate in conservation: whether to try to return ancient structures to their earlier splendor, or minimize intervention.