The Battle for Normie Ridge
Biden and Trump have loads of baggage they need to address to win over more “normie voters” in 2024.
Huge percentages of Americans have already determined how they will vote this November in a likely rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. In the fall wave of the TLP/YouGov presidential tracking poll, 88 percent of voters say they will support either Biden or Trump, with 12 percent unsure or leaning towards a third candidate or saying they won’t vote.
There’s really nothing anyone can say or do to get these hard-core supporters of each candidate to consider switching sides. These voters are locked-in at this point, so both parties will dedicate enormous sums of money and brainpower trying to figure out how to bring more of their own people to the polls this fall.
The real contested battle for the presidency lies among a mixed group of less engaged Americans who fall into two basic categories of what are often called “normie voters”: people who dislike politics, don’t care much for either Biden or Trump, hold mainstream views, and just want stable and secure lives for their families without a lot of drama. Some of these voters are still deciding and others are considering whether to vote at all.
One branch of normie Americans currently leans more Democratic, and is made up mostly of college-educated, white, suburban voters who don’t like extreme politics and candidates of any kind, who support abortion rights as a legal matter, and who generally place a premium on quality-of-life issues around crime, schools, and the economy. The other broad group of normie Americans leans more Republican and is made up of working-class voters without a 4-year degree (mostly white but increasingly black and Hispanic) who don’t like social lecturing and weird views from elites, who remain pinched from the lingering effects of inflation and stagnant wages, and who also worry about crime but are most concerned about immigration and the chaos at the southern border.
The problem for Biden and Trump is that neither one of these normie voter groups alone will be enough to pull out an Electoral College victory in a handful of states. One of the two candidates will have to persuade more normie voters from the other partisan-leaning group to join with them in order to win enough support to prevail in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada.
At the start of the year, neither party seems committed to making necessary adjustments to pull this off.
Democrats and their allies are convinced that hammering Trump and the GOP nonstop on January 6 and abortion rights will be enough to keep the white suburban vote in their camp and pick up a few others given genuine fears about what a second Trump term might look like for American democracy (also hoping that the Trump trials produce some convictions that turn off even more people). Conversely, Republicans and their allies are convinced that blasting Biden and Dems nonstop on immigration, “wokeness”, inflation, the deep state, and Biden’s age will be enough to get working-class voters and chunk of college-educated ones to turn away from the president and give Trump another chance.
The strategies of both parties at this point are entirely negative: sidestepping the perceived extremism and baggage of their own side to focus exclusively on the perceived extremism and baggage of the other. It’s not a surprising approach given the structure and financing of modern politics and media, but it’s also not playing to win.
If Biden really wants to solidify a viable electoral majority, he needs to focus less on white college voters and more on economically nationalist and culturally moderate ones that make up large chunks of battleground electorates. This means more emphasis on building up American businesses and workers, promoting all-of-the-above energy policies, fighting high household costs, increasing family benefits, challenging China, addressing illegal immigration, and embracing good-old American middle-class values while forcefully rejecting radical ideas and groups from the left.
If Trump wants to get above his ceiling of support, he first must recognize how deeply many Americans despise his schtick—and the antics of his political clones—particularly in more educated, suburban enclaves with lots of voters. Trump needs to stop playing the martyr and rehashing the 2020 election, stop making erratic and strange public utterances, commit himself to constitutional norms, and highlight more of his practical populist ideas on protecting American interests and the position of workers, as he did in 2016.
Partisan supporters of Biden and Trump will scoff at this suggestion and say no way will the other guy make the adjustments necessary to secure a real majority. And given what we know about both candidates, Biden is probably more likely than Trump at this point to make the shifts necessary to win over a broader group of normie voters. But the election is a long way off, and it would be foolish to think that Trump can’t rehabilitate himself with just enough people to win, despite his manifest personal weaknesses and multiple indictments.
Presidential elections are not about policy platforms or long lists of promises and achievements. They are about competing stories and values sold by different personalities. In 2024, no one particularly likes either of the storytellers. There’s not much else to learn about either Biden or Trump, so one or both of them must shake it up somehow if they are to overcome voter stupor over a year-long negative campaign.
The Battle for Normie Ridge is on. Whichever candidate figures out how to approach and capture this critical high ground will be in a good position for victory come November.