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The Biden Effect
Biden outperforms Democrats on every key indicator in TLP’s “Patriot Index”. He needs to put a clear stamp on his party ahead of 2024.
In the lead up to the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, Joe Biden was written off by many journalists and elite activists as a man of the past, a has-been moderate lacking sufficient commitment to radical “structural reforms” and a bevy of leftist positions on immigration, climate, race and gender, policing, and health care.
Democratic primary voters from South Carolina forward took a different position, however, rejecting radicalism and instead choosing the long-serving senator and vice president with a working-class background and moderate demeanor to take on the unpredictable Donald Trump.
It worked. Team Normal defeated Team Chaos.
With 2024 appearing to be an unwelcomed rematch of Biden vs. Trump, the question remains: Can Biden and Democrats get their act together again to present a moderate and sensible alternative to Trump?
At first glance, this shouldn’t be too hard. Trump generates his own opposition. In fact, in the first wave of the 2024 TLP/YouGov presidential tracking project, the former president emerges as the most widely and intensely hated candidate among the top three contenders of Biden, Trump, and DeSantis. In addition to facing multiple criminal indictments, Trump appears to be terminally online these days, ranting in campaign ads about QAnon style conspiracies and lies about “winning” the last election. This doesn’t go over well with voters outside of the hard-core Trump base and most Americans have responded in kind by favoring Biden over Trump in early election match-ups.
But as other data from our study highlight, voters don’t particularly like either political party and increasingly view both Democrats and Republicans as too ideologically extreme on economic and cultural grounds.
However, on both of these fronts, President Biden maintains an important advantage relative to his party.
As seen in the table below, Biden outperforms Democrats on every single measure in our “Patriot Index” where voters were asked in a split sample test which party leader or party comes closer to their own views across ten different issue areas. Notably, Biden comes out well ahead of Democrats on key indicators of national strength including maintaining a strong military and defense, being patriotic, taking on China and protecting American interests, building up American manufacturing, fighting crime, and being culturally moderate and not extreme. In comparison, Trump underperforms the GOP on several measures even as he outpaces Biden on some issues if not in the presidential horse race.
The conclusion from these data for party strategists and the White House is crystal clear: As in 2020, Biden’s patriotic and more moderate personal brand works far better with voters than the Democratic Party’s overall brand and needs to be front and center in any potential re-match with Trump.
This means ignoring and drawing some lines against progressive activist demands, most importantly on immigration and crime. It means stressing an “all-of-the-above” energy policy and clean energy jobs over apocalyptic climate change rhetoric favored by the green lobby. It means standing up for basic liberal rights, free speech, and pluralism by accepting differences rather than lecturing Americans about their views on controversial issues facing the country today. It means continuing to reach out to members of the opposition party on important national matters regardless of whether it’s reciprocated. It means understanding voters’ ongoing financial worries after a long period of inflation and not dismissing these concerns.
Fortunately, party elites have finally acknowledged that Democrats focus too much on cultural and social issues to their detriment and now counsel the party to talk more about middle class economic strength and stability.
Good idea. But you can’t do one without the other. Persuadable voters won’t listen to a Democratic economic message if they don’t first believe the party respects their values.
If Democrats want to forge a popular front against Trump in 2024, Biden needs to put his stamp on the party more firmly to show voters that he leads a big-tent, moderate, and pragmatic coalition that loves America and is trying to get things done for working- and middle-class families across the country.
Time to reassemble Team Normal—and leave the chaos and extremism to the other side.