The Wakeup Theory in New Hampshire
What happens when Americans wake up to a Biden-Trump rematch? New Hampshire provides a data point for the leading theory of Biden’s re-election.
Happy New Hampshire Primary Day!
We recently covered why you should (calmly) freak out about the 2024 election.
Here’s another angle from a half-full glass: fresh data for the most compelling theory of Trump losing in 2024.
Here’s how the theory goes:
Voters are not paying attention to the presidential election, and do not believe a Trump-Biden rematch is likely.
Once Americans tune in to the election and are reminded of Trump’s ways, Biden will look better in comparison.
Biden’s favorability may be lagging, but he’ll win a head-to-head with Trump.
#1 has plenty of data: polling shows voters don’t know how likely Trump is to be the Republican nominee. If you don’t believe polls, call your high school buddy who can name more Kansas City Chiefs players (or Taylor Swift songs) than US Senators and ask what they think about the election.
#2 sounds good, but how can we test if voters will move away from Trump once they’re forced to pay attention to presidential politics?
The closest thing we have right now to that simulation is the great state of New Hampshire1, where voters were force fed presidential political ads between Chiefs-Bills drives and all other typically non-political forms of attention.
Let’s start with point #3, that Biden may not become outright popular, but he will be preferred to Trump. Well, the unpopular part is true in the Marist poll - Biden is at 40% favorability, exactly his national average.
Now on to the main event: when given the choice of the current president or the former guy, voters choose to re-elect Joseph R. Biden of Delaware by a 7 point margin, 52% to Trump’s 45%. The same margin as in 2020.
That’s because Trump’s favorables are even worse: 60% of New Hampshire voters have an unfavorable view of Trump. Only 37% have a favorable one.
So far, so good for that theory.2
As a bonus for the merits of this simulation, Trump is not getting attacked much while Biden is getting smacked around in New Hampshire from every possible angle - Haley’s paid media is critical of Biden, as is that of Dean Phillips - and Biden is not investing significantly to defend himself.
So we are seeing a live demonstration of what might happen in the general election: once it becomes clear that the nominees are Biden and Trump, voters will be forced to reckon with the reality of what a Trump Presidency would mean. As Joe Biden himself said, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.”
Now for the catch: Biden’s margin comes from Haley voters.
Roughly 1 in 6 voters supporting Biden against Trump abandon him in the matchup against Haley.
The same voters who favor Biden over Trump by 7 points prefer Haley over Biden by 3 points, 47% to 44%.
This theory of Biden’s re-election relies on a fourth point: to win, Biden needs to remind these Haley-Biden voters of why many of them voted for him four years ago - and many more turned against Trumpism after January 6th.
To close the deal, Biden needs to pull in Haley voters, which means moving towards the center and re-embracing the message that won him the election in 2020: a unified, moderate front against extremism.
Sooner or later, Americans will wake up to the reality of the 2024 election. Once they wake up, Democrats need to bring them into the tent.
Iowa also provides some measure as well - Emerson College polled the Iowa general election amid pre-caucus presidential ad spending in December, and the Trump-Biden margins also matched their 2020 result of Trump +8
It should be noted that Biden has also led in earlier New Hampshire polling.