Voters are unhappy with a Biden-Trump race. Here’s why they lead

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Nora Garland was in high school when President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump faced off during the 2020 election. 

As a first-time unregistered voter in Concord, New Hampshire, a key primary state, Garland, 18, said she’s hoping the 2024 election doesn’t come down to a rematch between the two candidates. 

But if it does, she said she’d do anything to vote against Trump – even if that means casting her first ever general election ballot for Biden, who’s not her top choice.

“I think Trump’s second term would be very similar to the first,” Garland said. ”I would be very concerned about the peaceful transition of power after his second term. I think Trump comes with a lot of nonsense and a lot of stress that would not be good for the country.”

Garland is one of the many voters who is discontent with the party’s frontrunners.

An Associated Press/NORC poll conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 found slightly over 50% of Americans feeling somewhat or very dissatisfied if Trump was the Republican nominee and Biden ended up as the Democratic party’s pick.

Likewise, an Economist/YouGov poll conducted from Dec. 9 to 12 found a similar majority of voters opposing a Biden and Trump 2024 run. That sentiment has only grown as voters head into the primary season. 

Though many voters overall are unhappy with the choices, there is strong support for both candidates within each party, according to Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll. In a November national poll conducted by the university, 76% of Democrats held a favorable view of Biden and 78% of Republicans were favorable to Trump.

And multiple factors play a role in that phenomenon, experts said.

“The system of nominating contests, leading to the convention, the party nomination and then the general election really favors candidates who have strong visibility, fundraising abilities, and public support,” said Meena Bose, executive dean for public policy and public service programs at Hofstra University.

Why Trump and Biden are able to maintain their lead in the polls

Despite his low job approval among the entire electorate, Biden’s strength is shown by the lack of serious opposition in the primary by governors or senators, Franklin said. Numerous state and national polls show Biden leading Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., one of his challengers, by over 60 or 70 points.

“There would have to be a revolt of massive proportions within the party to keep a sitting president from being the nominee,” said Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University. “One has to go back to the Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson to find anything approaching this.”

The fact that Biden beat Trump by a narrow margin in 2020 also makes Democratic leaders, strategists, donors and voters “more risk-averse” and “less willing to entertain a change,” said Reeher.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee have raised over $71 million for his re-election campaign from July through September – an indication of his strong support.

The former president’s case is a bit different. After the 2022 midterms that failed to produce a “red wave,” there was some frustration and questions over Trump’s electability and Republican primary voters were looking at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “Trump without the baggage,” said Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project.

Though DeSantis is lagging in the polls, Trump does face another serious opponent: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is only a few points behind him in New Hampshire and could very well cut into his lead.

But Trump drives the messaging and policy of the Republican party on top issues such as the economy and immigration that no other candidate has been able to beat, said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who’s worked on a number of presidential campaigns. 

Reheer added that support for Trump “might be narrower than it was before, but within the Republican party, it runs very deep.”

Trump uses ‘victimhood’ and ‘grievance’ to maintain support

Another reason the former president’s been able to maintain his base of supporters and remain the frontrunner is his ability to tap into the “victimhood and grievance” that animates Republican voters, said Ramer.

Trump has used his four criminal indictments as a catalyst to incite voters at rallies, saying in a fiery speech in June that, “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you – and I’m just standing in their way.” He’s also told supporters he will be their “retribution.”

Joyce Briand, a 62-year-old registered Republican from Newport, New Hampshire, views the indictments as politically motivated to keep Trump from office.

“I’m not saying that there’s nothing wrong – that he did nothing wrong,” Briand said. “What I’m saying is, this is a bunch of bullcrap. A lot of it is they’re trying to get him out because they don’t want him or I should say, the Democrats, don’t want him because they’re afraid of him. They’re afraid that he’s gonna bust everything wide open and they don’t want that.”

Trump was indicted twice for allegedly conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll found that 67% of Trump’s supporters didn’t believe Biden had been legitimately elected in 2020, though multiple lawsuits and state audits say otherwise.

The indictments also “serve as a reminder” of why supporters voted for him in the first place, Ramer said. Trump has kept up his businessman and outsider status since the 2016 election, when he announced his campaign on a golden escalator at Trump Tower.

“I voted for him because he wasn’t a quote ‘everyday politician,’” said Jean Andrada, a 77-year-old Republican from Floyds Knobs, Indiana.

“I admire his honesty,” Andrada, a retired teacher, said. “I don’t admire his antics, of course, but I do think that when he says something he means it.”

Election shaping up to be a choice between the ‘lesser of two evils’

While the 2024 election is shaping up to be a Biden-Trump rematch, voters who aren’t enthusiastic about either candidate told USA TODAY they view it as choosing between the “lesser of two evils.”

John Foreman, a 37-year-old public school teacher in San Diego, California, said that the first time Biden and Trump went head to head in 2020, he felt it “degraded our political system.”

Though Biden isn’t his first choice, Foreman said he is still voting for him to “protect democracy” from Trump. The Republican frontrunner recently said he would serve as a dictator only on day one of his administration, which Foreman found “troubling.”

“If there was an Independent candidate that came up that I felt really strongly about, I would have no problem,” Foreman said. But there’s a caveat: the risk of pulling away votes from Biden and a potential victory for Trump, he added.

The fear of democracy being under threat is also what pulled Kathy Smart, a 66-year-old restaurant owner in deep red Bradenton, Florida, to support Biden. 

“Do I love Biden as a president? Absolutely not,” Smart, a Democrat, said. “I think there should be several Democrats out there that are younger and can do a little bit more for the country, but I would go for anybody against Donald Trump.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, reproductive freedom has also been on the top of Smart’s mind heading into the election. Biden has made abortion access the cornerstone of his 2024 campaign.

But one of the biggest issues in the back of voters’ minds is the economy. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll from October found 52% of voters trust Trump to handle the economy while only 41% trust Biden.

“When you’re looking at the economy, the way it is right now, and inflation, the way that it is right now, it is really hard,” said Sandy Sears, a 54-year-old Republican in Cincinnati, Ohio. She said though her first choice is Haley, she would support Trump if he ends up being the nominee.

“Taxes are going up. I am afraid I might lose my home,” Sears, who owns a lawn mowing business, said. “And I’m looking after my older brother, and he was just in a car accident.”

Trump isn’t someone Tony Simpson, a 64-year-old Independent voter and construction company mechanic in Merrimack, New Hampshire, said he would want to have a cup of coffee with.

But “his policies and what he wants to do – the direction he wants to take the country in are spot on,” said Simpson.


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