Pollster sees hope for Biden: "Republicans are in far greater trouble than is generally understood"

Trump needs 95% of Republicans to have a chance of winning. Simon Rosenberg explains "he's very far away from that"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published November 21, 2023 5:45AM (EST)

Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

With the 2024 election less than one year away, the general consensus is that President Joe Biden’s political fortunes are in decline. He is tied with or behind presumed 2024 Republican nominee Donald Trump in the polls, including in key battleground states that Biden won in 2020. He is also facing a lack of enthusiasm and declining levels of support among essential members of the Democratic Party’s base, such as African Americans, Latinos, and younger voters. Biden’s steadfast support of Israel in its war against Hamas is also threatening to fracture the Democratic Party’s coalition. And third-party candidates are in a position to siphon away much-needed votes from Biden in what will almost certainly be a very close election.

To be clear, Biden’s legislative and other successes across a range of issues including the economy, infrastructure, student loan relief, and restoring the country’s leadership role in the world are noteworthy and impressive – unfortunately, however, and for a variety of reasons, these successes are not (yet) translating into public support. Joe Biden is polling at near historic lows for an incumbent this close to an upcoming election.

Even more frustrating and troubling for the Democrats and other pro-democracy Americans who correctly see that the 2024 election represents an existential choice regarding the future of the country, is that Donald Trump, an apparent sociopath if not full-on psychopath, neofascist, dictator in waiting who is channeling Hitler and the Nazis, coup plotter and a man who has been determined by a court of law to have committed sexual assault (and who is now facing hundreds of years in prison for his many crimes), is somehow still tied with President Biden in the early polls. America’s political culture is that sick.

Democratic Party strategist and commentator Simon Rosenberg rejects the consensus view that President Biden is already done for. Rosenberg’s insights merit very careful consideration: He was one of the few experts who predicted that the so-called Republican “red wave” was actually a chimera.   

Joe Biden is polling at near historic lows for an incumbent this close to an upcoming election.

In this conversation, Rosenberg explains why President Biden and the Democrats are in a much stronger position than Donald Trump and the Republicans heading into the 2024 election and why he thinks so many of the early 2024 election polls are incorrect.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

How are you feeling given Trump and the Republican fascists' escalating threats to democracy? 

I'm tired. But I'm also exhilarated by our continued strong electoral performances all across the country going back to 2017. In particular, the Democrats have been winning elections since the [Supreme Court's] Dobbs decision in Spring 2022. We are winning across the country, in every kind of race — mayoral races, school board races, in governor's races in red states, and on ballot initiatives. It leaves me deeply optimistic about 2024.

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What does “winning” mean for the Democrats and the American people in the context of this democracy crisis?

Winning in a democracy matters, and for now, we're still operating largely under the rules of the old system. What's important about winning an election requires many different things to happen. That includes good candidates, strong arguments, the ability to raise money, and the ability to tactically execute one's plans. As shown by how the Democrats have been winning in every type of race across the country now for a year and a half, that is a sign of institutional and organizational strength. The Democratic Party is very strong right now. By comparison, the Republican Party is very weak institutionally.

It's divided. It's tactically behind the Democrats right now. Some of the state parties around the country are falling apart. Their candidates are having problems raising money. They're getting crushed on abortion. Abortion has become an enormous electoral and political albatross around the Republican Party's neck.

"It just gives me hope that people have been voting against MAGA and the Republicans repeatedly, especially, in the battleground states."

I believe that the central driving force of our politics, and it really has been since 2018, has been fear and opposition to the MAGA movement. The Republican Party's presidential candidate in 2024 is Mr. Super MAGA. That means that there is no way to scrub Trump, to put lipstick on the Trump pig, or to dress him up and make him something other than the most dangerous candidate in the history of American politics. And it just gives me hope that people have been voting against MAGA and the Republicans repeatedly, especially, in the battleground states. If we have a normal election the Democrats should win next year — even with Joe Biden and all of his limitations. But at the end of the day, he's been a good president. And he's got a strong case for reelection. I take your concern about whether this is going to be a straight-up election seriously. But if the Democrats win the election by eight to 10 points, none of the chicanery and trickery by the Republicans is going to matter. But we must win by a big margin.

When I look at the polling for Biden — especially the recent NY Times-Siena poll where he is behind Trump in key battleground states — it is not very positive for him and the Democrats, even allowing for all the qualifiers. Trump is also riding the wave if not getting stronger because of his trials and escalating fascism and other threats of violence and chaos.

I don't agree.

The Democrats have been winning in off-year elections. We won in the red wave midterm that we weren't supposed to win last year. We won in the general election. This idea that as the electorate gets bigger, it gets more Republican is false. The Democrats have won more votes in the last seven out of eight elections than the Republicans. No political party has done that in American history. In the last four elections, we've beaten the Republicans on average by 51 to 46 by five points.

In addition, there is a big anti-MAGA majority in this country and it continues to show up to give the Democrats big electoral victories when nobody expects it. I also have no idea how Donald Trump is going to pick up a single new vote beyond the voters who voted for him in 2020. And it's far more likely that he gets 45% of the vote than he does 49% of the vote. Trump is not a strong candidate. He's only getting 60% of the Republican field right now. That means 40% of Republicans are not supporting him right now. Trump needs 95% of Republicans to even have a remote chance of winning. He is very far away from that. Trump is actually showing a lot of structural weakness, not strength.

I know the polls have shown what they've shown. First of all, the election is a year away. Not to be overlooked, there are polls showing Biden up by between two and five points nationally over Trump. There is contradictory data out there — which is what happened with the non-existent red wave in 2022. For Trump to be in the high 40s, or even ahead of Biden, it would put Trump in a place that no Republican candidate has been in 20 years. I just don't buy that given the fact that when actual Democrats and Republicans go vote, we do well, and they don't. I'm not going to tell you we're going to win. I can't predict that. But I would much rather be us than them given everything I know about politics.

"We have to we have to recognize that with Donald Trump it's always the worst-case scenario."

The Republicans are in far greater trouble than is generally understood. Consider these facts: Trump has been convicted of sexual assault, he was involved in one of the largest financial scandals in American history, he will have been probably responsible for the greatest security breach in the history of potentially the United States and even the West, he will have overseen a party-wide conspiracy to overturn an election and to end American democracy, and he is more responsible for ending Roe v. Wade and taking away women's reproductive rights than any other single person in the country. When you add all that up, I just don't know how Donald Trump, the worst candidate in American history, wins.

Very few if any Trump - Republican voters will support Biden or any other Democrat. The hostility and hatred and cult loyalty are that intense. More broadly, I have little faith in the American people at this point to be civically engaged and responsible citizens.

Trump gets 45% of the vote if he gets hit by a bus. But the ceiling for Trump may also be 45%.

The average American is not tuned into what is going on. That's one of the reasons why Trump's numbers are better than they will be. He's like a car wreck. They don't want to look at the car wreck anymore. It's so dark and negative and people are just worrying about other things. That having been said, Trump is only at 60%. 40% of Republican primary voters are not with him. That's a huge problem. Trump can't lose any Republicans. He's the weak candidate. Trump is struggling to pull his coalition back together.

Here is the likely scenario: By March, Biden will be up by four or five points. Trump's coalition will come back, and he will be at 45 or 46%. Biden will be up in the high 40s, because he got 51 and a half percent of the vote last time. Biden's coalition will take a while to come back together. And I think he'll get back 50 to 60 to maybe even 70% of his voters. Yes, some of the Democratic Party coalition is wandering right now but it is very unlikely that it's going to wander over to the Republican camp. Trump has nothing to offer them. Can we even go get people who are wandering away from Trump? As for third-party candidates, I actually think that some of them are drawing support away from Republicans. In fact, right now, Robert Kennedy is pulling more from Trump voters than he is from Biden voters.

Would you rather have the Democratic Party's base right now or the Republican Party's?

There are more Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats also have more "episodic voters" than the Republicans. Our coalition is younger for example. Younger voters of color in particular have wandered away from the party. Let's say 10% of Biden's support has wandered. It's not really surprising a year out when we are not in a primary. In terms of motivation, the Democrats are the motivated party.  Our victories at the polls show this. Again, when real voting takes place, the Democrats are bringing the heightened intensity. I think we can do better with Hispanics. I think the issues around abortion, as we've seen, are creating openings with Republican and independent women that are unprecedented. The Republicans have no way now to mitigate the political damage that abortion has done to them or will do to them again in 2024.

The Republicans and the "conservatives" and the MAGA people do not care about real democracy. Their strategists as seen with Agenda 47, Project 2025, the "Red Caesar" scenario, and the parallel institutions they have created to end multiracial pluralistic democracy are not stupid. These are very serious and very dangerous people — who have lots of money and other resources at their command.

I don't know if they're smart. The Republican Party has been overtaken by extremism and extremists. Do not assume that the Republicans have a plan and that it is coherent and makes sense. Why are they losing election after election, even in places like Kentucky and Ohio? Today's Republicans are operating out of a place of faith and craziness and beyond reason that there is no place for strategy and politics. They're contemptuous of polling and data. To your point about if we are going to have a legitimate election. All I can do in my work is operate as though this is going to be okay. Of course, we have to be vigilant. Right now, that we have Democratic governors in key battleground states does an enormous amount to mitigate the Republicans' ability to interfere in a free and fair election. The Democrats are in control of their own destiny in 2024. But they and we must go and do the work. Millions of Americans are getting up and they've decided that they are not going to let their democracy slip away. There are millions of us who are fighting every day to prevent our democracy from slipping away.

If President Biden and the Democratic Party's fundamentals are so strong, then why is he behind in the polls? Yes, the popular vote matters. But what about the Electoral College and other structural features of American democracy that dilute and subvert the popular vote?

Reform is long overdue. The Age of Trump has shown us how our democracy is based on norms and not the law or even the explicit rules. Those norms have been penetrated and violated and abused and trampled repeatedly. Healing and reform need to be done. There are flaws in our democracy that are significant. I have been for the national popular vote and getting rid of the Electoral College for 20 years. This is an opportunity for Biden to introduce an ambitious and bold reform agenda.

So, is this widespread concern about Biden's weak polling just a function of media framing? Something else?

I'm not worried about the polling. In my opinion, part of what's happening with polling is that because of low response rates, where people just aren't responding to polls in the way they used to, the quality of polling has deteriorated. It's harder for polling to capture the current moment in the way that it used to. Our country's more diverse; it's a very big and complicated country. The polling industrial complex oversells the predictive capacity of polling. Polling can't predict anything; all it can do is tell you what's happening today. There is usually three to four points of margin of error. That means if Trump is ahead 46 to 44 percent in Wisconsin due to margin of error, then Biden could actually be ahead by two points. Because of low response rates and different techniques and people not answering phones, it means that polling is struggling to capture the moment. Other data is necessary to capture what is really happening with the electorate. In total, polling is much more of a sketch than a detailed painting. 

What happens if you're wrong and Trump and the Republican Party win the 2024 Election?

We're screwed. I've written Trump's campaign slogan: I tried to end American democracy in the last election, I failed. And if you elect me this time, I'll finish the job. We have to we have to recognize that with Donald Trump it's always the worst-case scenario. This effort by many in the news media and elsewhere to normalize Trump is foolish; anyone who has spent time normalizing Trump is a fool. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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