On Thursday, the leftist group Data for Progress released the results of a poll it commissioned from YouGov Blue that indicates that, contra the anonymous claims of Democratic leaders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow “Squad” congresswomen are not particularly more unpopular in swing congressional districts than ostensibly mainstream Democrats like Joe Biden, and thus are not destroying the Democratic Party’s image and ruining its 2020 chances by existing and being in headlines. AOC’s net favorability rating among the 1,033 voters surveyed in 42 districts was -6, and Biden’s was -10. Trump’s was -14, the Democratic Party’s was -7, and the GOP’s was -23.
On one level this is surprising because, you know, AOC is a radical leftist socialist Communist and Biden is a “centrist,” but on another it’s not, really, because at this point in Our Polarized Climate, the reality is that pretty much every Democrat is going to be considered fine by Democratic voters and very bad by Republican voters, and “swing districts” are not so much concentrations of maverick independents as they are places where there are roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. There’s not a lot of wiggle room either way, except in Republicans’ numbers being a little worse overall than Dems’ right now because their historically unpleasant leader is in the news 100 percent of the time being himself at 100 percent volume.
This is related to another set of Data for Progress findings that also bears on the party’s odds of taking the presidency in 2020: the results involving individuals in swing districts who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. These Obama-Trump switchers are the voters who Joe Biden has said he’s targeting with his campaign, arguing that he can win them back with his middle-class affect and roguish across-the-aisle charm. Working against Biden, though, is that previous surveys have found that Obama-Trump voters were predominately won over by Trump’s reactionary positions on immigration and cultural diversity—positions that no Democrat, even a relatively moderate one, is going to try to co-opt in 2020 because they would alienate the Democratic base. In political science terms, Trump’s campaign realigned the parties around immigration and race, highlighting what were once relatively peripheral issues in a way that drew Democrats who were already conservative (or, you know, racist) on the subjects into the GOP. Biden skeptics have been arguing for a while that no candidate, no matter how personally charismatic, is going to be able to reverse the realignment given that Trump is certain to make race a central 2020 issue.
The new Data for Progress poll mostly supports the skeptics’ case. Trump’s favorability among the 215 Obama-Trump swing district voters who were surveyed is 71 percent—35 points ahead of Biden’s. And of all respondents, 45 percent view Trump very favorably, compared with only 4 percent who say the same for Biden. Only 19 percent of the Obama-Trump voters have soured on Trump to the point of saying they have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of him, with 9 percent saying they view him neutrally.
Estimates indicate that there were around 7 to 9 million Obama-Trump voters in the country as a whole in 2016. Assuming that Data for Progress’ favorability findings apply to that larger group would mean that only somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 3 million Obama-Trump voters would even be open to considering voting for a Democrat in 2020. And while it’s true that Biden has better favorable numbers with the Obama-Trump group than other potential Democratic candidates, they’re not vastly better: He’s at 36 percent, with Bernie Sanders at 26 and Elizabeth Warren at 17.
These results suggest whatever marginal advantage Biden might have over another Dem candidate with Obama-Trump voters is going to be just that: marginal, not landslide-inducing. And those gains would have to be weighed against the voters he’d lose on the other end by coming off as a middle-of-the-road, establishment type; Data for Progress, for example, has estimated that more than 4 million Obama voters skipped the 2016 election altogether rather than vote for either Hillary Clinton or Trump. How many of those voters would Biden win back vis-à-vis a fresher, more fiery nominee?
On the other other hand, the margins by which Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—the states that flipped the Electoral College to him—were relatively tiny. If Biden turned out every Hillary Clinton voter and then won back 20 percent of Obama-Trump voters in those states, going off the numbers above, he’d probably narrowly win the election. Biden 2020: Probably a Safe Bet if I Did My Math Right, Assuming No Further Loss of Support Due to Constant Gaffes!