On the one hand, “a year is forever in politics,” so don’t panic about where you think the party and candidates you favor are standing this far from the November 2024 national election.
On the other hand, there is a strong prospect of an unprecedented presidential election between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump in a time of great discontent around politics, and standard understandings of political dynamics may not apply.
And some of the things going on politics – such as former Trump Cabinet members becoming opponents and critics of Trump – are not easy to explain.
So the outlook for the 2024 election for president is complex, fascinating, and uncertain, in the view of three nationally respected political observers, each with ties to Marquette University, who took part in an “On the Issues” program Nov. 29, 2023, in the Lubar Center of Marquette Law School.
The three statements at the start of this blog post summarize thoughts from, respectively, Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll; Craig Gilbert, a fellow at the Marquette Law School Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education; and Marquette Professor Julia Azari, a political scientist who is quoted frequently in national discussions on politics.
“A Trump-Biden matchup would be so unprecedented,” said Gilbert, formerly the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. An incumbent president against a former president is not the only reason for saying that. The ages of the candidates, especially widely held perceptions of Biden being too old, and the large negative ratings of both candidates are also factors.
“We live in an era of chronic disapproval and discontent,” Gilbert said. “Everybody ‘s unpopular and everybody’s unhappy. Who’s happy?”
Franklin said a good reason to pay attention to poll results at this point – and the Marquette Law School Poll released both national and Wisconsin results recently – is not to predict how elections a year from now will turn out. It is to see how races are shaping up and, in the long run, to be able to understand more about the course that leads to final outcomes.
The race for the Republican nomination is dominated now by Trump, Franklin said, but Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations while Trump was president, does better than Trump in head-to-head match-ups against Biden. Franklin said Republican voters are split, with about 70% having favorable opinions of Trump and 30% having unfavorable opinions. Even if Haley looks strong against Biden, overcoming Trump within the Republican race will be a big challenge for her. “You’ve got to get the nomination to become the nominee,” Franklin said.
Azari said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was positioning himself as “Trump-plus” and Haley as “Trump-light” in appealing to voters, while former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was running as the anti-Trump. Support for DeSantis has been slipping, Christie is not gaining momentum, and Haley has become the alternative to Trump getting the most attention among Republicans.
Gilbert said about 20% of voters are “double haters,” with negative opinions of both Trump and Biden. They could become important in shaping the race, as could voters who have a somewhat negative opinion of Biden but who might vote for him in a match against Trump.
Looking to Wisconsin, Gilbert said voting patterns in the state have changed significantly in the past couple decades. The “WOW counties” — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties, adjacent to Milwaukee County – were long-time Republican bastions, but Republican margins have grown smaller in recent elections. Some rural parts of Wisconsin used to be more “purple,” with Democrats sometimes doing well, but have become increasingly “red” and supportive of Trump. And Dane County, including Madison, has continued to gain population and increase in its power as a Democratic bastion. “It’s a different map” than it was 20 or 20 years ago when it comes to analyzing Wisconsin voting, he said.
Azari said Trump continues to appeal to “low-propensity voters” who are less likely to vote usually but are more likely to turn out for Trump. Many of them are in more rural parts of Wisconsin.
Franklin said that how much Trump voters will mobilize in 2024 is likely to be an important part of determining the election outcome.
Derek Mosley, director of the Lubar Center and moderator of the program, asked the three what had made Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, such a strong candidate for re-election in Wisconsin in 2024. Azari said Baldwin “has avoided becoming a national lightening rod” for conservatives. Gilbert said that in her Senate victories in 2012 and 2018, Baldwin did better in Republican-oriented parts of the state than other Democrats. Losing some areas by smaller than expected margins should not be underestimated as a valuable part of winning Wisconsin as a whole, he said. And Franklin said that, even though no major Republican candidate for Senate has joined the race so far, it is not too late for that to happen and the Wisconsin race could still heat up.
The conversation may be viewed by clicking below.