There they are, deep in the wilderness. It might be hard for you to see them. After all they barely exist in the wild. They have gone nearly extinct. If you can’t spot them, you might be able to hear their labored breathing, seeing as they are simultaneously gasping for air and on a respirator powered only by their unyielding belief in norms.
It is the much maligned anti-Trump Republicans, expelled from the herd, lurking in the bush, waiting for the moment when they will determine the next president of the United States.
Absurd, you ask? Maybe so. Far-be-it from me to predict the outcome of next year’s presidential contest. But a new series of PTSD-inducing polls from the New York Times showed that an election hinging on the exanimate Never Trump caucus is a live possibility.
The polls, which were taken in the six battleground states where Trump won most narrowly in 2016 tested the president’s head-to-head performance against his top polling Democratic rivals—Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. The results were revealing and should jar any liberals under the impression that Trump has been fatally hobbled by scandal from their comfortable epistemic bubble.
Biden was the only candidate of the three to beat Trump in the hypothetical match-ups, and he did so by narrowly edging the president in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona while trailing in North Carolina. It was Trump who came out on top narrowly in the other-matchups, sweeping all six states against Warren and losing only Michigan to Sanders.
Now there are plenty of caveats to apply here. Of course you don’t want to overanalyze one poll or settle on big-picture takeaways from small subgroups in the crosstabs. Most of the numbers here are within the margin of error. And we are still a year from the election. But they’re not nothing. As Nate Cohn points out, in the past few cycles the polls one year out from the election have been approximately as accurate as those one day before.
With those caveats in place, this poll suggests one real possibility where the determining voters in the next election are the very people I keep hearing are extinct—center-right swing voters. It is on their backs the Biden eeks out a hypothetical victory while Warren and Sanders fall to defeat.
That this possibility is dismissed so often—in favor of base-maximization politics only—has never made sense to me. Looking at the 2016 results, Hillary’s defeat was due in large part to four key groups:
(a) Voters who didn’t like either candidate but voted third party (there was a massive jump in this group from 2012-2016);
(c) Voters who didn’t turn out (who were disproportionately non-white);
(d) The much ballyhooed white working-class Obama-to-Trump voter.
Three of those four groups were swing-voter targets for Democrats, not turn-out targets.
And who did the New York Times poll show as supporting Biden against Trump, but not Warren and Sanders? It wasn’t the Obama-to-Trump voters. It was the human scum.
Mr. Biden holds the edge among both registered voters and likely voters, and even among those who cast a ballot in 2016. He has a lead of 55 percent to 22 percent among voters who say they supported minor-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, and among those who say they voted but left the 2016 presidential race blank. It comes on top of a slight shift—just two points in Mr. Biden’s favor—among those who say they voted for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump.
Welcome Evan McMullin and Gary Johnson voters! You are the differentiators!
An analysis of the 205 respondents from the six core battleground states who support Mr. Biden but not Ms. Warren suggests that she might struggle to win many of them over… [They] are relatively well educated and disproportionately reside in precincts that flipped from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Mrs. Clinton four years later. They oppose single-payer health care or free college, and they support the Republicans’ 2017 tax law. They are not natural Democratic voters: 41 percent consider themselves conservative; 20 percent say they’re Republican; 33 percent supported Mr. Trump or Mr. Johnson in 2016.
Conservative. Pro tax-cut. Living in suburban Romney-to-Clinton precincts. These are your classic Never Trumpers—and it certainly is not the voter profile being targeted by either the Democratic primary candidates nor the president.
The state-by-state crosstabs confirm this analysis. In Wisconsin, Biden does a net 5 points better than Warren in the crucial Milwaukee suburbs. Warren and Sanders both outperform him among voters with less education, but Biden gains with college and post-grad white voters.
Overall across the six states, Biden does no better than Sanders/Warren among the non-college whites who have dominated the conversation about the last election, while he runs up the score among college-educated white voters and voters of color. Harry Enten notes that this trend isn’t just in the Times poll. A recent CNN poll shows a big gap between the candidates among non-Democrats who might support one of them in a general election.
So while there is no reason to believe that the election next year will turn out exactly the same as one November 2019 NYT/Siena poll, it does show the political power and saliency of a group that is often dismissed and not currently being catered to by either party.
When it comes to the 2020 general election, as Jon Ralston would say: To all you Human Scum, #WeMatter.