Republicans' electoral outlook in 2024 is growing increasingly ominous as multiple indicators suggest Republican base voters and lawmakers are so out of touch with the rest of America that the party could suffer devastating losses at the polls next year.
The dynamic primarily stems from a Republican electorate so walled off from American majorities that it increasingly adopts and even demands positions anathema to the rest of the country.
But demographic shifts in the voting electorate are also poised to supercharge that divide as younger voters who are more ideologically aligned with Democrats continue to grow their overall share of the voting electorate. At the same time, the vote share of white individuals without a college degree, the core of the Republican base, continues to decline.
Many of those converging forces are what helped a liberal judge in Wisconsin deliver an 11-point thumping to her conservative counterpart in a race for a state Supreme Court seat that largely hinged on reproductive freedom and protecting democracy. Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz ran as staunchly pro-choice while also painting her right-wing rival, Dan Kelly, as a danger to election integrity for his ties to the Republican party's fake elector scheme.
In an in-depth Politico piece exploring Democrats' outsized victory in the contest, a former Republican county chair reflected on the growing chasm between the policies Republicans are embracing and the views of the broader electorate.
“We got our butts kicked,” Rohn Bishop, former Fond du Lac County GOP chair, told Politico's David Siders. “What the Republican base demands and what independent voters will accept are growing further apart,” added Bishop, now mayor of Waupun.
The disconnect between the extreme Republican base and American majorities is at play on multiple issues, with abortion bans being the most obvious example. In Civiqs tracking of the issue, for instance, 59% of registered voters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% believe it should be mostly or totally illegal (30% illegal in most cases, 8% illegal in all cases).
But among Republican voters, fully three-quarters say abortion should be either illegal in most cases or totally banned.
This visual disparity between the two graphs is emblematic of the gulf the Republican Party is facing between its voters and the voting coalition it needs to assemble next year to take control of the White House and Congress. Abortion alone would be a major policy obstacle for Republicans, given the cascade of highly restrictive abortion bans red-state lawmakers are enacting and the parade of devastating headlines that follow them.
As MSNBC's Chris Hayes' tweeted, headlines such as this are not going to stop: “Tennessee woman gets emergency hysterectomy after doctors deny early abortion care.”
But Republicans' problems extend far beyond a single issue, however potent that issue may prove to be next year at the ballot box.
House Republican priorities are proving to be entirely out of sync with what voters want, according to recent polling of 61 battleground districts. When respondents were asked if their representative shared their values, Republican members in Biden districts were 16 points underwater while Republicans in Trump districts were 15 points underwater.
Donald Trump is also a singularly divisive leader of a major American party, having lost the popular vote twice along with being impeached twice, indicted on business fraud, and found liable for sexual abuse and defamation—all while still being the subject of multiple criminal investigations related to election fraud, mishandling of classified documents, and instigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
Recent focus groups of 15 Trump-to-Biden swing voters found that while the cohort wasn't excited about either Trump or President Joe Biden running again, they were downright panicked and distraught at the prospect of another Trump tenure at the White House. Ultimately, nine of the 15 said they would vote for Biden, while just three opted for Trump, and three others said neither. That’s a good ratio of swing voters who have taken a long look at both candidates.
Trump has also activated young voters at historic rates while galvanizing them largely against Republicans. A recent analysis of 2022 voting patterns from the data firm Catalist found that voters aged 18-29 turned out at even higher levels in last year's midterms than they did in the record-breaking turnout year of 2018, when voters swamped the polls to register their discontent with Trump. Last cycle, the young cohort also heavily favored Democrats at 65%.
The finding suggests Gen Z and millennial voters have gotten in the habit of turning out for elections at very high rates relative to their more recent generational predecessors. Trump may have jumpstarted the trend, but critical issues regarding freedom, bodily autonomy, and the future of democracy itself have kept them engaged.
As one Republican voter joked in the Politico piece on the Wisconsin special election, the only chance Republicans have going forward might be to “kill the millennials.” If they think the millennials are bad, just wait till they get acquainted with Gen Z.
Despite all of these negative factors, Trump remains the undeniable frontrunner for the GOP nomination, even as federal and state investigators close in on him from all directions. In fact, some legal analysts believe Trump could face federal indictment within "days" over his mishandling of classified documents.
This is a Republican Party that has lost its bearings amid the MAGA tempest Trump has visited upon it. The party's base is off on an island with its lawmakers shipwrecked beside them, and none of the party leaders are proving bold or inspired enough to chart a course back to the mainland.
The Trump-inspired assault on core democratic freedoms strikes fear in the hearts of most Americans, including the all-important swing voters who are now essential to winning battleground states. As one focus group swing voter put it, “Whatever the step above panicked is, that is what I feel about Trump.”
Gen Z and millennials are defying old patterns of spotty turnout, instead proving to be both highly engaged and dependably Democratic.
In the meantime, white voters without a college degree—the essential GOP base voter—saw a declining vote share in 2022 of both actual and eligible voters. In fact, some Democratic strategists believe Republicans and Trump, in particular, may now be confined to a ceiling of roughly 46% of the vote nationally.
Likewise, Democrats have a legitimate opportunity to vastly improve on their margins next year, making the aspirational goal of getting to 55% in the 2024 national vote increasingly more plausible.
The historic wreck of a Republican Party leaves Democrats with an unusual opening next year to alter the trajectory of the country. In 2020, Democrats’ main goal was defeating Trump for the sake of saving the republic. And while the republic is still endangered, 2024 is a clear opportunity for Democrats to deliver a death blow to Trumpism and the MAGA cult more broadly.
Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.