Election analysts have wasted a lot of ink over the past several weeks chewing over whether President Joe Biden's age will weigh down Democrats at the polls next year.
They are fixated on voters being considerably more concerned about 80-year-old Biden's age compared to 77-year-old Donald Trump. This month's Daily Kos/Civiqs poll found that 75% of registered voters expressed concern over Biden's age while roughly half of voters said the same of Trump.
But the 25-point delta between the levels of concern stems mainly from Democratic voters being almost twice as willing to question their own candidate as Republicans are to question Trump, 50% to 27%.
The real issue raised by the data isn't whether Democrats—who clearly aren't going to vote for Trump—think their candidate is too old. It's whether they will be motivated to cast their ballot for Biden, the near-certain Democratic nominee. It's a question of enthusiasm.
The good news is, Trump, the likely Republican nominee, is the ultimate Democratic motivator, as Sarah Longwell, host of The Focus Group podcast, noted during an interview on Hacks on Tap.
Longwell explained that some voters in the focus groups she conducts are just now cluing in to the fact that President Biden is running for reelection and will be the Democratic nominee, short of some completely unexpected event.
"They're just coming around to the idea that he is gonna be the guy, and they think he's too old," she explained. "That said, you ask 'em, head-to-head with Trump—it's not close. They'll vote for Biden."
Longwell also said some voters in her groups suggested they weren't sure they would vote if Biden is the nominee, but they also haven't grasped that Trump is the likely nominee on the Republican side.
"When you tell them, What if it's Trump again, they're like, ‘Oh yeah, no, no, no—I'm all in,’" Longwell said.
In other words, the prospect of another Trump tenure translates to immediate enthusiasm and engagement among Democratic voters and leaners.
The bigger problem is the possibility of a third-party challenger who could siphon away votes from Biden.
Former Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina summed up the dynamic nicely in The Washington Post, saying, “Look, America is split right down the middle. Both parties are going to get 46%, and we’re fighting over the rest.”
Back on the Hacks on Tap podcast, former Obama White House aide David Axelrod said of Team Biden, "I think they want and need a binary choice."
Longwell responded, "Oh, you absolutely do."
She went to explain that in order for Biden to beat Trump again in 2024, he has to replicate "not a pro-Joe Biden coalition, but an anti-Trump coalition."
Longwell said she was "very concerned" about a hypothetical third-party candidate from No Labels, for instance, who would surely eat into Biden's margins among swing voters—moderate Republicans and soft GOP-leaners—who cast a ballot in 2020 against Trump by voting for Biden.
"They don't love voting for Biden—they don't want to do it," Longwell said, adding that they're even less interested in casting that vote today than they were in 2020.
But Biden must have those votes in order to hold his winning coalition together. No Labels, she said, will not get to 30% or 20% of electorate.
"But could they get 9% of that persuadable anti-Trump coalition that has to ... vote for Joe Biden?" Longwell posited. "That's what they could do. They will reelect Donald Trump, and people should be very clear on that."
Longwell went on to berate No Labels for playing donor-generated "fantasy politics" when voters simply aren't interested in a ticket with politicians like Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Larry Hogan, the former Republican governor of Maryland.
"Nobody's interested in that, except for an elite donor class," Longwell concluded.
That means Democrats must continue to highlight the existential threat a Trump victory next year poses to American democracy—he’s a great motivator.
And third-party campaigns—whether they’re waged by the supposedly moderate No Labels or a liberal firebrand like Green Party candidate Cornel West—must also be denounced as an inherently dangerous fool's errand.
Kerry talks with Drew Linzer, director of the online polling company Civiqs. Drew tells us what the polls say about voters’ feelings toward President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and what the results would be if the two men were to, say … run against each other for president in 2024. Oh yeah, Drew polled to find out who thinks Donald Trump is guilty of the crimes he’s been indicted for, and whether or not he should see the inside of a jail cell.