What Americans Think Of The Biden Impeachment Inquiry

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly-ish polling roundup.

It’s officially impeachment season again. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that he’s directing three House committees to start investigating whether President Biden benefited from his son Hunter’s business dealings overseas. McCarthy accused the Biden family of “a culture of corruption,” saying that the Biden administration gave Hunter “special treatment” in a criminal tax and gun investigation, and that Biden himself had lied about his knowledge of his son’s financial dealings.

The good news for McCarthy and the right-wing supporters of an impeachment investigation is that Americans do seem to believe, overall, that Hunter Biden’s business dealings were sketchy at best and illegal at worst.

But Hunter Biden isn’t the subject of the impeachment inquiry — his father is. So far, Republicans haven’t provided any concrete evidence tying the president to his son’s overseas business, although the impeachment inquiry may allow House Republicans to obtain bank records and other financial documents from Biden and his son. Right now, Republicans are most firmly convinced that Biden is implicated in Hunter’s wrongdoing, while Americans overall are more inclined to see former President Donald Trump’s family as corrupt, compared to the Bidens. And there isn’t a broad consensus that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, signaling that Republicans have some convincing to do if they want the public to support their investigation.

Americans think Hunter Biden profited from his father’s position

All of the allegations of a broader web of corruption within the Biden family have yet to be proven. What is less disputed, though, is the fact that Hunter Biden has personally made a significant amount of money through overseas business deals, and is the subject of a long-running criminal investigation. Earlier this summer, he agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars of income in 2017 and 2018, with an additional agreement that could allow him to avoid a conviction on a separate illegal gun ownership charge, but the plea deal fell apart after the judge, a Trump appointee, said she refused to “rubber-stamp” the agreement, which she said wasn’t standard. Republicans accused the Biden administration of giving Hunter a “sweetheart” deal and in August, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to continue probing Hunter Biden’s finances.

None of this is a great look for the president’s son, and recent polling shows that Americans are unhappy about Hunter Biden’s behavior. A YouGov/The Economist poll conducted in August, after the plea deal collapsed, found that 72 percent of Americans think Hunter Biden personally profited from his father’s positions in government, including a slim majority (53 percent) of Democrats. The same poll found that two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans have an unfavorable view of Hunter Biden, while only 17 percent have a favorable view (an additional 17 percent said they didn’t know). According to a Yahoo News survey conducted by YouGov in August, 59 percent of Americans think Hunter Biden traded on his family name and proximity to power to get millions of dollars from foreign business associates. The same poll found that 51 percent of Americans believe that Hunter Biden improperly claimed tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions. And an Ipsos/Politico Magazine poll conducted in August found, similarly, that 59 percent of Americans think that Hunter Biden is guilty of the alleged crimes in the tax non-payment case, including 51 percent of Democrats. Notably, only 2 percent of respondents said they thought he wasn’t guilty, and 38 percent said they didn’t know.

The YouGov/Economist poll’s findings suggest, though, that Americans think most presidents’ children get some level of special treatment. The survey found that 84 percent of respondents think children of U.S. presidents get away with things that other people do not because of their parents’ jobs, and a similar share (85 percent) say that adult children personally profit from their parents’ positions in government at least sometimes. So while Americans do seem convinced, overall, that Hunter Biden has profited financially from his father’s jobs, and even a slim majority of Democrats think he likely committed crimes, the behavior may not be shocking or unexpected.

Republicans are more convinced that Biden is implicated in Hunter’s wrongdoing

Republicans don’t really have to convince Americans that Hunter Biden deserves investigation, or even a criminal trial. But that’s not the question that matters for impeaching his father. To justify impeaching the president, Republicans will have to prove that he was involved in financial wrongdoing or corruption that rises to the level of an impeachable offense. And so far, Republicans are making claims without facts to back them up. When he announced the inquiry, McCarthy asserted — without evidence — that the millions Hunter Biden earned through overseas deals were also shared with Biden family members, and that Biden used his official role as vice president to help get business for Hunter.

More findings that tie Biden and his family to Hunter Biden’s business dealings could, of course, emerge. But right now, Americans haven’t fully bought into the idea that the Biden family is involved in a broader influence-peddling scheme. Less than half (41 percent) of respondents in the Yahoo poll said they believe that Hunter Biden funneled millions of dollars to his father in a long-running scheme to help Joe Biden profit off his position, while 26 percent said they didn’t believe it and 33 percent said they didn’t know. A similar share (44 percent) believe that Biden definitely or probably did something illegal regarding Hunter Biden, while 32 percent believe he definitely or probably did not and 32 percent said they don’t know.

Many Americans are not very tuned in to the allegations against the Bidens, which is probably why these questions result in such a high share of people who say they don’t know. And another recent poll found a slightly higher share of people who say that even if Joe Biden didn’t do something illegal, he may have acted unethically. According to an SSRS/CNN poll conducted in August, 61 percent of Americans agreed that Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings, although less than half (42 percent) said he acted illegally and 18 percent said he acted unethically but not illegally. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in September found that 35 percent of Americans thought Biden was involved and did something illegal in Hunter Biden’s business dealings with Ukraine and China, while 14 percent think he was involved and did something unethical but not illegal, and 37 percent think he wasn’t involved.

Republicans are most convinced of the Bidens’ wrongdoing

Share of respondents who said they believe that Hunter Biden did each of the following things, by party affiliation

All Democrats Republicans Independents
Traded on his family name and proximity to power to get millions of dollars from foreign business associates 59 37 88 63
Failed to meet tax filing deadlines 59 50 78 57
Improperly claimed tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions 51 31 81 51
Got preferential treatment from federal prosecutors when striking a plea deal 51 22 86 56
Funneled millions of dollars to his father in a long-running scheme to help Joe Biden profit off of his position 41 10 84 41

Source: YouGov/Yahoo News

But as the table above shows, the people who really believe that the Biden family is corrupt are Republicans. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are much less convinced that the president did something wrong, and independents are also pretty divided. Of course, it’s possible that more coverage of the allegations motivating the impeachment inquiry — and any concrete evidence that might get turned up along the way — could change people’s minds, or at least persuade  some of the ones who are undecided. 

And notably, the Yahoo News survey found that while the share of Americans — including the share of Democrats — who think Hunter Biden did something illegal has increased since last fall, the share of respondents who think Joe Biden broke the law has remained functionally unchanged, despite a drumbeat of Republican accusations to the contrary. Polling by Beacon Research/Shaw & Co. Research for Fox News has found a similar trend: The share of Americans who think Hunter Biden did something illegal rose from 39 percent last December to 50 percent in August, but the share of Americans who think Joe Biden did something illegal related to his son’s business dealings hasn’t really moved. (The survey found it at 35 percent in December versus 38 percent in August.)

Americans aren’t convinced impeachment is warranted

Perhaps most worryingly for Republicans, most Americans don’t think an impeachment inquiry into Biden is warranted right now. A GBAO/Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll for The Wall Street Journal conducted in late August found that 52 percent of Americans oppose impeaching Biden, and only 41 percent are in favor. More recently, a YouGov poll conducted on September 13 found that 41 percent of Americans oppose impeaching Biden, 44 percent are in support and 15 percent don’t know. In early October 2019, when Trump’s first impeachment was getting underway, Americans were more closely divided, according to our polling tracker. And in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, majorities of Americans supported Trump’s impeachment; a slim majority of Americans even consistently supported removing Trump from office before the end of his term.

In fact, allegations of corruption are stickier when it comes to the Trump family than the Bidens. According to the Yahoo News survey, 46 percent of Americans think that Trump and his family are more corrupt than the Bidens, while 36 percent think the Bidens are more corrupt than the Trumps. And a recent AP-NORC poll found that Americans were more likely to describe Trump as “corrupt” than Biden. Meanwhile, that September YouGov poll found that Americans are more likely to describe the impeachment inquiry as motivated by politics in an attempt to embarrass Biden (41 percent) rather than a serious effort to find out the truth (28 percent).

That doesn’t mean that Hunter Biden’s legal troubles aren’t a liability for Biden, particularly after a grand jury just indicted him on federal gun charges. A recent Emerson College poll found that while 47 of voters say that the indictments against Trump make them less likely to vote for him for president, 46 percent say the Hunter Biden tax and felony gun charges make them less likely to vote for Joe Biden in 2024. So it’s possible that as Hunter Biden’s investigation continues to unfold, his father could take political damage. But right now, Republicans aren’t just missing evidence that Biden is connected to his son’s wrongdoing in ways that could be impeachable — they also don’t have the public on their side.

Other polling bites:

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 40.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 54.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -13.5 points). At this time last week, 40.0 percent approved and 56.0 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -16.0 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 40.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.8 points.

#politics

The Second GOP Debate Could Be Smaller, With Or Without Trump

The second Republican presidential primary debate is less than two weeks away, so time is running out for GOP contenders to meet the Republican National Committee’s qualification criteria. To make the Sept. 27 debate, each candidate must have at least 3 percent support in two qualifying national polls, or at least 3 percent in one national survey and that same figure in polls from two different early voting states, conducted since Aug. 1. Each candidate must also provide evidence of having attained at least 50,000 unique donors to their campaign. And if they have the polls and donors, candidates will once again have to sign a pledge to support the party’s eventual 2024 nominee if they want to participate.

As things stand, there’s a decent chance that fewer candidates will qualify than the eight who attended the party’s first gathering in August. Six of that octet appear to have the donors and polls to make the second debate, and each signed the RNC’s pledge for the first debate, so there’s no reason to think they won’t sign again. However, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson may have trouble qualifying again under the higher September thresholds for polls and donors. And having skipped the first debate despite easily qualifying for it — save signing the RNC’s pledge — former President Donald Trump looks set to eschew the second debate, too.

At least six candidates look set to make the second GOP debate

Republican presidential candidates by whether and how they have qualified for the second primary debate and if they signed the first debate pledge, as of 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 13, 2023

Candidate Polls Donors Signed 1st Debate Pledge
Ron DeSantis
Vivek Ramaswamy
Nikki Haley
Mike Pence
Chris Christie
Tim Scott
Donald Trump
Doug Burgum
Asa Hutchinson
Will Hurd

Table only includes candidates who have met FiveThirtyEight’s “major” candidate criteria. Polls qualification is based on surveys that appear to meet the Republican National Committee’s requirements for inclusion.

To qualify for the debate, candidates must meet both the polling and donor thresholds established by the Republican National Committee. To meet the polling requirement, a candidate must reach 3 percent in at least two national polls, or 3 percent in one national poll and two polls from the first four states voting in the GOP primary, each coming from separate states, based on surveys that meet the RNC’s criteria for inclusion. To meet the donor requirement, a candidate must have at least 50,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors in at least 20 states and/or territories. Information released by campaigns is used to determine whether a candidate has hit the donor threshold. If a campaign reached 50,000 donors but did not say whether it had at least 200 donors in 20 states, we assumed that it had met the latter requirement as well. To participate, candidates who have sufficient polls and donors must sign a pledge promising to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

Source: POLLS, NEWS REPORTS

FiveThirtyEight’s analysis found that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy had at least 3 percent support in every qualifying survey (Trump did as well). Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met that mark in nearly every survey, while South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott got there in about three-fourths of them. And none of these six candidates showed any sign of difficulty when it came to reaching the 50,000 donor mark. Even Pence’s campaign, which had a harder time attracting donors than most, announced in mid-August that it had enough unique contributors to qualify for the second debate.

With 11 days to go until the Sept. 25 qualification deadline, the polling threshold rising to 3 percent from 1 percent appears to be the main obstacle for the candidates who haven’t qualified. Burgum announced in late July that he had 50,000 donors, but FiveThirtyEight’s analysis found that he’s reached 3 percent in just one statewide survey, a mid-August poll of Iowa from Trafalgar Group. Now, Burgum’s campaign may argue that he’s hit 3 percent in New Hampshire, based on either the 2.5 percent he garnered in another mid-August Trafalgar poll or the 4 percent he attained in an early-August poll from co/efficient on behalf of the New Hampshire Journal. We can’t rule out that the RNC might count the second Trafalgar poll, although the RNC showed no indication that it was willing to round poll results reported with decimal places during qualification for the first debate. However, because co/efficient has polled for Trump this cycle, its New Hampshire survey won’t count under the RNC polling rule that excludes polls conducted by organizations affiliated with a candidate or candidate committee.

Yet regardless of whether he has polls from one or two early states, Burgum has struggled to hit the 3 percent mark in national surveys. It’s no wonder that Best of America PAC, a super PAC supporting Burgum, reserved $4 million in ads between Aug. 30 and Sept. 24. However, there’s not much evidence this has boosted Burgum: The most prolific national pollster, Morning Consult, has released data for seven nationwide surveys since Aug. 1, but Burgum garnered more than 0 percent just once, hitting 1 percent in a mid-August poll that predated the super PAC’s ad buy. In fact, Burgum has reached 2 percent in just one national poll that sampled at least 800 likely Republican voters since Aug. 1, a Kaplan Strategies survey conducted right after the first debate.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson needs both more polls and donors to make the stage, although he seems likely to reach the 50,000 contributor mark. Last week, a campaign spokesperson told ABC News that Hutchinson is “very close” to the donor requirement, and he did get a last-minute surge in contributors to qualify for the first debate. On the polling front, Hutchinson has something Burgum doesn’t: one national poll of 3 percent or better, thanks to a Kaplan Strategies survey taken before the first debate. But Hutchinson hasn’t exceeded 1 percent in any potentially eligible nationwide poll conducted since the first debate. And he’s done no better in early state surveys, making it unlikely that he’ll get qualifying polls from two different states to combine with his one national survey to meet the RNC’s other polling qualification route.

It’s difficult to imagine any other Republican will have a shot at qualifying for the September debate. Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd appears to have one qualifying poll from New Hampshire — a mid-August Echelon Insights/Republican Main Street Partnership survey — but like Burgum and Hutchinson, he has struggled to clear 1 percent in most surveys. And while Hurd could get to the 50,000 donor mark, his public refusal to consider signing the RNC’s pledge nearly guarantees that he won’t make the stage. Additionally, businessman Perry Johnson and radio host Larry Elder came close to qualifying for the first debate, and both have threatened legal action against the RNC alleging that it unfairly kept them off the stage. But even if Johnson and/or Elder can get to 50,000 donors — Johnson claimed to have that many in mid-August — neither candidate has a qualifying poll to his name.

Lastly, Trump’s presence — or lack thereof — looms over the debate process. The former president is polling above 50 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s national average, making him a clear favorite to win the GOP nomination. Yet while Trump’s average fell slightly after the first debate, it has essentially recovered to its pre-debate position, suggesting voters didn’t really penalize him for skipping the event. It’s no wonder, then, that he seems intent on skipping the second debate and holding counterprogramming that evening, just as he did for the first debate when a pre-taped interview between Trump and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired at the same time. 

With Trump’s likely absence, the second debate is once again setting up to be a clash among the party’s leading alternatives, none of whom seem positioned to mount a significant challenge to Trump. Still, it’s critical for these candidates to make the debate stage, as failing to qualify could signal to donors that their campaigns truly have no chance of success. Moreover, without Trump holding the spotlight, the debate will provide the other Republican contenders with an opportunity to be seen and heard by a large audience. That is a chance the candidates don’t want to squander, as a sterling debate performance could — could — shift the course of their campaign.



#politics

The Senate Is Losing One Of Its Few Remaining Moderate Republicans

On Wednesday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would not run for reelection in 2024. On the surface, the electoral impact of Romney’s decision is minimal — his seat should stay safely in Republican hands. But it’s still notable because it represents the departure of one of the few remaining Republican senators who had a moderate voting record and/or vocally opposed former President Donald Trump.

The Senate, of course, was a second (or, really, third) career for Romney. After a successful career in business during which he co-founded Bain Capital, Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002 — part of the Bay State’s long-standing love affair with moderate Republican governors. He ran for president twice and won the Republican nomination in 2012, losing to then-President Barack Obama in the general election.

That was the last time the GOP chose a presidential nominee who wasn’t Trump. Since 2016, Republican voters have turned against Romney’s brand of establishment-aligned Republicanism and embraced Trump’s brash populism. In 2018, a year that saw large numbers of moderate or anti-Trump Republicans leave Congress, Romney bucked the overall trend by getting elected to the Senate from Utah (where a large number of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including Romney himself — have made the local GOP more Trump-skeptical than most). Since then, he has spoken out vocally against the party’s new direction. Most notably, he voted to convict Trump in both of his impeachment trials.

Romney also developed a moderate voting record, breaking with the right wing of his party in votes ranging from confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to overturning Trump’s emergency declaration to fund the border wall. Romney’s DW-NOMINATE score — a measure of ideology based on roll-call votes, where 1 represents the most conservative and -1 represents the most liberal — is 0.288, making him more moderate than all but three current Republican senators. 

Both groups of Republicans — Trump opponents and ideological moderates — are endangered species now, and Romney’s departure will further cull the herd. Of the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump in either of his impeachments, only six are still in Congress, including Romney. And the number of Senate Republicans with DW-NOMINATE scores below 0.300 is at its lowest point in at least 40 years.

Romney’s anti-Trump and moderate record may have indirectly contributed to his decision to retire, as it has made him relatively unpopular with Republican voters in Utah. According to an Aug. 7-14 poll by Dan Jones & Associates, only 56 percent of registered Republican voters in Utah approved of Romney’s job performance. That may not seem too bad, but among members of your own party, 56 percent is a pretty mediocre approval rating. (By contrast, 81 percent of Republican registered voters nationally have a favorable opinion of Trump, according to the latest poll from Quinnipiac University.) 

Much like prominent Trump critic former Sen. Jeff Flake did in 2018, Romney may have declined to run for reelection because he was afraid of losing in the Republican primary. The same poll asked about a hypothetical primary match-up, and Romney received 45 percent support among Republicans. That’s pretty anemic for an incumbent, who are accustomed to waltzing to renomination. 

On the other hand, no other candidate in the poll got more than 7 percent, and only 27 percent said they would vote for an unnamed other candidate. Furthermore, the poll found that Romney’s approval rating among Republicans was on the rise; back in May, only 40 percent had approved of his performance. So Romney’s path to renomination is probably clearer today than it has been for a while, making the timing of the announcement curious. So perhaps we should take Romney at his word when he cited his age as a factor in his retirement video. (Romney is 76 and would have been 83 at the end of a potential second term.)

So what’s next for Utah’s Class I Senate seat? Romney’s retirement is unlikely to lead to a competitive general election next fall: Even though Utah has shifted toward Democrats in the Trump era, it is still red enough that it voted for him by more than 20 percentage points in 2020, and Democrats haven’t won a statewide election in the Beehive State since 1996. (True, anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin lost to Republican Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 by only 10.4 points after Democrats stood aside and didn’t nominate anyone in order to give McMullin a better shot at winning. But, on the other hand, anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin still lost to Republican Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 by 10.4 points even after Democrats stood aside and didn’t nominate anyone in order to give McMullin a better shot at winning!)

So the contest to watch will be the state’s June 25 Republican primary — specifically, whether the party’s nominee will be more conservative and/or pro-Trump than Romney. So far, it looks like the answer is yes; the field of candidates and potential candidates lacks someone as iconoclastic as Romney. State House Speaker Brad Wilson, who has already formed an exploratory committee, is pitching himself as a “conservative champion,” and in 2020 he introduced a legislative resolution paying tribute to Trump after his first impeachment. However, he may be the most palatable option for old-school Republicans; a second candidate, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, has assailed Romney for his support for “wokeness” and for impeaching Trump. And Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who served as co-chair of Trump’s reelection campaign in the state and attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, is a rumored candidate as well.

But there is still plenty of time for a Romney-esque candidate to jump in. Utah still has a fair number of Trump-skeptical Republicans — for example, former state Rep. Becky Edwards, a Republican who voted for President Biden and just narrowly lost a special primary election for Utah’s 2nd District. It’s possible that one could emerge from the Senate primary if the conservative/pro-Trump vote is split among multiple candidates. But of course, none of the alternatives have Romney’s name recognition or financial advantage. So there’s no doubt his retirement is a gut punch for Republicans who don’t like what’s happening to their party.

#politics

Why ‘Bidenomics’ Isn’t Working For Biden

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst): For a long time, the economy has been seen as a big liability for President Biden in his reelection bid. Inflation soared in 2021 and 2022, culminating at a rate of 9.1 percent last June. The same month, average gas prices exceeded $5 per gallon. And in the second quarter of 2022, the gross domestic product actually decreased by 0.6 percent. It was little surprise, then, that only 28 percent of Americans approved of the way Biden was handling the economy in a July 2022 Quinnipiac University poll.

But in recent months, economic indicators have been looking up, and Biden has begun making the case that his economic policies are working. Yet Americans don’t seem to be changing their perceptions of his stewardship of the economy. (The last Quinnipiac poll put his approval rating on the economy at 36 percent.) So for today’s FiveThirtyEight Slack chat, I want to explore why that is, and whether Biden has any hope of actually making the economy a winning issue for him in next year’s election.

First, though, let’s set the scene: What are indicators saying right now about the health of the economy?  

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior reporter): For an economy that’s allegedly been on the brink of a recession for over a year now, it’s looking pretty good! Real wages are finally rising faster than inflation, the labor market is weakening a bit but is still fairly strong for workers and consumers are still spending at a healthy rate.

Monica Potts (Monica Potts, senior politics reporter): What Amelia said. For starters, the job market remains really strong. Unemployment is at 3.8 percent, and wages are rising. Inflation, at just over 3 percent, is finally cooling, too. The Federal Reserve seems to be succeeding in its high-wire act of lowering inflation without causing too much unemployment.

There are other signs, too. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act has spurred investment in manufacturing, which the White House has been more than happy to point to.

ameliatd: In a lot of ways, it looks like the economy is finally returning to its pre-pandemic normal — but with conditions that are a bit more worker-friendly. That mythical “soft landing” is actually looking like it could come to pass.

Of course, economists’ recession predictions are never very reliable. (This is a time-honored FiveThirtyEight refrain.) And things can always shift — for example, as Monica wrote recently, student loan repayment is about to restart, which will mean millions of Americans have less money to spend as they resume their monthly payments. But it’s still a rosier situation than a lot of people were predicting even just a few months ago.

gelliottmorris (G. Elliott Morris, editorial director of data analytics): That’s right. Some of the doomer predictions of a recession were never really reliable, but aggregate economic expectations are still up relative to what people were saying a year or even six months ago. That said, there are some not-so-hot indicators. Mortgage and interest rates are continuing to climb, for example, and the personal savings rate is nearly at an all-time low. That’s a different dimension of “the economy” than, say, annual growth in wages, but it’s an important one.

ameliatd: Right, Elliott, and it’s not clear that the Fed is done with rate hikes. A lot will depend on what the August 2023 inflation data looks like when it comes out later this week.

Monica Potts: Yes, I think that hints at a really big and persistent problem with asking voters how they feel about “the economy.” What that term means to people can vary a great deal. Does it mean how much money they’re making, or how much they spend on things like housing and food? Does it mean whether they can afford daycare? There is a huge variation in how people feel about the economy — and many different ways the federal government can have an effect on those things.

ameliatd: Another question is whether consumer spending will start to tick down — which has been a possibility as people spend down their pandemic savings. But generally, there are other signs that Americans are feeling OK about their finances. For example, a recent Ipsos poll found that the share of Americans who say they have enough money to cover an unplanned expense (54 percent) is higher than at this time last year (40 percent). Fewer people are also saying that after they pay their bills, they don’t have enough money to spend on things they want.

nrakich: And yet, despite this, Biden is having trouble convincing voters that “Bidenomics” is working. Why?

Monica Potts: To start at the beginning, Biden inherited a really weird economy. The COVID-19 shutdowns caused a severe and dramatic recession, but then the economy started to bounce back. But people’s behavior had also changed. More people were working from home and moving, they had cash to spend and supply chains were slow to restart. So Americans were generally sour on the economy from the time he took office.

The recovery was afflicted by super-high inflation, as you noted at the beginning, Nathaniel, and a lot of what the Biden administration has done on economic policy is the kind of slow-moving, behind-the-scenes policymaking that voters don’t really notice. Even though inflation is cooling, prices are still much higher than they were before the pandemic; borrowers are still seeing much higher interest rates; etc. So I think a lot of it is that Americans are generally unhappy with the new normal we find ourselves in.

gelliottmorris: I think that last point is a really good one, Monica. The share of people telling pollsters that the broader economic situation is poor is still around the highest it’s been since 2018. At first, that seems hard to square with the rosy economic indicators we talked about. But I think it’s possible that people just have longer-term memories about economic growth and remember a time when prices were meaningfully lower.

Lots of the discussion on this topic is pegged to tracking annual change in the consumer price index or job market or what have you. But if you take a longer view, for a lot of families, things are just permanently more expensive now. Even if their wages are up, I doubt they enjoy spending 15 percent more at the grocery store than they were before the pandemic. And it will take a while for those memories to fade.

Of course, that’s just my theory.

ameliatd: I mean, some people think the economy is improving. Civiqs’s tracking poll shows that Democrats, in particular, are more likely to say that the current condition of the economy is fairly or very good (63 percent) than they were a year ago (53 percent). But that’s not quite the question you’re asking, Nathaniel — it’s not just whether people think the economy is getting better, it’s whether people are seeing an improvement and saying, “Yeah, Biden is making that happen!” And there, it doesn’t seem like Biden is getting much of a boost. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, for example, the share of registered voters who say they approve of the way Biden is handling the economy hasn’t meaningfully changed since April.

Which gets to my theory about what’s happening. I’m not sure voters were ever going to give Biden credit for an improving economy, especially because the inflation increase happened under his watch. It’s not like he can come in and say, “Look at this mess my predecessor left for me.” 

But! That doesn’t mean this turn of events isn’t good for him, because the alternative — a souring economy — could really hurt him.

nrakich: Interesting, Amelia. So you think that the stink of the bad economy of a year or two ago is permanent for Biden? He can never wash it off, even if he fixes it?

ameliatd: I don’t know about permanent, but as Elliott said, prices are still higher. Americans are increasingly convinced that those high prices are here to stay. So the fact that people are starting to get used to those higher prices and are saying the economy is improving could be an indication that Biden’s dodging a bullet. So it depends on how you frame it. On the one hand, people aren’t giving Biden credit, so that’s unfortunate for him. But on the other, it’s looking increasingly like we might have a normal-ish economy heading into 2024, which you could see as a huge win considering how much economic volatility we’ve seen since the pandemic started.

Monica Potts: I don’t think prices will go down, but it’s also possible people will just get used to them. So they could hurt Biden less, as Amelia said. And that leaves room for other issues voters care about to rise in importance.

nrakich: Question, though: How much does getting that win really matter politically? Historically, what has been the correlation between the health of the economy and presidential reelection chances?

ameliatd: Would Biden love for “Bidenomics” to show up in high school history textbooks? Sure. But what he really wants is to win reelection, and that is much less likely to happen if people think the economy is getting worse.

gelliottmorris: Historically, we know that actual economic conditions are pretty well correlated with presidential election outcomes. If the state of the economy is broadly positive compared with a year or two ago, then the incumbent party tends to get a boost. Of course, economic indicators do not fully predict outcomes of elections, but they do have a residual impact.

The good news for Biden on this front is twofold: First, voters tend to start making these retrospective evaluations closer to the election. And second, that they look only a couple years in the past. That means there is time for things to get even better for him, and for him to be rewarded.

The bad news for Biden, though, is that there’s still time for things to turn against him!

#politics

Why Biden Is Losing Support Among Voters Of Color

Among the most politically tuned-in, last week saw the kind of hand-wringing and accusations of bias surrounding the polls that you’d usually expect from the final two months of a campaign, not the final year and two months of a campaign.

The focus was largely on general election polls: Whether a Wall Street Journal poll showing former President Donald Trump and President Biden tied is to be trusted. What to make of a CNN poll showing Nikki Haley as the only Republican candidate with a lead over Biden that falls outside the margin of error. How to understand data from the New York Times suggesting that Biden is losing support among voters of color.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen speaks with Carlos Odio of Equis Research and Terrance Woodbury of HIT Strategies to parse through which recent data is actually worth paying attention to and which is sound and fury.

#politics

Politics Podcast: Polling Silly Season Begins

Among the most politically tuned-in, last week saw the kind of hand-wringing and accusations of bias surrounding the polls that you’d usually expect from the final two months of a campaign, not the final year and two months of a campaign.

The focus was largely on general election polls: Whether a Wall Street Journal poll showing former President Donald Trump and President Biden tied is to be trusted. What to make of a CNN poll showing Nikki Haley as the only Republican candidate with a lead over Biden that falls outside the margin of error.  How to understand data from the New York Times suggesting that Biden is losing support among voters of color.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen speaks with Carlos Odio of Equis Research and Terrance Woodbury of HIT Strategies to parse through which recent data is actually worth paying attention to and which is sound and fury.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.



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Ron DeSantis Probably Didn’t Turn Florida Red

In his presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pitched himself as a transformational leader who has reshaped the politics of his home state. His 2022 reelection by 19 percentage points “was not just a big victory,” he has argued. “It was really a fundamental realignment of Florida from being a swing state to being a red state.” And most political analysis agrees that the Sunshine State, once known for its impossibly close elections, is now a comfortably Republican-leaning state. 

But it’s unclear how much credit DeSantis himself deserves for this shift — or if it even counts as a realignment at all. The most prominent argument in his favor, that Republicans have moved to the state thanks to his COVID-19 policies, is hard to prove. His investment in the state GOP appears to have paid real dividends, but several other factors contributed to that push’s success. He probably didn’t have much to do with another one of Florida Republicans’ biggest accomplishments over the past few years: their inroads with Hispanic voters. 

And finally, there’s considerable doubt over whether DeSantis’s premise — that Florida will continue to be a safe Republican state going forward — is even correct. The data suggests DeSantis’s 2022 rout was a historical outlier, driven by a massive partisan turnout gap, and it’s unwise to make sweeping pronouncements based on just one election. 

‘Political refugees’ might not be such a game-changer

Ask many Florida Republicans, and they’ll tell you Florida has gotten redder because DeSantis’s famous opposition to COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic drew anti-lockdown Republicans to the state in droves. “COVID, and Gov. DeSantis’s policies that were implemented during COVID, is in my view responsible for the deeper shade of red that Florida has now become,” said Justin Sayfie, a prominent Florida Republican political consultant.

The problem with this theory is that Florida’s population was already expanding even before COVID-19 hit. It’s true that the pandemic had a particularly big impact on Florida: According to American Community Survey estimates, 674,740 people moved to Florida from a different state or the District of Columbia in 2021, the biggest influx of domestic migrants into any state. But by Florida’s standards, it wasn’t that unusual. While the 2021 uptick was a bigger number than any year from 2011 to 2019, it was consistent with the general trend of more and more people moving to Florida as the decade wore on. And only 73,129 more domestic migrants moved to Florida in 2021 than in 2019, before the pandemic.

Of course, these newcomers to the Sunshine State could be qualitatively different from their pre-pandemic predecessors: more Republican, more ideologically motivated. Sayfie says that, anecdotally, several recent transplants have told him that they moved to escape COVID-19 restrictions. “The reason they’re coming is that they’re political refugees. They’re seeking refuge from the policies in their home states.” 

But all the old reasons people moved to Florida before the pandemic didn’t go away overnight, either. We couldn’t find a scientific poll asking people why they moved to Florida, but the Tampa Bay Times put out an open call for answers to that question in 2022, and the most common responses were lower taxes, affordable housing prices and good weather. That’s consistent with research that has found that most people who move do so for financial, not political reasons. (To be sure, “lower taxes” counts as a political reason to move — but it’s not one that DeSantis can take credit for, as the state constitution has banned personal income taxes since 1968.) 

A few respondents to the Tampa Bay Times did cite coronavirus restrictions as a reason for their move, so it’s possible that some of the increase in migration from 2019 to 2021 was because of DeSantis’s policies. On the other hand, several respondents also cited their newfound ability to work remotely, which is another possible explanation for the 2021 spike. Overall, it’s tough to say with any confidence that DeSantis’s COVID-19 policy caused a significant number of people to move to the state who wouldn’t have done so otherwise, much less an influx of new residents that was large enough to change the state’s political composition.

DeSantis has done a lot of party-building

DeSantis probably had more of an impact on Florida’s political hue by investing in campaign field operations to expand the state GOP. There are currently 525,418 more registered Republican voters in Florida than there were at the end of 2018, and some of that growth can be credited to DeSantis. Shortly after his 2019 inauguration, he directed the state GOP to focus on registering more Republican voters. The GOP’s net increase of more than 40,000 voters that year was the party’s biggest gain in the year before a presidential election this century. Then, in 2020, the party added a modern record of nearly half a million voters on net. In 2021, DeSantis contributed $2 million to the registration push, and it paid off that November, when the number of registered Republicans at last surpassed the number of registered Democrats. Finally, in 2022, amid DeSantis’s reelection campaign, the GOP capped off an impressive quadrennium by adding 188,323 Republicans to the rolls on net. You guessed it: That was the most for a midterm year in at least 20 years.

But as helpful as DeSantis was to these efforts, he can’t take full credit. As the chart above makes clear, Republicans had been closing the registration gap with Democrats for quite some time — and their efforts really went into overdrive starting in 2016, a couple of years before DeSantis came on the scene. Former President Donald Trump’s campaign probably deserves kudos for the dramatic increase in Republican registration in both 2016 and 2020.

And in their quest to take the lead in party registration, Republicans got the biggest assist from an unlikely source: Democrats. In addition to those 525,418 more registered Republicans, Florida also has 299,808 fewer registered Democrats than it did at the end of 2018 — despite the state’s population growth. The Florida Democratic Party has, for years, been in shambles, and they have been unable to invest in the kind of registration efforts necessary to combat natural attrition from the voter rolls. If the party had simply been able to hold steady at the 5,315,954 registered voters it had at the end of 2020, registered Democrats would still outnumber Republicans statewide — despite DeSantis’s best efforts.

Hispanic voters didn’t swing just because of DeSantis

You also can’t talk about the GOP’s recent dominance in Florida without talking about the significant inroads they’ve made among Latinos. According to Catalist, a Democratic-aligned data firm that uses the voter file to analyze past elections, Hispanic support for Florida Democrats cratered in 2022. Former Rep. Charlie Crist, Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee, got just 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. By contrast, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received 66 percent of the Hispanic vote as recently as the 2016 presidential race. That’s a big deal in a state whose citizen voting-age population is 21 percent Hispanic.

But it’s hard to say that Hispanic voters are moving right because of DeSantis. For one thing, the Republican shift started well before the 2022 campaign. In 2020, Biden got just 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida, according to Catalist, which accounts  for most of the drop between 2016 and 2022. If anyone deserves credit for this, it’s probably Trump, who appealed to Hispanic voters with his own push to reopen the economy during the pandemic, as well as with targeted outreach to Florida’s diverse Hispanic communities. And of course, Latinos’ rightward swing is a national phenomenon, not just a Florida one. Nationally, Hispanic support for Democrats fell from 71 percent in 2016 to 62 percent in both 2020 and 2022. 

That said, Latinos did continue to move toward Republicans between 2020 and 2022 in Florida when they did not do so nationally. That could have been thanks to DeSantis, or it could have been because Florida’s Hispanic population is unique (while most Latinos nationally are Mexican American, Florida’s Hispanic community mostly consists of people of Cuban, Puerto Rican and South American descent, who may have different political priorities). 

Or there might not have been movement at all, and Republicans ended up with higher support among Latinos in 2022 simply because many Hispanic Democrats in Florida just didn’t bother turning out to vote in 2022. According to Florida Democratic data analyst Matthew Isbell, there were 959,980 Latinos registered as Democrats in Florida at the time of the 2022 election, versus just 728,027 who were registered as Republicans. But only about one-third of those Hispanic Democrats actually voted, compared with more than half of Hispanic Republicans, which meant that the actual electorate contained more Hispanic Republicans than Hispanic Democrats. In other words, a lot of DeSantis’s success with Latinos in 2022 was due to disparities in turnout.

Florida might not be that red anyway

Dive into the turnout numbers for 2022 and an even bigger problem for DeSantis’s narrative emerges. A lot of DeSantis’s success across the board was due to disparities in turnout. Overall, Isbell found that 63.4 percent of Florida’s registered Republicans cast a ballot in 2022, but only 48.6 percent of its registered Democrats did. That 14.8-point turnout gap was way out of line with the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections in Florida.

2022 saw a huge partisan turnout gap in Florida

Share of Democratic registered voters who cast a ballot versus the share of Republican registered voters who cast a ballot, in Florida general elections since 2012

Election Dem. Turnout GOP Turnout Gap
2012 72.0% 78.0% R+5.9
2014 50.1 60.4 R+10.3
2016 74.2 81.1 R+6.9
2018 64.4 71.0 R+6.5
2020 77.2 83.8 R+6.5
2022 48.6 63.4 R+14.8

Source: MCI Maps

Forget the question of whether DeSantis deserves credit for Florida’s swing to the right — this raises the question of how much Florida has swung at all. After all, 2022 was only one election, and history is rife with examples of landslide victories in swing states that didn’t permanently change the states’ political nature. (Take Nevada, which reelected then-Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval by 47 points in 2014 in between voting for then-President Barack Obama by 7 points in 2012 and Clinton by 2 points in 2016.) There is evidence that Florida has been drifting toward Republicans in recent years, but that trend predates DeSantis, and there was no sign before 2022 that it would become a state where Republicans win by 19 points with any regularity.

Florida is a red state, but not that red

How Florida has voted in presidential and gubernatorial elections since 2000

Year Office Dem. GOP Margin
2000 President 48.8% 48.9% R+0.0
2002 Governor 43.2 56.0 R+12.9
2004 President 47.1 52.1 R+5.0
2006 Governor 45.1 52.2 R+7.1
2008 President 50.9 48.1 D+2.8
2010 Governor 47.7 48.9 R+1.2
2012 President 49.9 49.0 D+0.9
2014 Governor 47.1 48.1 R+1.1
2016 President 47.4 48.6 R+1.2
2018 Governor 49.2 49.6 R+0.4
2020 President 47.8 51.1 R+3.4
2022 Governor 40.0 59.4 R+19.4

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Given all the evidence, it seems more likely that DeSantis is “just” a strong candidate with a strong political operation than a politician who has fundamentally reshaped Florida politics. Even Sayfie, who does believe DeSantis has helped make Florida somewhat redder, thinks 2022 will prove to be an outlier. DeSantis got extra credit from voters because of his anti-lockdown policies during the pandemic, he said, that future Republican candidates won’t benefit from. “That perfect political storm will not happen again.”

#politics

Politicians Are Getting Older, and Voters Are Worried — But Not that Worried

Presidents are getting older and older. Former President Donald Trump was the oldest person to assume office when he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017, and President Biden broke that record four years later. If either is elected again next year, at ages 78 and 81, respectively, they will be older than the previous record holder, Ronald Reagan, was when he left office at the age of 77.

The possibility of an octogenarian on the presidential ticket is worrying many Americans — perhaps because it’s not just the presidency that’s aging. The current Congress, with a median age of 65 in the Senate and 58 in the House, is the oldest in history. Last week, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, seemed to freeze while speaking for the second time in two months, there were renewed calls for him to step aside, and 90-year-old California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been under similar scrutiny after a series of health issues. Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who is 51 and running for the Republican nomination, has called for competency tests for candidates older than 75, and her opponent Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, has said it’s time for a new generation to step up and lead. 

Voters are worried about the age of candidates and elected officials, especially when it comes to Biden. The vast majority of American adults, 77 percent, say he is too old to be effective for another four years, according to an AP-NORC poll in August. Fifty-seven percent of registered voters thought age severely limited President Biden’s ability to do his job in an Economist/YouGov poll from August. Similar questions were asked about Feinstein and McConnell, about whom 60 percent said the same. 

But will voters actually start rejecting candidates because of their age? There are plenty of reasons why older politicians continue to hold the levers of power — and the structure of our political system makes it hard to force them to let go, even as Americans’ concerns about the country’s aging political leadership mount. That’s why Americans may continue to support older politicians when they’re in the voting booth, even as they say they prefer a younger leadership cohort.

Americans are increasingly worried about politicians’ age

Biden might be the oldest president in U.S. history, but worries about whether presidents are too old for the job have been floating around for a while. Americans became increasingly worried about Reagan’s age during his tenure. At the start of his second term in 1985, 33 percent of respondents in an ABC/Washington Post poll said Reagan was too old to be president, but by 1987 that number had risen to 42 percent. And a January 1987 poll from Louis Harris & Associates found that 48 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that Reagan was getting too old to be president.

In the modern era, presidents have traditionally released details about their health, and the public has demanded transparency, because the job is physically and mentally demanding and voters want to ensure that the person they elect is the one doing it. Anxieties about that have a basis in past events: President Woodrow Wilson was able to hide the effects of a stroke in 1919 from most of the American public, and his wife, Edith, essentially acted as de facto president until his second term ended in 1921. Later, in 1967, the ratification of the 25th Amendment outlined what should happen if a president died or became incapacitated.

But presidents haven’t always been forthcoming with information. In the absence of diagnoses, voters have often relied on outward signs that their candidates might be unable to do their jobs. Perhaps the most obvious is a candidate’s age, simply because we face the greater chance of serious medical problems and death the older we get.

But in practice, it’s hard to draw bright lines — in part because age is far from a perfect proxy for health. Some older politicians are perceived as more capable than others: Thirty-four percent of voters thought the age of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is almost 82, severely limited his ability to do his job in the August Economist/YouGov poll, and 28 percent said age would limit Trump’s ability to be president if he were elected again. Those differences suggest that it’s not just ageism, but the specific health conditions of some politicians being reported in the media that voters are responding to; or, in Biden’s case, reporting on every stumble on the stairs to Air Force One. 

The health conditions that can come with age, even chronic ones that require accommodations, don’t necessarily mean that elected officials can’t effectively serve, either, which speaks to a broader issue on how voters make assumptions about candidates’ fitness for office. For example, people with physical and mental disabilities are underrepresented in government, with only 1 in 10 elected representatives having a disability, while nearly 16 percent of adults in the overall population have one, according to a study from Rutgers University. As Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s campaign showed, candidates can face discrimination when disabilities are conflated with cognitive ability. The need for accommodation doesn’t mean an elected representative is unable to work. “You also don’t want to lose the potential contributions of somebody who is older but is quite talented and also now has the benefit of experience to bring to the table,” said James M. Curry, a political scientist at the University of Utah. 

Some voters, though, think we should have clearer rules about when a politician is too old to serve. Sixty-seven percent of respondents strongly or somewhat supported an age limit for serving in the Senate in a YouGov/UMass Amherst poll from June, and 58 percent of adults thought age limits for serving as president would be a good idea in a Marist poll from last November. Sixty-eight percent of respondents favored mental competency tests for candidates over 75 in a YouGov/Yahoo survey from February. A plurality, 48 percent, think the job of president is too demanding for someone over 75, according to a CBS/YouGov poll from June. And overall, Americans’ preference for younger leadership is clear: About half of Americans think the ideal age for a president is someone in their 50s, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The risk of a politician becoming unable to do their job isn’t the only worry that might be fueling these perceptions. The age of voters and the members of Congress they elect means that programs and issues important to older voters, from Social Security to elder abuse, are more likely to get attention than issues more important to younger voters, like student loans. 

 “I think the biggest reason that younger Americans want younger lawmakers is they feel they’re not well represented by older Americans, both from a standpoint of the things that older representatives might focus on or talk about that are different from what a younger candidate might talk about,” but also because, like all Americans, they want to see themselves represented in government, Curry said. Younger Americans are missing that representation now. “It makes them less satisfied with their representative government and less satisfied with their democracy,” he said.

It’s also possible, though, that despite what they say, voters prefer reelecting someone with experience and seniority. “The Constitution sets minimum ages for the presidency and for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, but it doesn’t set a maximum,” said William J. Kole, the author of the forthcoming “The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging.” “And you have to believe that the Framers clearly valued experience over youth. That’s part of our DNA in some ways, politically.” 

But our system could ensure that older politicians stay in power

There are a few factors contributing to our aging politics, and they provide a hint as to why voters are choosing older candidates despite saying in polls that they would prefer younger ones. The first is simple demographics. Older voters are more likely to vote and are more likely to choose candidates closer to their age. Younger generations of voters didn’t overtake the Baby Boom generation until 2018. Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, but the youngest millennials, at age 25, are just now old enough to qualify to run for federal office. The Constitution requires candidates for the U.S. House to be at least 25 and at least 30 for the Senate, and most candidates have prior experience before running for those big-ticket spots. They also need to build name recognition and a fundraising base. Because of that, even Gen X and Millennials are still lagging in representation.

That leaves Baby Boomers overrepresented in Congress, taking almost half the positions. And it’s also difficult to force older generations to let go of power if they don’t want to step down. There’s a strong incumbency bias for federal office, and the current structure of Congress rewards seniority, enabling longer-serving members with plum committee assignments to get more attention for their constituents’ needs. In the past century, average lengths of service for members of Congress have increased as members have become more likely to seek and win reelection.

The cost to run for office has also increased, and incumbent politicians have a huge fundraising advantage. In the U.S., the decision on whether to run for reelection is largely left to the candidates themselves. In countries with different systems, governing bodies can be more representative because parties can exert more pressure on candidates to leave and more effectively recruit younger members to serve. It may be that American voters aren’t electing younger candidates because they don’t have the options in front of them. 

As Americans continue to live longer and longer, this may just be the future of politics. “I think, honestly, it’s up to older leaders to be self-aware enough to find the time to step aside,” Kole said.

Mary Radcliffe contributed research.

#politics

Should We Trust Polls Campaigns Leak To The Press?

Now that we are on the other side of Labor Day and summer is subsiding, this is — as tradition goes — when focus on political campaigns really begins to heat up. The off-year elections this November will get some attention, but the main attraction is still the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we ask a question we will undoubtedly return to in the four months until the Iowa caucuses: Is Donald Trump’s nomination inevitable? And if not inevitable, how can we place the likelihood he wins the GOP primary in historical context?

We also have partial results from two special primary elections and we debate “good or bad use of polling” for a classic and controversial topic: internal polls.

#politics

Politics Podcast: Is Donald Trump The Inevitable GOP Nominee?

Now that we are on the other side of Labor Day and summer is subsiding, this is — as tradition goes — when focus on political campaigns really begins to heat up. The off-year elections this November will get some attention, but the main attraction is still the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we ask a question we will undoubtedly return to in the four months until the Iowa caucuses: Is Donald Trump’s nomination inevitable? And if not inevitable, how can we place the likelihood he wins the GOP primary in historical context?

We also have partial results from two special primary elections and we debate “good or bad use of polling” for a classic and controversial topic: internal polls.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.



#politics

What Are The Swing States Of The Future?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior reporter): The residents of states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are used to having their airwaves flooded with political ads as presidential elections draw near. But over the years, there’s actually been a lot of variation in which states have the most power to decide the future commander-in-chief. Only a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Arizona and Georgia in the toss-up category — and “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation” was proved wrong in 2020, when President Joe Biden became the first candidate to win the White House without carrying Ohio since 1960.

So have Arizona and Georgia replaced Ohio as the nation’s presidential bellwether? Is once-swingy Florida officially a red state? Let’s talk about what are the swing states to watch in 2024 — and what are the states that could be toss-ups just a few election cycles from now.

First question — admittedly it’s still early (come with your ???? takes, I give you permission to change your mind later), but what do you think are the most underrated potential swing states for the 2024 cycle?

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, senior elections analyst): I think an underrated swing state is Florida. People have written it off after it swung unexpectedly to Republicans in 2020 and after Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by almost 20 percentage points in 2022. But people forget that former President Donald Trump won it in 2020 by only 3 points. 

If the 2024 election is shaping up to be a rematch between Trump and Biden, I think it’s reasonable to think Florida could be tight again. Do I think Biden will win it? No, probably not. But I think it’s still a better investment for Biden’s campaign dollars than, say, Texas.

gelliottmorris (G. Elliott Morris, editorial director of data analytics): I agree with you on Florida, Nathaniel — but for a separate reason. Right now the conventional wisdom is that a 2024 rematch between Biden and Trump would be closer than in 2020: Polls have the two candidates roughly tied in the national popular vote. But given Trump’s legal troubles, I think there’s a decent chance that polls will move in the opposite direction over the next year, assuming the two candidates both stay in the race, with Biden polling at or better than his 2020 levels. And if that were to happen, Florida would naturally be even closer to the 50-50 line just by virtue of the national political environment moving more to the left.

nrakich: Interesting, Elliott — so basically you’re saying you don’t think Florida will be the tipping-point state, but depending on the national environment you think it could be competitive? 

gelliottmorris: Yeah, that’s right. For a similar reason, I think people are too quick to count out blue-ish states like New Hampshire and Minnesota as swing states. The partisan lean of both states is only around 3 points toward Democrats. If the political environment moves toward Republicans, they are potentially up for grabs for Trump. It’s easy to see how further degradation with the white working class could flip one or both of them, for example.

nrakich: Strongly agreed on Minnesota. It feels like people have already forgotten how shocked they were in 2016 when the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania flipped to Republicans. That could easily happen again with Minnesota the next time Republicans have a strong national election.

Minnesota currently has the longest streak of voting for one party’s presidential candidate of any state in the nation — it hasn’t voted for a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972. But that streak has concealed some close calls over that period, so I think Democrats are a bit complacent about their standing in the Gopher State.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, senior elections analyst): I think a lot of this comes down to how you define a swing state. I tend to think about one larger group of battleground states that, under a set of realistic but more favorable conditions, could flip to one party. Then you have a smaller group of core swing states that are actually most likely to decide the outcome of the election. 

We’ve mentioned a bunch of states from my larger list so far, so I’ll mention a place that’s in my core group of swing areas but isn’t a state: Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Under the new congressional lines, Biden carried it by a little more than 6 percentage points in 2020, not far from his 4.5-point national win. But under a number of scenarios, that one little electoral vote from the Omaha-based seat could play a role in bringing about — or avoiding — a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. To me, that makes it underrated.

ameliatd: That’s an interesting question, Geoffrey — does some of this come down to how you define a swing state? What do you think, Nathaniel and Elliott?

nrakich: Yeah, I would define “swing state” closer to “tipping-point state” — i.e., a state (or district!) that could decide the election. If you define it simply as a competitive state, almost any state could be a swing state under the right circumstances. It’s hard to imagine right now, but it’s possible that, in 2036 or something, a Democrat or Republican will win the national popular vote by some massive margin and a normally uncompetitive state will be caught up in the wave — like Illinois voting Republican or something.

geoffrey.skelley: I took a mathematical approach to determining these lists, so brace yourself for some methodology. We often talk about a state’s partisan lean by comparing its margin in presidential races to the national popular vote margin as a way of trying to decipher how a state would perform in a hypothetical 50-50 election. However, Democrats have usually had an advantage in the national popular vote in recent times — but a disadvantage in the Electoral College in 2016 and 2020 — meaning that a 50-50 race isn’t the norm. In fact, the median margin in the national popular vote has been D+3 in presidential races from 2000 to 2020. So I took the 2020 margin in a state and compared it to the national popular vote to calculate its lean, then adjusted it by 3 points to the left to reflect that recent trend. If you then take the states or districts that fall within D+10 and R+10, you get a list of 16 states plus Nebraska’s 2nd and Maine’s 2nd District that I’d define as broader battleground states. That stretches from New Mexico (Biden won it by about 11 points in 2020) to Iowa (Trump won it by a tad more than 8 points). Within that larger group, the places between D+5 and R+5 form a core group of eight swing states and one district that are most likely to determine the outcome of the election.

One way to define battlegrounds and core swing states

2024 battlegrounds and swing states based on the 2020 vote and an adjusted lean calculation

Place 2024 Elec. Votes 2020 margin 2020 lean 2020 adj. lean
NM 5 D+10.8 D+6.3 D+9.3
VA 13 D+10.1 D+5.7 D+8.7
ME 2 D+9.1 D+4.6 D+7.6
NH 4 D+7.4 D+2.9 D+5.9
MN 10 D+7.1 D+2.7 D+5.7
NE-02 1 D+6.3 D+1.9 D+4.9
MI 15 D+2.8 R+1.7 D+1.3
NV 6 D+2.4 R+2.1 D+0.9
PA 19 D+1.2 R+3.3 R+0.3
WI 10 D+0.6 R+3.8 R+0.8
AZ 11 D+0.3 R+4.1 R+1.1
GA 16 D+0.2 R+4.2 R+1.2
NC 16 R+1.3 R+5.8 R+2.8
FL 30 R+3.4 R+7.8 R+4.8
TX 40 R+5.6 R+10.0 R+7.0
ME-02 1 R+6.1 R+10.5 R+7.5
OH 17 R+8.0 R+12.5 R+9.5
IA 6 R+8.2 R+12.7 R+9.7

A state’s lean is the difference between the state’s margin and the national popular vote margin (Biden won by about 4.5 points nationally in 2020).

The adjusted lean accounts for the recent tendency for Democrats to perform better in the national popular vote in presidential elections from 2000 to 2020 by a median edge of 3 points.

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, Daily Kos Elections

gelliottmorris: I really like Geoff’s math! I tend to think of a swing state as a state that could plausibly provide the winner of the Electoral College with their 270th electoral vote under a wide array of plausible national electoral environments. That somewhat helps us avoid counting a state like Illinois as a “swing state” in a super-Republican year, because by that point they’ve already won the election and it doesn’t really matter if the Republican gets Illinois’s electoral votes too.

But generally, I think people underestimate how quickly the political environment in a state can move, conditional on the national political environment staying the same. I mean, just look at Ohio and Iowa from 2012 to 2020: Former President Barack Obama won Ohio by 3 points in 2012, 1 point less than his margin nationally, but by 2020 it was 12 points to the right of the national popular vote. And Iowa went all the way from D+2 to R+12. So our priors for which states are “swing states” are not always super informative.

geoffrey.skelley: Elliott, I think you’re right that people underestimate the possibilities of larger swings, but I do think they won’t be as sharp going from 2020 to 2024 because an incumbent is involved, not to mention the high probability of a full-on rematch.

Looking back, you tend to see smaller shifts in years with incumbents. So my expectation is less volatility than in, say, 2016. Granted, we don’t know what sort of third-party bids might develop that could alter the landscape to some extent. Those bids won’t win, but it’s possible a No Labels ticket could take disproportionately from one side or the other, depending on what candidates they run and how the campaign develops.

gelliottmorris: Yeah, I agree that an inclusive definition gets the job done. But I do think there is a tendency to allocate campaign contributions poorly within the swing state category. For example, I think there has been a tendency for Democratic campaigns to focus on their big white whale, Texas, at the cost of other close states — New Hampshire in 2020, for example. This is part of a broader tendency for campaigns to go for their reach states instead of shoring up defense (this is the criticism ad nauseam of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, too).

ameliatd: OK, so we’ve been talking about underrated swing states. Are there any overrated swing states, as we think forward to 2024? The states that people make a big deal out of, where lots of political dollars will be spent, but are less likely to fundamentally affect the outcome?

nrakich: I don’t think so, Amelia. In general, I tend to take a broader view of potential swing states than most people, just because of the uncertainty inherent in every election. So while I would consider some states to be swing states that aren’t generally put in that category, I don’t think there are any conventional-wisdom swing states that I’d disagree with.

Ohio, maybe? But I think most people have moved on from considering it a swing state. (In 2020, it was 12 points redder than the nation as a whole, which means that barring any coalitional shifts, Biden would need to win the national popular vote by 12 points in 2024 to carry it.) 

ameliatd: You don’t think the national focus on abortion could change that, Nathaniel? Abortion-rights advocates did just see a big win in Ohio last month, and they could be heading for another big victory in November, when abortion will be directly on the ballot. 

nrakich: I didn’t say that individual elections couldn’t be competitive! But as you well know, Amelia, abortion access is more popular than the Democratic Party nationwide. Kentucky and Kansas voted down ballot measures last year that would have clarified that abortion wasn’t protected by their state constitutions, and it doesn’t mean those states aren’t red anymore.

Abortion could have been a motivating issue for Democrats in Ohio if this abortion measure had been on the ballot in 2024. But instead, the issue will likely be settled this fall, so liberals who care a lot about abortion may not still have a reason to turn out in 2024. 

geoffrey.skelley: Nathaniel, I tend to disagree — if someone cares about abortion in 2023, they’re probably showing up in the highest turnout election in 2024. Thing is, lower-propensity voters will turn out too, so just how abortion affects the 2024 landscape may be less clear. The biggest swing in a state that flipped parties in an election with an incumbent since 2000 was Indiana’s 11-point swing from 2008, when Obama won it by 1 point, to 2012 when Mitt Romney won it by 10 points. But outside of that, the next-biggest swing was Georgia’s 5.3-point shift in margin from 2016 to 2020. So Ohio, which Trump won by 8 points, is probably not truly in play unless Biden is winning reelection comfortably. 

gelliottmorris: I agree, Geoffrey. But if you view the likeliest tipping points as the Real Swing States™, then you have to ask if there is enough turnout juice left to move Ohio about 8-9 percentage points to the left relative to the nation as a whole. It would have to become more Democratic than nearby Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to become the tipping point. And I would put that squarely in the “possible, but unlikely” column — even while arguing that abortion will play a big role in the election.

ameliatd: OK, so let’s pivot to the ✨ fun ✨ question I’ve been waiting for — what are the swing states of the future? I’m talking about states that maybe won’t be competitive in 2024, and haven’t been competitive in the recent past, but could look more interesting in future election years because of demographic trends or other factors. Hit me!

gelliottmorris: BLUETAH

ameliatd: I object to BLUETAH because it requires you to misspell the state’s name, but please say more.

gelliottmorris: Well … if I’m picking a sleeper swing state, I’m picking Alaska or Utah. Alaska is on the list because its use of ranked-choice voting has highlighted a potential ideological shift in the state, where moderate Democrats are increasingly favored. Mary Peltola, the representative for Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District, is sometimes called a “pro-guns, pro-fish” Democrat for her pro-gun and pro-conservation stances.

And then I’d pick Utah because of severe aversion to Trump among the state’s Republican voter base. In 2016, independent candidate Evan McMullin was able to win 22 percent of the vote in the state. In 2018, Utah voters elected Trump-skeptic Mitt Romney to the Senate. And then McMullin won 43 percent of the vote against incumbent Sen. Mike Lee in 2022.

geoffrey.skelley: Ha, I thought you were supposed to just do one. Alaska was definitely my “maybe trending blue” pick.

gelliottmorris: Amelia’s question says “states”! I’m sorry!

geoffrey.skelley: But to that point, Trump only won Alaska by 10 points, and the state’s margin has gotten increasingly less Republican in presidential elections. Peltola’s breakthrough adds fuel to the fire.

nrakich: Hmm, interesting. I don’t see Alaska as a sleeper swing state at all. It’s always been quirky and winnable for the right kind of Democrat.

geoffrey.skelley: But we’re talking about presidential races, and I suspect the last time anyone thought of Alaska as truly competitive in a presidential race was in 1968, when Nixon won it by about 3 points. Since then, it’s been comfortably in the GOP column.

nrakich: Utah is intriguing, though I wonder how much the state is going to continue to shift left after Trump leaves the political stage (whenever that is). On the other hand, though, it is a relatively urban and suburban state, and as the urban-rural realignment continues, who knows …

ameliatd: Utah is interesting, too, because it’s the home of so many people who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons). That’s a heavily Republican group where you might expect similar political behavior as other very religious and politically conservative Americans (like white evangelical Protestants). There was a lot of talk in 2016 about how Trump could end up losing Utah because of Mormons’ distaste for him. That didn’t end up happening, but there are more recent signs that younger Latter-day Saints are either leaving the church or moving toward the Democrats (or both).

geoffrey.skelley: I’m skeptical of Bluetah because Trump may be about the worst Republican candidate for president in that state, and he still won it by about 20 points in 2020. Salt Lake City gives Democrats a base of potential support, but the state is still quite red beyond there, although Biden did carry Summit County to the east and rural Grand County to the southeast.

ameliatd: OK, so what about sleeper states where Republicans could make inroads? Oregon? New Mexico?

geoffrey.skelley: New Mexico seems plausible. The trend there has been pretty flat since former President George W. Bush won it in 2004 — Democratic presidential candidates have won it four straight times, and the results were about 6 to 8 points to the left of wherever the nation was. If the nation shifts to the right, it could very well come into play. 

nrakich: Yeah, I was going to say New Mexico for this round. It’s a pretty rural state, and rural areas are trending more and more Republican. It’s also the only majority-Hispanic state, and if Republicans keep making inroads with Hispanic voters, that could make up their deficit in the state, which as Geoffrey mentioned is smaller than a lot of people realize. Plus, the Latinos who live in New Mexico are unique — many of them are part of families who have lived in New Mexico for hundreds of years, and they may be more winnable for Republicans than Latinos who are closer to the immigrant experience.

geoffrey.skelley: We talked earlier about Democrats feeling too sure about a state like New Hampshire. I wonder if Virginia might fall into that category, too. It does seem to have moved just outside the truly up-for-grabs states, having trended about 6 points to the left of the country in 2020. However, Republican Glenn Youngkin carried the state in the 2021 gubernatorial election, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily out of reach for Republicans. To be clear, the trend has not been great for Republicans at the presidential level in the Old Dominion. But it’s still got some purple mixed in with its blue.

The challenge for Republicans in many states like New Mexico or Virginia, though, is keeping down their deficits in the major metro areas. In Virginia, Northern Virginia comes in like a tidal wave against the GOP, while in New Mexico, Bernalillo County (where Albuquerque is located) used to be much more competitive but is now comfortably blue.

gelliottmorris: And similar to New Hampshire, let’s not ignore Maine. It was only 4 points to the left of the national popular vote in 2020. It currently has a Republican senator and had a Republican governor from 2011 to 2019, so could feasibly go red with the right Republican candidates, especially if we see more education polarization among white voters.

Tipping-point Maine would provide for a lot of historical parallelism, too: In U.S. electoral history, we used to have the saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

geoffrey.skelley: Then only Maine and Vermont voted for Alf Landon against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, and FDR’s campaign manager joked that, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”



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Everything You Need To Know About Tuesday’s Special Elections In Rhode Island And Utah

Usually, Labor Day is considered the traditional start of campaign season — but here in 2023, it marks the end of the competitive phase of two heated special elections. Neither Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District nor Utah’s 2nd is expected to be very competitive in November’s general elections, so Tuesday’s primaries will likely determine their new representatives. And whoever wins will have really worked for it; both primaries have had no shortage of drama.

Rhode Island

Races to watch: 1st Congressional District

Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern

When Rep. David Cicilline resigned at the end of May to become president of the Rhode Island Foundation, he left behind a rare opening in a deep-blue district that President Biden carried 64 percent to 35 percent, according to Daily Kos Elections — and ambitious Democrats rushed in to fill the void. Twelve names are on the Democratic primary ballot on Tuesday, and the race has been so chaotic that at least four of them have a legitimate shot at winning.

The early favorite was Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, whose name recognition gave her a decent base of support (albeit only around 20 percent) in early polls of the race, while most other candidates were stuck in single digits. But in July, election officials in several towns flagged certain signatures on Matos’s nomination papers as potentially fraudulent — for example, they were from dead people or living people who said they never signed them. Matos still had enough valid signatures to make the ballot, but in the end, 559 of the 1,285 signatures she submitted were disqualified, and the state attorney general and state police are conducting a criminal investigation into whether fraud was committed (in Rhode Island, it is illegal to forge nomination signatures). Matos has blamed a campaign vendor for the snafu, but the scandal may have turned voters against her. According to internal polling from a rival campaign (so take it with a grain of salt), Matos’s net favorability rating among Democratic primary voters fell from +20 percentage points in June to -20 points in mid-August.

Another early contender was businessman Don Carlson, who — thanks in large part to a $600,000 loan to his own campaign — had raised the most money of any candidate in the race as of Aug. 16 (nearly $970,000). But in late August, local news reported that Carlson had made romantic overtures to a student while a faculty member at Williams College. Carlson eventually admitted that the report was true, and he dropped out of the race on Aug. 27.

In the wake of these scandals, two other candidates have emerged as possible front-runners. Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who might be the governor of Rhode Island right now if 2,466 people had voted a different way, could benefit from being the most prominent candidate in the progressive lane. He has raised the second-most money ($630,000) after Carlson and earned the endorsements of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution. 

By contrast, former White House staffer Gabe Amo is supported by more establishment Democrats. He has worked as an aide to Biden, former President Barack Obama, former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and his connections have helped him raise more than $604,000. The son of West African immigrants, he has also been endorsed by the campaign arm of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

The only public poll of the race conducted in the last six weeks is the aforementioned internal poll, which was paid for by Amo’s campaign. It showed Regunberg at 28 percent and Amo at 19 percent, with Matos lagging behind at 11 percent. Amo used the survey to argue he is Regunberg’s main competition at this point, but don’t count out Matos just yet. She still has the valuable endorsement of EMILY’s List, and her backstory as a Dominican immigrant could resonate with the district’s growing Hispanic population.

On the other hand, another Latina candidate has been making waves in the race’s final weeks: state Sen. Sandra Cano, who sports dozens of endorsements from prominent Rhode Island politicos from across the political spectrum. Cano also took 11 percent in Amo’s internal poll, and that was before Carlson dropped out of the race — and endorsed Cano. Not all of Carlson’s 8 percent support in the poll will flow to Cano (Carlson’s name will remain on the ballot), but don’t be surprised to see her emerge as Regunberg’s biggest threat. Of note, Cano, Matos or Amo would each be the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress if they prevail on Tuesday and in the Nov. 7 general election.

Utah

Races to watch: 2nd Congressional District

Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern

Around the time Cicilline resigned his Rhode Island seat, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District announced his intention to resign effective Sept. 15. The solidly red seat — former President Donald Trump carried it by 17 points in 2020 — attracted 13 GOP contenders, but due to Utah’s convention system and signature requirements for making the primary, just three Republicans will contend in today’s primary.

Former state Rep. Becky Edwards and former Republican National Committeeman Bruce Hough likely started out as better-known entities than Celeste Maloy, Stewart’s chief legal counsel, but the race may be anyone’s ballgame. Edwards rose in prominence in 2022 when she challenged Republican Sen. Mike Lee from his left in the GOP primary as an anti-Trump alternative, winning 30 percent of the vote. Hough is a longtime bigwig in the state party — he previously served as chair of the Utah GOP — and his family has gained notoriety through two of his children, Derek and Julianne, who became famous on the TV show Dancing with the Stars. But Maloy, who has Stewart’s endorsement, won the party convention on June 24 to garner a spot on the primary ballot, an indication of her potential appeal to conservatives, as Utah GOP convention delegates tend to be more right-leaning than the primary electorate as a whole. Edwards and Hough each gathered enough signatures to qualify for the primary despite being eliminated at the convention.

Limited polling and fundraising numbers do suggest Edwards has a potential edge. Edwards led an early August poll from Dan Jones & Associates/Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics with 32 percent, while Hough and Maloy sat well back at 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively. But with about half of voters undecided, the survey may have said more about Edwards’s name recognition advantage than her final vote percentage in this race. She also raised the most money from individual contributors, tallying $368,000 compared to Maloy’s $250,000 and Hough’s $202,000, as of Aug. 16. On top of that, Edwards has loaned her campaign $300,000, allowing her to outdistance Hough in total fundraising (he’s loaned himself around $335,000). She entered the home stretch of the campaign with $228,000 in the bank, about two and a half times what Hough and Maloy each had.

But the ideological divisions in this race could provide opportunities for Maloy or Hough to outdistance Edwards, who clearly occupies the moderate lane. After all, Edwards voted for Biden in 2020 — she did say in a recent debate that she regretted her vote — and worked to pass a resolution recognizing climate change in 2018. Meanwhile, Maloy and Hough have both criticized the indictments of Trump as politically motivated and taken firmly anti-abortion positions, although Maloy said she would potentially vote for a federal ban while Hough said it should be left to the states. Hough has also argued that he’d be the most reliable Republican in the race because he voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020, a dig at Edwards’s Biden vote and a shot at Maloy for having failed to vote in 2020 or 2022.

And similar to the Rhode Island primary, this race also has its own ballot drama. After Maloy won at the GOP convention, it was revealed that her failure to vote in the past two statewide elections had caused Utah’s election officials to mark her as an inactive voter and begin the process of deleting her from the voting rolls. In fact, Maloy had only updated her Utah voter registration three days after she filed her candidacy. She has argued that because she moved to Virginia while working for Stewart on Capitol Hill, she did not want to cast a potentially fraudulent ballot in the past two elections. Still, this revelation prompted one of the eliminated Republican candidates at the convention to sue to have Maloy removed from the ballot. But a state court denied that request, and Republican Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, the state’s chief elections officer, said Maloy properly filed for office. The state GOP also lacked any mechanism under party rules to undo Maloy’s convention victory, reported The Salt Lake Tribune, even as her credentials came under scrutiny.

Despite her troubles, Maloy may have a shot at winning thanks in part to the seat’s geographical divisions. The massive 2nd District runs from Salt Lake City in the north to Saint George in the southwest corner of the state. But Edwards and Hough both hail from northern Utah while Maloy comes from the south. In theory, then, Edwards and Hough could split much of the northern vote while Maloy racks up support on her home turf in the more rural south. As we’ve seen in many other primaries, outsized support from a candidate’s “friends and neighbors” could make all the difference in gaining a simple plurality to win the nomination. Moreover, the southern part of the district could contribute more of the primary vote, as a slight majority of Trump’s 2020 vote in the district came from south of the Wasatch Front, the string of northern metropolitan areas that ends in Utah County. And while he hasn’t endorsed, popular Republican Gov. Spencer Cox has said that he liked the idea of having someone from southern Utah representing the state in Congress. Hough may have his own geographical challenge, too, as he lives in Park City, which sits east of the 2nd District.

The winner of today’s primary will advance to face Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the Nov. 21 general election, a matchup that is likely to send the GOP primary victor to Congress.

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