Resolute Square

People, Not Polls, Vote.

Given the massive disconnect between what the pundits and polls predict and what has happened through 2023, Democrats have no reason to be discouraged this time around. Republicans? If they're not worried yet, they should be.
Published:October 5, 2023

By Victor Shi

If Americans based all of their political anxieties and opinions on current headlines, we might conclude that President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are doomed in 2024. A week ago, The Washington Post and ABC released a poll — which those outlets themselves quietly admitted was an outlier — that led with how concerned voters are about President Biden’s handling of the economy, immigration, and age. Other pundits are calling on President Biden to drop out of the 2024 race because they claim he is destined to lose due to his “low approval numbers.,” 

But none of this is surprising, correct, or new.  

One doesn’t have to look far back to see how history repeats itself. Take, for instance, the 2020 election. Newsrooms across the nation suggested that then-candidate Joe Biden would never clinch the Democratic nomination — until he did. Then, pundits and the media doubted President Biden’s ability to win against Donald Trump — until he did. After winning the 2020 election, the media questioned President Biden’s ability to work across the aisle and pass legislation. In reality, Joe Biden has accomplished more than any modern president, even with a divided government. And, of course, in 2022, headlines predicted there would be a massive “Red wave.” Yet Democrats gained seats in the Senate and lost only a handful of seats in the House — defying six decades of precedent. 

Given the massive disconnect between what the pundits and polls predict and what happens, Democrats have no reason to be discouraged this time around. There are two trends, in particular, that should give Democrats more hope and frighten Republicans this time as the 2024 election approaches: The Democrats’ consistency in over-performing polls and beating expectations in local elections and the increased vigor and passion from young voters.

For decades, Republicans have invested in and targeted local and state elections. And it has essentially paid off by slowly tipping the balance of school boards, municipalities, and state legislatures. That’s why Republicans have been so successful in gradually overturning fundamental rights through state supreme courts and passing anti-democratic bills at the local level in recent years.

However, the bottom-up approach that Republicans spent decades solidifying is crumbling at breakneck speed. No matter how the polls may suggest a bleak political future for Democrats, what matters above all else is what is happening on the ground in 2023 alone. 

To date this year, there have been 31 special elections. On the surface, each election result may not lead anyone to raise eyebrows or question its significance. After all, turnout was often not astronomical, and national outlets have not focused much on them. But examining all 31 special elections together, and in the context of history, paints a much different — and promising — picture for Democrats: An over-performance of expectations among Democrats by an average of 11 points in 25 out of 31 races, according to a new ABC analysis of special elections in 2023. Lest one thinks these special elections are all in traditionally Blue states like California or New York, they are not; many are in competitive states that could determine the outcome of the 2024 election. 

Consider the hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election in April 2023. Democrats flipped the Court for the first time in over 15 years. A few weeks ago, a Democrat won a special election in Pennsylvania, tipping the balance of power in the state house away from Republicans. In New Hampshire, a Democratic candidate flipped a county Trump won in 2016 and 2020 by more than 12 points, bringing the Democratic caucus one vote closer to breaking even with Republicans in the state house. 

Contrary to what many headlines read, these results spell doom for the very survival of the Republican Party in 2024. But of even more significant concern for the GOP is young people. Whereas Republicans may have once held onto power at the state and local levels by relying on majority white and older voters who consistently vote in elections, Generation Z is the most diverse generation. It poses the biggest threat to their retaining control. By 2024, my generation will account for the largest voting demographic of any age cohort.

Young people have never been more dangerous for Republicans than they are now. A new analysis in Politico crystallizes the intensifying shift toward Democrats by analyzing how “college towns are decimating the GOP.” From 2000 to 2020, of America’s 171 college towns, more than 65% shifted increasingly Democratic. In one instance, the area surrounding the University of Colorado, Boulder, saw the Democratic vote share grow by nearly 170,000, compared to only 21,000 for Republicans, in only 20 years. 

What’s more: The shift leftward among young people is not just in Democratic strongholds but also happening in historically-Republican states. Let’s look at Tennessee: after far-right state legislators expelled State Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson over gun violence, young people across the state took to the streets and protested Republicans for doing nothing to address our concerns. Like Tennessee, young people in North Carolina went to the Republican-controlled state legislature and demanded they finally take action on gun violence. And in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, young people have already proved their overwhelming rejection of the Republican Party by voting more Democratic than ever in the 2022 midterm elections.

As one 17-year-old from North Carolina recently testified to a local school board, young people are sick and tired of Republicans' attacks on young people. Young people who otherwise would never participate in politics are paying attention and building a movement. They are making their voices heard in the streets. Most importantly, they are registering to vote, voting, and even running for office nationwide. And every sign indicates that our generation’s power will continue to grow.

This does not absolve President Biden or the Democratic Party from putting in the work ahead of 2024 and continuing to deliver for and meet young people where they are. That must continue. But if there’s anything clear, it’s that, as much as the media and headlines want to focus on polls and surveys, what actual voters are saying and doing on the ground paints a far different reality. And it’s a reality that should give President Biden, the Democratic Party, and anyone who cares about the future of our democracy hope and optimism.