Polling has repeatedly shown a majority of Americans would be dissatisfied if Biden and Trump are their leading choices again in 2024. That has not stopped Trump from dominating the Iowa caucus and winning in New Hampshire, nor did it bar Biden from dominating the New Hampshire primary — even though his name was not on the ballot.
The key reason is simple: Most Americans don’t vote in primaries. The ones who do tend to be more partisan than other voters, and more likely to support either Trump or Biden. They also tend to be older, which typically has meant they’ve been less bothered by Trump and Biden’s advanced ages.
Discontent with a Trump-Biden rematch is also concentrated among independent voters, many of whom are ineligible to vote in their state’s primaries. In New Hampshire, where they dominate general elections and are eligible to cast a ballot in primaries, 65% of independents backed former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley over Trump. But they made up a smaller share of the electorate, and couldn’t match the 74% support for Trump among registered Republicans.
South Carolina — the next state to hold a competitive contest for both parties — lacks partisan registration, so independents could make a big splash there as well. Right now, however, polling shows Trump with a substantial lead over Haley in her home state. And Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), the only serious challenger to Biden, is not even competing there, scared off by Biden’s strength among the older Black voters who dominate Palmetto State Democratic primaries.
Many Republicans Don’t Want A Federal Abortion Ban
New Hampshire exit polls revealed a ticking time bomb for Republicans in the general election: abortion.
Some 67% of New Hampshire GOP primary voters say they do not support a federal abortion ban, while only 27% say they do, according to NBC News exit polls.
Neither Trump nor Haley, for their part, are calling for a national ban. Haley in particular has cautioned Republicans to instead find “consensus” in what’s been interpreted as an appeal to centrist voters. Trump has also urged Republicans not to wade into electorally unpopular territory, but claimed he would be able to compel both sides to reach an agreement on the issue. He also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his former rival for the nomination, for signing a six-week ban in his state.
But the results nonetheless underscore how unpopular further abortion restrictions are, even on the right. And Democrats have been able to effectively argue that Republican wins at the ballot box would mean national action to restrict the procedure even further.
Democrats know this is one of their most effective messages. It helped them score wins in the 2022 midterms and in last year’s elections in Kentucky and Virginia. Biden’s campaign, in anticipation of Trump’s expected victory this week in New Hampshire, released its first ad entirely focused on abortion and Trump, with events planned in Virginia and Wisconsin — two states where the president’s campaign feels the abortion messaging will be most effective.
Haley Is Actually Helping Biden In One Very Important Way
Haley has fashioned herself a candidate for Republicans who want to see a new generation of GOP leaders take power. As part of that pitch, she’s called for mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75. That would, of course, include Biden and Trump.
With the GOP primary winnowed to a two-person race between a 52-year-old and a 77-year-old, Haley has called into question Trump’s mental fitness — especially after he seemed to mix up Haley and former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, claiming at a rally in New Hampshire last week that Haley, then a private citizen, had control over security at the U.S. Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021 (even Pelosi, then the House speaker, did not).
“I mean, look, we’ve seen him get confused,” Haley said of Trump on CNN Saturday, signaling that perhaps Trump’s cognitive abilities aren’t all there.
Haley is doing Biden a favor, since the president, who’s had plenty of his own gaffes, is both older and faces more serious concerns among the Democratic electorate about his age and health. Biden wouldn’t be the right messenger for this particular Trump critique. Meanwhile, it’s not hard to see how Haley’s sound bites don’t someday feature in an attack ad should Trump become the nominee.
Haley’s Toughest Races Are Still Ahead
Even though she put up a stronger-than-expected performance on Tuesday, it only gets more difficult for Haley from here on out. She’s skipping competing in the Feb. 8 Nevada caucuses, which Trump is expected to win handily, in lieu of mounting what could be her last stand in her native state of South Carolina on Feb. 24, where the former president leads by nearly 30 points in recent polls.
The problem for Haley’s campaign is the makeup of the GOP electorate in coming primary contests — even if she somehow manages to survive in South Carolina. According to exit polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Haley’s strength lies among college-educated voters, beating Trump in that group by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. That helped her campaign overperform in the Granite State, which boasts a high proportion of college grads and independent-minded voters. But after New Hampshire, the pool of college-educated voters in the GOP becomes slimmer and slimmer, giving Trump, who appeals to blue collar workers, a big advantage.
But on Tuesday night, at least, Haley said she planned to go the distance.
“This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go,” Haley said at her election party in Concord.
One thing on Haley’s side: Presidential campaigns end when they run out of money, and Haley — now the last, best hope of the GOP’s anti-Trump donor class — appears to still be gathering cash. The Koch political network has already begun sending mail touting her to voters in Super Tuesday states, she has fundraisers scheduled for Wall Street next week and has already reserved $2 million worth of ads in South Carolina.
That said, cash can’t solve everything. Haley and her allies outspent Trump and his allies on television by roughly a 2:1 margin in New Hampshire, to no avail.
Trump Is No Longer An Outsider, Or A Moderate
When Trump won the New Hampshire primary back in 2016, his appeal was based around the idea he was an outsider who could shake up a moribund political system. This, naturally, appealed to the state’s independent voters, who typically view the two major parties more skeptically than partisans. He also didn’t run as a movement conservative, leaving Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others to do so, which helped him appeal to the state’s moderates.
Things were much different in 2024. As president, Trump mostly enacted standard-issue GOP policies, like cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and appointed the judges who ultimately struck down Roe v. Wade. He’s no longer seen as much of a moderate. So after winning just 35% of the conservative vote in 2016 — a race with a much larger field of candidates — he won a whopping 70% this time around. He won 32% of moderates in 2016, compared to just 22% in 2024.
The story is similar for independent voters, many of whom now see Haley’s comparative youth as the way to shake up the system, more than Trump’s bellicosity. Trump won 36% of self-identified independent voters in 2016, more than doubling his closer competitor; this time, he lost them to Haley by a 60% to 38% margin.