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Divisions Among Democrats Are Imperiling Their Chances in 2024
If current divides over the Middle East, immigration and other issues continue to fracture party unity, the Democrats may well lose the next election
Recently, Democrats received two contradictory signals regarding the 2024 elections. The first was a devastating New York Times poll showing Joe Biden trailing Donald Trump by between four and 10 points in five crucial battleground states. The second was a surprisingly strong showing by Democrats in early November’s election, in which the party flipped the Virginia state legislature, held a governorship in Kentucky and won a pro-choice ballot proposition in Ohio. Depending on which piece of evidence one chooses to emphasize, 2024 can look like it’s shaping up to be either feast or famine for Democrats.
The ultimate takeaway for Democrats from the ambiguous signals is that success in the 2024 election is entirely possible, but not at all a foregone conclusion. Sure, there are good signs for the party in off-year elections and in the overwhelming support for abortion rights. But none of that should be enough to reassure Democrats that 2024 is in the bag. If they want to reelect Biden, flip the House or hold the Senate, the party has a long list of tasks that they’ll need to accomplish over the next 12 months.
Unfortunately for Democrats, that list got one item longer over the past month, as the conflict in Gaza has fractured the party in a way that could pose a threat to its chances in 2024. Having a baseline level of unity is a prerequisite for electoral success, and the strong feelings and searing resentment arising from the situation in the Middle East have put that unity in jeopardy.
It’s difficult to overstate how the conflict is wearing on the Democratic coalition, from the top of the party leadership down to the voters. Biden himself has been staunchly behind Israel, pressing Congress to pass a bill giving Israel over $14 billion in military support. Meanwhile, however, many political appointees in the White House, the State Department and elsewhere, including some of the president’s top aides, consider his position to be “abetting an immoral attack on Palestinians,” according to Axios, and 17% of the Democratic National Committee’s staff signed a letter insisting that Biden call for a ceasefire. The party’s infighting within Congress is even more vicious, as the battles between prominent pro-Israel and pro-Palestine representatives have become increasingly nasty and public. The warfare being waged between two high-profile New York Democrats, Ritchie Torres and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which earned itself a front-page article in the New York Times, is but one notable example. Another is that 22 Democrats voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib for “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.”
For all the headlines, though, the fighting in the White House, the DNC and Congress is a secondary concern for Democrats when it comes to next year’s elections. Much more worrisome is that the party’s voter base seems to be similarly worked up and divided. Despite President Biden’s steady support for Israel, 49% of Democratic voters say their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians than Israel, while 38% say the reverse. Given this divide, it’s easy to see why only 55% of Dems approve of Biden’s handling of the conflict and why his overall approval rating tumbled 11 points among Democrats in just the last month.
But while the situation in Israel and Gaza is the most noteworthy of the wedge issues threatening to crack the Democratic coalition, it’s far from the only one. Take, for instance, the issue of immigration. With illegal border crossings and apprehensions reaching an all-time high in 2022, some Democrats have decided that the party needs to take a more aggressive stance on preventing illegal immigration. This is true not only in moderate or conservative regions but also in Democratic strongholds. Voters in dark blue cities, including Boston, New York City and Chicago, have expressed exasperation at what they see as the party’s unwillingness to deter illegal immigration. When asked how they think Biden is handling the issue of immigration, just 65% of Democrats say that he is doing a good job.
Unfortunately for Democrats, similar division can be found on other issues too, including crime, inflation and the economy. According to recent polling, many Democrats are unsatisfied with Biden’s leadership, with only about 70% of his co-partisans saying that they approve of his handling of these issues. It’s likely these abysmal numbers led the little-known representative from Minnesota, Dean Phillips, to enter the party’s presidential primary, thinking that he might actually have a chance at dethroning the party’s incumbent.
Despite the Democratic discontent with Biden, the ultimate danger for Democrats is not that a critical mass of the party’s base will abandon the party in favor of Trump and the GOP. Swings like that might happen on an individual level here and there, but in an era of intense polarization, broad realignments take more than a year or two to manifest. Instead, the greater threat for Democrats is that the disillusioned parts of their base will either not turn out to vote or will vote for any one of the third-party options that have already entered the presidential race—Cornel West, Jill Stein and Robert Kennedy. That field of alternates may grow even larger if the centrist group No Labels goes ahead with its plan to field a ticket.
The upshot for Democrats is clear: If the party is unable to salvage some semblance of unity heading into 2024, little else they do will matter. No amount of youth turnout or swing-voter persuasion will be able to compensate for the party being riven by division and discord. Worryingly for Democrats, the list of wedge issues like Gaza and immigration is beginning to stack up to a dangerous height, especially with a presidential election less than a year away. If the party cannot find a way to mend fences and rally around their presidential nominee, and quickly, Democrats may well be dooming the country to another four years of Trump in the White House.