The Biden Anxiety Meter & the Axelrod Effect

President Biden Speaks on his Bidenomics Economic Plan and Its Investment in Passenger Rail at an Amtrak Facility in Delaware
Democrats' usual pre-election jitters were amplified into a full-blown panic attack on Sunday following The New York Times’ latest 2024 poll showing Trump leading Biden in five of the six key swing states.
Abby Livingston
November 6, 2023

Over the past week, it’s become apparent that the House Republican anarchy masked some profound Democratic political class angst regarding the president’s re-election campaign, the party divide over Israel, etcetera. Of course, the usual pre-election jitters were amplified into a full-blown panic attack on Sunday following The New York Times’ latest 2024 poll showing Trump leading Biden in five of the six key swing states, including several where the lead was well outside the margin of error. Every member and consultant I’ve chatted with during the past 36 hours is talking about these numbers. Here is what the chattering class is chattering about:

  • The Axelrod effect: The poll, of course, was compounded by former Obama adviser David Axelrod observing on Twitter/X that “this will send tremors of doubt through the party”; that the stakes are “too dramatic to ignore”; and that “only Joe Biden can make this decision.”

    Some Democratic consultants I spoke with on Sunday were not amused with Axelrod. Nobody wants to live through anything resembling 2016: a messy, divisive primary between the left and the establishment, which would only be worse this time around given the intensity of disagreement surrounding the Israel-Hamas war and the dwindling number of weeks until Iowa. But these are shocking numbers and show Biden has short coattails for down-ballot candidates. Moreover, the Times conducted the poll in the immediate aftermath of the Republican shitshow in the House. It looks like Biden isn’t getting points for being the adult in the room. (Axelrod, for his part, doubled down on his comments today on CNN.)

  • Biden’s Arab Spring: The poll further validated rumblings I’ve heard in recent weeks out of Michigan, where Biden is down five points in the survey. Democrats there will probably have post-election stress disorder for a generation after Trump won the state in 2016, and Biden only carried it by 150,000 votes in 2020. Democrats are also worried about the impact of the Israel-Hamas war given the state’s robust Arab American population, particularly in Dearborn. A series of surveys indicate that Biden is hemorrhaging support from this group due to his full-throated support for Israel. At the same time, establishment Democrats have for weeks privately voiced concerns that the region’s congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, is exacerbating the problem with her rhetoric—specifically, her embrace of the “From the river to the sea” mantra.

    A cluster of prominent conservatives and liberals have already demanded that Tlaib retract her statement calling the slogan “aspirational,” including the state’s Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, and Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the party’s likely nominee for the Senate in 2024. (In the meantime, Peter Meijer entered the crowded Republican primary, joining fellow former congressman Mike Rogers and others.)

  • Leading indicators: Democrats will be closely studying the results and cross-tabs following Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi and Kentucky, which should add some much-needed context to the national political picture. In Kentucky, a win by Gov. Andy Beshear—currently fighting to keep his office from state A.G. and McConnell protégé Daniel Cameron—could reassure Democrats after their drubbing in Louisiana last month. (Both Beshear and Cameron are considered good bets for a national ticket one day, and this race could be determinative.) The next governor could also play a key role in appointing McConnell’s temporary replacement, if the Senate minority leader, who has suffered a number of health episodes, were to suddenly leave his seat.

    But the real show will be in Virginia, where Republicans have a fighting chance to take control of the state House of Delegates and state Senate. The first series of postmortems will likely focus on what the results mean for G.O.P. Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his national aspirations. But the other Virginia pol to keep an eye on is U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who’s expected to run for governor in 2025 and has campaigned for and donated to dozens of Democratic state legislative candidates.