Analysis | Four numbers that say a lot about the current state of politics (2023)



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The big idea

Four numbers that say a lot about the current state of politics

They’ve hit the airwaves, they’ve held rallies, they’ve genuflected before the Iowa fair’s butter cow, and now finally Republican presidential candidates gather this week for the 2024 cycle’s first primary debate, a venue to say many things and perhaps even discuss a few of them.

The stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday will have a Donald Trump-shaped vacuum since the former president the runaway front-runner for the nomination has decided to skip an event that his would-be rivals will use to introduce or reintroduce themselves to the voters.


But forget the horse-race numbers for a minute. There are other numbers out there that tell a more interesting story about the current moment in politics.

Today, The Daily 202 will focus on four data points that caught our eye with the necessary caveat that hanging too much on this or that public opinion poll, rather than a series of them, is always a little risky. The numbers are about:

  • What voters mean when they talk about “the economy.”
  • Republican voters’ fealty to Trump.
  • How GOP perceptions of President Biden’s weakness hurt non-Trump candidates.
  • The partisan chasm on whether the government has too much power.

2024 is about the economy. What’s “the economy?”

Biden’s reelection campaign is going up with a $25 million TV and digital ad campaign in battleground states, CNN’s Arlette Saenz scooped. You can watch it here.

It’s about what else? the economy. From Ronald Reagan’s debate-stage “are you better off than you were four years ago?” to James Carville’s “it’s the economy, stupid” slogan, the economy always shapes our quadrennial contests.


Biden’s ad hits all of his administration’s high notes Manufacturing is up! Clean energy is booming! Unemployment at record lows! “America is back” from the depths of the pandemic! But one thing it doesn’t tackle is the blemish of inflation.

Here’s the number that stood out to us: 57 percent.

A poll in July by the Economist/YouGov found 57 percent said the price of goods and services was the best measure for how the national economy is doing, versus 15 percent saying jobs and six percent saying the stock market.

The GOP’s Trump trust factor

Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president, according to a tally by The Washington Post. His most consequential falsehood that he was cheated out of reelection led a mob of his supporters to violently interrupt certification of Biden’s victory.

But his voters trust him. A new CBS poll found that 71 percent of Trump voters say the former president tells them the truth.

That might not seem like a lot. But it’s above “friends and family” (63 percent), “conservative media figures” (56 percent), and “religious leaders” (42 percent).

GOP sees Biden as weak, and this hurts non-Trump candidates

Over at the New York Times, Shane Goldmacher had a really interesting piece this weekend about how Republican voters’ perception of Biden as weak and inept has hurt candidates not named Trump, because it erodes what has been called the “electability” argument that the GOP has to pick someone else to win in November 2024.

“For months, Republican voters have consumed such a steady diet of clips of Mr. Biden stumbling, over words and sandbags, that they now see the 80-year-old Democratic incumbent as so frail that he would be beatable by practically any Republican — even a four-times-indicted former president who lost the last election,” Shane wrote.


The number here is 43 percent — the support Biden and Trump each got in a NYT-Siena poll.

If you’re a candidate not named Trump, how do you convince voters they need to put him in the past and go with a new face?

A schism on government power

The year is 2003. More Democrats (47 percent) than Republicans (35 percent) tell Gallup they agree the “federal government has too much power.” But both are under 50 percent — the effects of the 9/11 attacks are still being felt.

But the GOP number surged under President Barack Obama. And now, after covid hit in 2020, 73 percent of Republicans say the feds have too much power, vs 31 percent of Democrats.

The GOP number climbed from 48% in 2007 to 54% in 2008, then jumped to 78% in 2009. (In the Trump era, Democrats only climbed above 50%, to 51%, in 2019.)


Both parties tend to shift when the other party has the White House.

“But since 2009, Republicans have been consistently more likely than Democrats to say the government is too powerful, just by larger margins under a Democratic president than under a Republican president,” Gallup said.

And that hints at a crisis in American politics, one in which the GOP seems more likely to see Democratic rule not just as undesirable, but illegitimate.


What’s happening now

Hilary now a post-tropical cyclone; California hit with flooding and mudslides

“Hilary is likely to bring ‘catastrophic and life-threatening flooding’ to portions of the Southwestern United States and the Baja California region in Mexico through Monday, the National Hurricane Center warned. Tens of millions of people were under a tropical storm warning, the first of its kind issued for Southern California. Heavy rainfall and flooding are expected in parts of Arizona and Nevada,” Bryan Pietsch, Leo Sands and Maham Javaid report.

U.S. citizens in Belarus should leave immediately, embassy says

“Do not travel to Belarus due to Belarusian authorities’ continued facilitation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the buildup of Russian military forces in Belarus, the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, the potential of civil unrest, the risk of detention, and the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Belarus. U.S. citizens in Belarus should depart immediately,guidance from the U.S. Embassy in Belarus reads.

Poll: Trump has sizable lead in Iowa, though many voters could change minds

The NBC News-Des Moines Register-Mediacom poll, released ahead of this week’s first Republican debate, found that 42 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers say Trump is their first pick, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 19 percent,” Maegan Vazquez reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

State lawmakers move to ban Chinese land ownership

Lawmakers in 33 states have introduced 81 bills this year that would prohibit the Chinese government, some China-based businesses and many Chinese citizens from buying agricultural land or property near military bases, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Asian Pacific American Justice, an advocacy group. A dozen of the bills are now law in states such Alabama, Idaho and Virginia,” Kimberly Kindy reports.

Before investigating Hunter Biden, prosecutor worked with brother Beau

“When Delaware’s acting U.S. attorney David C. Weiss celebrated a fraud conviction in 2010, he was joined by a key partner in the case: Beau Biden, the state’s attorney general. Weiss worked with Joe Biden’s eldest son to hash out prosecution strategies,” Michael Kranish reports.


  • Today, that little-known history highlights the deep challenges Weiss faces as he pursues a newly recharged investigation into Beau’s brother, Hunter Biden, in a small state long politically dominated by their father.”

‘I could sell golf’: How DeSantis and aides courted lobbyists for campaign cash

“While it is common for politicians to seek donations from lobbyists, the efforts by DeSantis to effectively auction off his leisure time to those seeking to influence state policy created a special pathway of access for wealthy donors to the governor that is striking in the way that it was documented in writing, ethics experts said. The golf-related fundraising was part of a broader push by DeSantis to cultivate relationships with big contributors, some of whom have received state appointments or benefited from state policies, as The Post has previously reported,” Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey report.

… and beyond

Elon Musk’s shadow rule

“Last October, Colin Kahl, then the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon, sat in a hotel in Paris and prepared to make a call to avert disaster in Ukraine. A staffer handed him an iPhone—in part to avoid inviting an onslaught of late-night texts and colorful emojis on Kahl’s own phone. Kahl had returned to his room, with its heavy drapery and distant view of the Eiffel Tower, after a day of meetings with officials from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. A senior defense official told me that Kahl was surprised by whom he was about to contact: ‘He was, like, ‘Why am I calling Elon Musk?’” Ronan Farrow reports for the New Yorker.


  • “The reason soon became apparent. ‘Even though Musk is not technically a diplomat or statesman, I felt it was important to treat him as such, given the influence he had on this issue,’ Kahl told me.”

Pence undercuts Trump’s defense in classified documents case

Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Sunday that he knew of no widespread declassification of documents by President Donald J. Trump when they were in the White House together, refuting one of the former president’s main defenses against charges of endangering national security,” the NYT’s Peter Baker reports.

The Biden agenda

Ahead of Maui visit, Biden’s governmental and personal response scrutinized

“Behind the scenes, aides say, Biden was leading a robust, by-the-book federal response — speaking daily with state officials in Hawaii, ordering federal responders to provide all assistance necessary and receiving detailed briefings as the crisis unfolded. But as the death toll was escalating toward the triple digits, his muted public approach stood in sharp contrast to his long-standing image of an empathetic leader and offered critics a fresh angle to attack him politically,” Toluse Olorunnipa reports.

Biden administration to urge Americans get new COVID-19 boosters

The Biden administration plans to urge all Americans to get a booster shot for the coronavirus this autumn to counter a new wave of infections, a White House official said on Sunday,” Reuters reports.

Biden administration announces more new funding for rural broadband infrastructure

“The Biden administration on Monday continued its push toward internet-for-all by 2030, announcing about $667 million in new grants and loans to build more broadband infrastructure in the rural U.S.,” the Associated Press’s Kavish Harjai reports.


  • The 37 new recipients represent the fourth round of funding under the program, dubbed ReConnect by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another 37 projects received $771.4 million in grants and loans announced in April and June.”

How military aid gets to Ukraine, visualized

Over the past 16 months, the United States and nearly 50 other countries have delivered more than 150,000 tons of materiel — equivalent to the weight of 1,000 Boeing 747 aircraft — to Ukraine. Lightweight munitions sent at the start of the war have given way to tanks, HIMARS rocket launchers and Storm Shadow cruise missile systems. The United States alone has committed more than $43 billion in military aid, according to the Pentagon,” Greg Miller, Loveday Morris and Mary Ilyushina report.

Hot on the left

‘I can’t get into people’s heads': Kamala Harris tries to reshape her public image ahead of 2024

“Her political future, and quite possibly the success of the Democratic ticket in 2024, hinges on a simple question: Is it possible for Kamala Harris to make a second impression?Politico’s Eugene Daniels asks.

  • For Harris, it’s a question that fundamentally misunderstands the point. In her mind, she’s the same person she was when the prevailing narrative of her was that of a star prosecutor, ascendant political talent and even the future of the Democratic Party.”
  • “You could have followed me around in Iowa [ahead of 2020],” Harris told POLITICO in one of two exclusive interviews. “You would have seen the same thing four years ago. It’s always who I’ve been. So I can’t get into people’s heads about why they characterize things as being one way or another. It’s not as though I’ve just found myself. I’ve always been here and never went away.”

Hot on the right

Mitt Romney’s political journey reaches a crossroads

“Sen. Mitt Romney has to decide if he has another fight in him,” the Wall Street Journal’s Eliza Collins and Siobhan Hughes report.

  • The Utah Republican plans to announce soon whether he will seek a second term, after a roller-coaster run in politics that included winning the GOP presidential nomination just over a decade ago. Since then, Romney has become a pariah for some Republicans because of his stubborn rejection of former President Donald Trump, underscoring the party’s shift away from traditional conservatism.”

Today in Washington

At 5:10 p.m. Eastern time, the Bidens will arrive in Maui.

The Bidens will leave Maui for Reno, Nev., at 11:25 p.m.

In closing

Start 'em young!

My friend is reading a book to her kid, where Minnie runs for president and discusses polling sampling methods! This is my new favorite book and I haven’t even read it yet (but I did order a copy).

— Emily Guskin (@EmGusk) August 21, 2023

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.


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