Poll: Unusually large number of Dems think it's more important that nominee can beat Trump than agrees with them on issues

Bah gawd. That’s Joe Biden’s music! New from Monmouth:

I was underwhelmed by that number until I read Harry Enten’s gloss on it. Apparently CBS polled a similar “electability” question in contested primaries between 2004 and 2016 and in all that time they never found more than 35 percent of a party’s voters claim they’d prefer a candidate who can win to a candidate who shares their views of the issues. We all understand that liberals are desperate to beat Trump but not until now was it clear to me how desperate. The party’s drifting left but a strong majority are willing to make ideological trade-offs in picking a nominee who can win, baby, win.

Just one question: Which wing of the party does that favor in practice, the left or the center? Intuitively it feels like centrists will benefit. They’re typically thought of as being more electable because, after all, they’re supposedly more capable of peeling off centrist voters from the other party. Nominate Biden, let him charm Republican “leaners,” and trust that the left will fall in line in its desperation to oust Trump. You could make the argument the other way, though. If the center-left is also frantic to beat Trump then logically they’ll be more willing than they were in the past to stick with a far-left nominee like Bernie Sanders in the general election next year instead of crossing the aisle and voting Republican. As Enten says of the less “moderate” Democratic contenders:

In reality though, someone could make the case that they are more electable because they can draw the sharpest ideological distinction with Trump, can raise minority turnout or can even make the case that they are an independent (i.e. Bernie Sanders).

Democrats may be unified next November for the general election to an historic extent. As for the primaries, though, I’m not sure “electability” will matter as much as these numbers might suggest. If Democratic voters in all 50 states were asked to cast their ballots on the same day in some national super-primary, electability might rule the day. I’d bet on Biden. In practice, though, you know how primaries work: Whoever wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and/or South Carolina will enjoy a massive bounce as voters are drawn to the buzz surrounding them. Ask Dem voters right now who the most “electable” candidate is and they might ID Biden; ask them the day after, say, Bernie Sanders wins New Hampshire and they’ll be more divided on that question, possibly even naming Sanders himself as the “electable” option. (Berniebros spent months after Election Day 2016 insisting that he would have defeated Trump. Expect to hear that again soon, from the candidate himself.) “Electability” is a moving target to some degreew, and like everything else it tends to follow the strongest candidates around.

While we’re on the subject of opposition unity, a few more numbers from Monmouth:

Just under 4-in-10 registered voters (38%) say that Trump should be re-elected in 2020. A majority of 57% say it is time for someone new in the Oval Office. These results are nearly identical to a Monmouth poll taken in November (37% re-elect and 58% someone new). About 8-in-10 Republicans (79%) back a second term for the president while nearly all Democrats (94%) say it is time for someone new. Most independent voters (55%) want a change while 39% support the incumbent.

Having less than 80 percent of his own party in favor of a second term is inauspicious for Trump, even if you assume that negative partisanship will drive most of the holdouts back into his camp by next fall. What can he do to win independents back, though? An election when the president is on the ballot almost always ends up as a referendum on his first term, I think, rather than as a neutral choice between two candidates. (A strong third-party candidate like Perot in 1992 can upset that dynamic and turn the election into more of a true choice, which is why Democrats are momentarily wetting themselves over Howard Schultz.) If 57 percent of the public is starting in the “time for a change” category, Trump’s going to need to flip roughly 10 percent of them to have a chance. How? Another long period of economic growth? What if that’s not in the cards?