For many years, miners relied on canary birds rather than fellow miners to detect colorless, odorless carbon monoxide and other toxic gases in coal mines that could sicken or even kill humans. While mechanical sensors have replaced canaries, the term “canaries in the coal mine” is still a metaphor for an early warning system to alert people of impending catastrophic outcomes if they do not take immediate action.
As we approach the 2024 presidential election, Republicans, and Democrats need to monitor and heed the warnings of “political canaries”.
In this commentary, the focus will be on canaries in the suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania. With all due respect to Maryland, often branded as America in miniature, this designation applies only in terms of geography, not in terms of presidential politics. While Republican George H.W. Bush won Maryland in 1998, the current edition of the Almanac of American Politics identifies Maryland as “solidly blue.” By contrast, Pennsylvania, our neighbor to the north is a purple bellwether state and will be one of the key presidential battleground states in 2024; just as it was in 2016 and 2020. In 2016, Trump was declared the winner in Pennsylvania by a margin of 0.72 %, and in 2020, Biden was declared the winner in Pennsylvania by a margin of 1.17%.
The most important battleground region in this battleground state includes four suburban counties in southeastern Pennsylvania that surround the City of Philadelphia. Voters in these counties (often referred to as the “collar counties”) are fiercely independent with minimal loyalty to either major political party in their presidential voting decisions.
Going into the 2024 presidential election, below are the canaries in the coal mine early warning signals in the collar counties for the Democrats.
One is recent polling results from coefficient, a national polling firm with a B+ grade in pollster ratings from FiveThirtyEight. The B+ grade is based on coefficients record on historical accuracy and their polling methodology.
co/efficient reports that 59% of collar county voters believe the country is on the wrong track. 43% approve of Biden’s job performance, 48% are not sure he is mentally or physically up to facing a crisis, and only 33% want him to run again.
These polling results also show weak 2024 presidential election support in the collar counties among two key groups in the traditional Democratic base: young voters and voters of color. Among other voters of color (Hispanic and Asian) Biden’s approval in the collar counties is 50%. It is worth noting this poll was conducted before the most recent media reports of serious allegations of criminal activities by the Biden family. While some may say these allegations have not yet been and may not be proven, perception is reality in politics. With Republican control of the U.S. House there is no question they will do everything they can to keep this issue alive through the 2024 election cycle, especially if Biden is the Democratic nominee.
Another signal is polling results showing that in a one-on-one contest between Biden and Trump OR DeSantis, only 50% of collar county voters say they would back Biden. While this level of support for Biden is enough to defeat Trump or DeSantis in the collar counties, that is not enough to provide enough votes to win the state.
Outside of the collar counties another canary that should concern the Biden campaign is the results of the May 2023 Democrat mayoral primary election in the deep blue City of Philadelphia. In that election, a traditional Democratic candidate handily defeated a progressive Democratic candidate by almost 20,000 votes. Clearly, Democratic voters in Philadelphia will not blindly support a Democrat whom they conclude is too far to the left.
Republicans also have their own canary in the coal mine warning signals in Pennsylvania.
Last year, a far-right wing Republican candidate for governor received only 41% of the statewide general election vote. In the collar counties the far-right Republican candidate received a high of only 39% of the vote in one collar county and a low of only 29% of the vote in another collar county. Any 2024 Republican presidential viewed (either fairly or unfairly) as a far-right conservative will most certainly lose the suburban collar counties in Pennsylvania as well as in similar suburban regions in other battleground states.
The bottom line is both Democrats and Republicans need to carefully monitor all the political canary warning signals in battleground states between now and the 2024 presidential election. More importantly, they must be willing and able to take the needed actions to result in candidates, campaign platforms, and campaign messages that resonate with a majority of voters in those states in 2024.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters who resides in Easton.