2024: Poor People Are the New Swing Vote

William J Barber II Poor People Campaign

If you’re an ordinary American who goes to work to pay the bills or takes care of a loved one most days, it’s easy to feel down when you see the headlines about the 2024 election. Donald J. Trump has been convicted of 34 felonies for falsifying business records to cover up hush money he paid to bury an alleged affair with a porn star during the 2016 campaign, and the Republican Party continues to think he’s their best candidate. At the same time, President Biden is struggling to hold together his Democratic base as images of devastation in Gaza continue to dominate the news. Stories of good news in politics seem few and far between.

But as a preacher, I learned a long time ago that you don’t get to the good news by looking away from problems; the good news is most often found right amid trouble. Yes, politics is a mess in 2024. But, at the same time, several popular movements of everyday people struggling for economic justice have emerged that have the potential to reshape our politics. Against the backdrop of decades of rising inequality, low-wage worker movements have made huge strides since the pandemic, insisting that living wages are a moral issue for “essential workers” and seeing the largest increase in real wages in decades. Young people who’ve watched education and healthcare costs soar have come together to form effective coalitions for debt relief and won billions in loan forgiveness. Leveraging worker power, unions have waged effective strikes and negotiated new contracts while expanding to include new workers, especially in the South. Though they’re rarely in the headlines, these movements made up of millions of low-income workers have the potential to re-frame political debates for people who are weary of the status quo. The good news in 2024 is that poor and working people are the new swing vote in US politics.

A report from Lake Research Partners demonstrates just how powerful this untapped coalition of low-income voters could be. Looking back at the past three Presidential elections, they found that in the seven states that will likely decide the 2024 election—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, and Pennsylvania—low-income voter participation was an average of 12 percentage points lower than that of their higher-income voters. Using past averages to project 2024 turnout, this study measured the difference between the margin of victory in the last Trump/Biden matchup and the number of eligible low-income voters who are likely not to vote. In Georgia, for example, Biden won by almost 12,000 votes in 2020. In North Carolina, he lost by 74,000. But in both states, more than a million eligible low-income voters will likely not vote in 2024 if past trends continue. That’s a huge potential swing vote, and the proportions are similar across the seven swing states in the study.

Since the 2024 Presidential race will likely be a rematch of 2020, this study used exit poll data from 2020 to ask who unlikely low-income voters would vote for if they did turn out in 2024. Of the 1.3 million likely nonvoters in Georgia, 746,000 would likely be Biden voters. Of the 1.1 million in North Carolina, some 594,000 would likely go for Biden. In short, Biden and other Democrats have a huge advantage among this demographic when they are able and willing to vote. The overwhelming takeaway of this study is that a relatively small increase in low-income voter turnout in any of these seven states would dramatically increase Biden’s chances of winning a second term in the White House. The millions of low-income people who’ve risen as leaders in movements for economic justice over the past few years have the power to decide the outcome of the 2024 election.

Celinda Lake and her research partners are consultants for the Biden campaign, and there is a focus on the potential for his candidacy in 2024, but the potential power of this swing vote is much larger than one election or even one political party. Both Democrats and Republicans have ignored low-income voters for decades precisely because they are unlikely voters. But when the nonpartisan Poor People’s Campaign, which I serve as a co-chair, surveyed poor people to ask why they don’t vote, the number one reason they gave was, “No one speaks to us.”

This is why our campaign has committed to holding a Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Worker’s Assembly in Washington, DC, on June 29th. We are bringing the everyday people who’ve demanded better wages from their bosses to Washington and insist that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents make clear what they will do to address the needs of 135 million Americans who are living on the edge in the richest nation in the history of the world. And we are committing to go home to our communities and reach 15 million of the unlikely low-income voters with the message that they have power in 2024. If they show up, especially in seven key states, their votes will decide the outcome in 2024. When they do, they will be able to help shape the reconstruction of an American democracy that works for all of us.

William J. Barber, II is President of Repairers of the Breach and author of the new White Poverty: How Exposing Myths About Race and Class Can Reconstruct American Democracy.



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