It’s the Policies, Stupid!
COMMENTARY

May 22, 2024by Victor Allis, Co-Founder and CEO, ActiVote
It’s the Policies, Stupid!
A sign of primary season in South Carolina. (Photo by Dan McCue)

In 1992, James Carville, the strategist behind Bill Clinton’s campaign, famously declared, “It’s the economy, stupid!” This mantra, fueled by the memory of the 1990-1991 recession, proved instrumental in Clinton’s victory. 

Yet, with the 2024 election season in full swing, the media’s attention remains fixated on personalities rather than policies. The left incessantly scrutinizes former President Donald Trump’s character flaws, including his criminal charges, alleged affairs with a Playboy model and an adult film actress, and perceived authoritarian aspirations. The right emphasizes President Joe Biden’s age by reiterating his “Sleepy Joe” nickname, highlighting instances when he is shielded from cameras while walking to Marine One and pointing out his avoidance of interviews and press conferences.

However, this obsession with personalities misses the mark. In 2024, what truly matters to voters are the policies.

In our polling we split the likely presidential electorate into five equal-sized quintiles entirely based on policies: the left, moderate left, centrists, moderate right and right. What we find is that policy positions are highly predictive of voting behavior. Of the left quintile, 99% plan to vote for Biden, while of the right quintile 98% plan to vote for Trump. Of the moderate left, 93% plan to vote for Biden, and of the moderate right, 95% plan to vote for Trump. 

In other words, a stunning 96% of the four/fifths of the electorate who lean either left or right plan to vote for the candidate who represents their policy preferences.

The left was disappointed when Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire endorsed Trump after having campaigned for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The left was incredulous after former Attorney General Bill Barr, a fierce critic of his former boss, pledged to vote for the Republican ticket in November. His explanation should not be a surprise when viewed as an endorsement of the policies Barr believes in: “I think the real danger … to democracy … is the progressive agenda.”

Similarly, a segment of the right appears convinced by rumors suggesting the Democrats will select a different candidate during the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Figures like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have suggested that Michelle Obama could be the chosen candidate. These speculations concerning an incumbent president are fueled by skepticism about Democrats’ willingness to vote for an “ailing” 81-year-old.

All of them should realize: It’s the policies, stupid!

With 96% of voters locked in on the left and right, the focus should be on the centrist voters.

In our latest poll Trump gets 63% of that important centrist quintile, which is significantly up from the 45% of centrists who voted for him in 2020. 

It appears that the policy messages of the Trump campaign against inflation, illegal immigration and identity politics are striking a chord with centrists. If the Biden campaign aims to win over this crucial group, they should shift their focus away from progressive policies favored by the left, such as student debt relief, pressuring Israel and insisting on terminology like “undocumented” versus “illegal” for border crossers.

Instead, they should focus on issues that resonate with centrists. Otherwise, we might see a repeat of 1892, when an unpopular ex-president defeated an unpopular incumbent.


Victor Allis has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and is a successful tech entrepreneur. He is currently using those skills to analyze and provide insights into the American electorate and to encourage voter participation up and down the ballot. He can be reached on X.

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