Month after month, Trump-to-Biden swing voters tell us in our Swing Voter Project focus groups they wish neither Trump nor Biden were running in 2024 and that both parties would select a nominee from the next generation of candidates. They may not get their wish in 2024, but someday, both men will exit the stage of presidential politics.
Since August, we have conducted our monthly swing voter focus groups in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia—key swing states that swung from Trump to Biden in 2020 and will be key to winning the White House in 2024. Importantly, their governors are also frequently mentioned as potential presidential candidates, so we were interested in hearing our swing voters’ thoughts about them given their role in choosing the last two presidents.
In August, Michigan swing voters praised their Democratic governor, Gretchen Witmer, describing her as “strong,” “compassionate,” “efficient,” “ambitious,” making “positive changes,” and having “a willingness to work across the aisle.” All 13 were familiar with her, telling us they could identify her by name after being shown an unlabeled photo of her.
Most would like to see her run for president, with five saying they would like her to be the Democratic nominee in 2024 instead of Biden and another five saying they would like to see her run in 2028. Three believe she should never run for president.
Among those who would like to see her run for president in 2024:
“She’s a young, fresh face with a young, fresh mind,” remarked Rodney, 52, from Detroit. “I think she’s done a great job with Michigan, so I think she would do a good job with the country.”
Dixie, 42, from Harper Woods, explained, “She’s a very strong woman and she does get a lot done. She did handle the Covid situation with all hands-on deck. I think she would do a better job than Biden is doing now.”
“She could unify the country. I think it’s possible more [with her] than [with] Biden,” added Brian, 49, from Huron.
Among those who would like to see her run for president in 2028:
Chauntay, 41, from Southfield, commented, “I’d like to see her complete the projects and the initiatives that she started here [in Michigan] first, before moving on to the next step in her political career.”
“I think she needs a little time to get more foreign policy experience under her belt, but I do think she works across the aisle fairly well,” added Mary, 59, from Canton.
Among those who believe she should never run for president:
Kyle, 34, from Woodhaven, explained, “I just don’t feel like she’s got the bravado or the personality for a national role. I think she’s fine as a governor. She’s done OK in my mind, but I just don’t think she’s really got what it takes to lead an entire country with the way that she is right now. It could be changed in the future. I just don’t currently see it.”
In September, Pennsylvania swing voters spoke very favorably about their Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, although he’s not as well known, with only seven of 11 swing voters able to identify him by name after being shown a photo of him. Those familiar with the governor described him as “trustworthy,” “competent,” “impressive,” “reasonable,” “crime preventer,” and a “stable influence.”
A major “win” for Shapiro was his leadership in mid-June following the collapse of a section of I-95 in Philadelphia after a gas tanker exploded and getting the road re-opened in 12 days. All seven who were familiar with him gave him the bulk of the credit for that success and would like to see him run for president—four in 2024 instead of Biden and three in 2028.
Those who would like to see him run for president in 2024 thought he did a “fantastic job” as the state attorney general. His relative youth and “practical and reliable” demeanor would also work in his favor.
Megan, 50, from Wayne, explained why Shapiro should run in 2024: “He has a good presence. I think he’s young enough that if we’re talking about mental acuity, he knows what he’s doing. He’s stable and someone who can reach across the aisle and work with a lot of different people. I think he would be not someone who is argumentative or angry. I just think he would bring a calming influence [to the presidency.]”
Swing voters who believe he should wait until 2028 to run were skeptical he could win at this point, arguing he needs to spend more time doing a good job as governor so he can become better known throughout the country, not just in Pennsylvania. And they would like to see him spend more time leading the state before jumping into presidential politics.
In October, Georgia swing voters had positive things to say about their Republican governor, Brian Kemp, describing him as “conservative,” “strong,” “stable,” “honest,” and “fair.” He’s well known within the state, with nine of 11 able to identify him by name after being shown a photo of him.
The good news for Kemp is four swing voters would like to see him run for president in 2024. The bad news is it’s mainly because they want “anybody but Trump,” not because they necessarily want to see him as president. They’re “content” with what he has done in Georgia, so they think he “wouldn’t be a bad option.”
Two would like to see him run in 2028, commenting that he has done a good job for Georgia, including during the pandemic. Waiting four years would give him the opportunity for “political maturity” and the ability to garner the support he would need. They believe he would have a better chance of winning in 2028; running in 2024 would be a “wasted effort” because he’s not a “big enough name” right now.
Five hope he never runs for president. Three criticized his handling of Covid, saying he was “selfish” to re-open the state so early, “bowing” to his donors and working to satisfy big corporations, despite the number of deaths in the state. The other two swing voters thought he should never run because no one outside of Georgia really knows who he is or where he stands on important issues. They don’t think he’s doing a bad job as governor, but his lack of national exposure would hold him back.
In summary, while we hear generally negative statements about national leaders such as Trump and Biden from our swing voters, these same voters maintain generally positive views of their governors. If we want a preview of what the 2028 presidential race might look like, we would do well to keep our focus here.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Sago. Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.