Politics / November 22, 2023

Marianne Williamson Is Polling Just As Well Against Biden as Nikki Haley Is Against Trump

But the media’s obsessed with Haley and paying almost no attention to Williamson.

John Nichols
Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson addresses the crowd at The Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson addresses the crowd at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, Sunday, September 10, 2023, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

(Jose Juarez / AP)

Former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is having a moment. Strong debate performances and disciplined campaigning have put her in serious competition for second place in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Haley’s still far behind front-runner Donald Trump, but she’s poised to displace Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the former president’s most serious competitor.

And the media loves the story. “Nikki Haley has momentum,” chirps The Washington Post, while Politico marvels, “‘The rise is real’: Haley’s breakout is jolting 2024’s undercard race.”

So what kind of poll numbers has Haley been toting up? In the three most recent national polls, according to the Real Clear Politics survey of surveys, Haley’s at 13 percent (NBC News), 11 percent (Fox News), and 8 percent (Quinnipiac). Not great, perhaps, but better than Haley was doing earlier in the race and better than other “top” Republican contenders such as Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie. And Haley’s numbers are ticking upward in several other early primary states.

So good on political reporters for giving Haley—who hopes to be the first woman nominated for the presidency by the Republican Party— her due.

But what about the woman who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination: author and 2020 Democratic contender Marianne Williamson?

In the three most recent national polls posted by Real Clear Politics, Williamson is at 12 percent (NBC News), 13 percent (Fox News) and 12 percent (Quinnipiac). Like Trump on the Republican side, President Joe Biden is still far ahead in the race for his party’s nomination. But Williamson has been experiencing her own surge. After languishing in single digits through most of the campaign she launched in February. she’s been moving up in the polls this fall.

But the political reporters who are falling over themselves to write about Haley seem to have shown little or no interest in Williamson—despite the fact that, over the past several weeks, she’s been posting numbers that are every bit as strong as Haley’s—and, in some cases, better.

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“You’d never know it from the corporate media coverage, but Marianne Williamson is Joe Biden’s stronger Democratic Party challenger by a mile,” says Briahna Joy Gray, the host of the Bad Faith podcast, who served as national press secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign. She points to Williamson’s recent poll numbers and notes that “she’s still heads above most of the non-Trump Republican field even without having the platform of a debate stage.”

Williamson explains her improved position by saying, “I think any rise in the polls is because my team and I have been out there doing the work, connecting with people, and sharing the message of the campaign.” There’s no doubt that the candidate has been working hard, even if she has not gotten anything akin to the coverage—or the financial support from big donors—that’s enjoyed by Haley and several of the lesser Republican contenders.

But it is also worth noting that Williamson has distinguished herself from Biden by embracing progressive economic and foreign policy positions that appeal to many grassroots Democrats. She supports a single-payer “Medicare for All” healthcare system and an ambitious Economic Bill of Rights; and she’s an ardent advocate for bold responses to the climate crisis, saying, “Our continued reliance on fossil fuels—coal, oil and natural gas—is holding back a new, clean energy revolution that will benefit our economy, environment, and collective public health.” Williamson proposes deep cuts in Pentagon spending, and a new approach to international relations that focuses on diplomacy and peacemaking.

While Biden supported Israel’s bombing of Gaza in the weeks following the October 7 attack on Israeli kibbutzim and a music festival, even as the Palestinian civilian death toll pushed beyond 12,000, Williamson spoke up more than a month ago for a cease-fire in the region. She said, “The bombing needs to end. The suffering needs to stop.” And she coupled that message with a call for the return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and for “a brokered two-state solution” that respects the security concerns of Israelis and the right of self-determination for Palestinians.

Now that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a Qatar-mediated deal for a four-day cessation of hostilities in Gaza, which is expected to see the release of 50 Israeli and international captives, as well as roughly 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails, cease-fire advocacy may no longer seem so bold. But when Williamson took her stand, only a handful of congressional Democrats were doing so.

Williamson’s early advocacy on the issue—along with pro-cease-fire statements from two other Democratic contenders who are polling behind her in most surveys, Minnesota US Representative Dean Phillips and The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur—was in sync with the Democratic electorate. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released November 15, roughly three-quarters of Democrats supported the idea of a cease-fire—as did half of Republicans. In the latest NBC poll, 51 percent of likely Democratic voters signaled that they believed Israel had gone too far in its assault on Gaza, while only 27 percent said they believed Israel’s assault was justified.

Polls indicate that Williamson’s strongest support comes from young Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who have been particularly critical of Biden’s approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and who have been supportive of more ambitious responses to economic inequality, racial injustice and the climate crisis. The Quinnipiac Poll, which questioned 1,574 self-identified registered voters nationwide from November 9-13, found that 26 percent of likely voters under age 35 said they preferred Williamson. Among likely voters under age 25, according to a Big Village survey released in early November, 35.5 percent support Williamson.

Williamson says she detected higher support among young people well before Gaza became so central an issue, explaining than younger voters rely less on mainstream media and more on social media platforms such as TikTok to get information. Additionally, she suggests, Gen Z voters who in many cases weren’t even born in the 20th century “don’t see why they should (accept) bad economic ideas left over from it. Neither do I, and they see that.”

Political trends are influenced by all sorts of factors, and that’s undoubtedly the case with Williamson’s jump in the polls—as it is with Haley’s improvement. What should be clear, however, is that is if Nikki Haley’s rise in Republican surveys is a compelling story, then so, too, is Marianne Williamson’s rise in Democratic surveys.

John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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