Voters are restless coming out of this year’s midterm elections, and they want both political parties to offer different options for party leadership, according to a new national poll conducted by HarrisX for the Deseret News. While former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are still seen as the leaders of their respective parties, a majority of voters say both Republicans and Democrats should move on and look for new leadership. 

“We’re seeing the winds of change emerge,” said Dritan Nesho, CEO of HarrisX, about the latest findings. “Independents especially want new 2024 choices and new leadership across both parties.”

Moving on from Trump and Biden?

After better-than-expected election results for Democrats, Biden seems to have received a bump in support among his own party members. He is seen as the clear leader of the Democratic Party, and 59% of Democrats said he should maintain that position. Other voters are less positive — 82% of Republicans and 53% of independent voters say the party should move on. 

Republicans are less sure about who is leading their party. While 30% say Trump, almost a quarter of Republican voters say they are unsure or don’t know who their party’s leader is right now, according to the poll, which was conducted on Monday and Tuesday. After Trump, 18% of Republicans say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the leader of the party, followed by 11% for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and 10% for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But when Republicans were asked whether the party should move on from Trump or keep him as a leader in the party, 52% said he should maintain his role as a leader. Only 25% of independent voters and 10% of Democrats agree. 

Republican congressional leaders unpopular

“The GOP is facing a fight for who will be its flag bearer in 2024 and relatively speaking Trump is the strongest figure despite the majority of voters and independents not wanting him to run again,” said Nesho. “Importantly, both McConnell and McCarthy’s positions with the base are precarious and weaker than Trump. Moderate Republicans need a new flag bearer too.”

Republicans and other voters are not enthusiastic about McConnell, according to the poll. A majority of Republicans – 52% — said the party should move on from McConnell, while only 22% said he should maintain his role as a party leader. 

This is unsurprising given the attacks McConnell has faced from within his own party coming out of the midterms. While McConnell raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates in Senate elections across the country, many were angry when he said in September that Republicans may not win a majority in the Senate because of “candidate quality.” 

In November, McConnell faced a leadership challenge from Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who ran the National Senate Republican Committee in this year’s election. Scott lost to McConnell in a 37-10 vote. While McConnell might not be popular nationally, he is seen as a shrewd political operator, particularly for his role in getting conservative judges approved. He was vilified on the left and celebrated on the right for his role in keeping Attorney General Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court. 

The poll showed fewer Republicans have strong feelings about McCarthy. While 35% of Republicans said he should maintain his role as a leader in the party, 33% said the party should move on, and 32% said they weren’t sure.

McCarthy is fighting to maintain his position as Republican party leader in the House, despite a 188-31 vote in November showing he still has support from the majority of his caucus. Because of House rules, he has to win a majority of votes from the full chamber in order to secure the role as Speaker on Jan. 3. With only a two-seat majority as of early December, McCarthy needs to hold his caucus together in order to win the vote. 

Several conservative House members have said they will mount a floor challenge to his leadership, including Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who ran against McCarthy for the leadership position. No other consensus figure has emerged. 

If not Biden, then who?

Democrats are in a similar position to Republicans when it comes to their current alternatives to Biden as leader of the party — none of the current leaders were seen as palatable by a majority of voters, although Democrats chose new House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Wednesday, after the poll was in the field. 

Vice President Kamala Harris was very popular among Democrats — 63% said she should maintain her role as a party leader — but much less so among Republicans and independent voters, with 47% of independent voters saying Democrats should move on from Harris as a party leader compared to 26% who said she should maintain her role. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appears to still have the confidence of a plurality of Democrats, with 45% saying he should stay a leader in the party compared to 27% who said the party should move on. 

As the focus turns to the 2024 presidential election, Republican and Democratic voters will have to decide whether to stick with their own favorites or if they want to pivot to candidates who might have a better chance with independent voters. Whether either party can find a consensus candidate remains to be seen.