Liz Cheney? Mitt Romney? Voters who don’t want Joe Biden or Donald Trump find their ideal candidates.

Alex Harsha
Alex HarshaSep 25, 2023, 7:31 PM
Liz Cheney? Mitt Romney? Voters who don't want Joe Biden or Donald Trump find their ideal candidates.

WASHINGTON — Yes, the 2024 presidential election might be a repeat of 2020, with voters choosing between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. That doesn’t mean Americans don’t have other names in mind.

A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll from June found that in a potential rematch between the two current frontrunners, 34% of voters said they would support Biden while 32% said they would support Trump. Meanwhile, 23% of voters say they would support an unspecified independent contender.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, told USA TODAY his national surveys indicate about 25% of registered voters across the country say they would vote for someone other than Biden or Trump, or wouldn’t vote at all. It’s a trend that has stayed consistent since November 2021.

But why are voters dissatisfied with both candidates? Who would voters rather see sworn in as the next president of the United States?

Voters from across the political spectrum gave USA TODAY a list of Republican and Democratic officials they’d rather see serve as commander-in-chief. The options range from progressive Democrats to moderate Republicans, but they’re all current or former officials with experience leading. Here’s a closer look.

Who is the ideal Democratic candidate for voters?

One of the ideal Democratic candidates for some voters USA TODAY interviewed was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who ran for president in 2020 with one of the most progressive agendas in the Democratic field.

“She has the wisdom. She has the policy expertise. She has consumer expertise, and she has the historical knowledge that I think that she could actually take this country and take it to the next level that we need to go,” said Patricia Holliday, a 66-year-old from Florida who serves on the board for the Capital Medical Society.

Holliday said Warren “completely understands” how policy on issues ranging from climate change to women’s rights affects everyday citizens, and she could use that insider knowledge to create change.

“She has the moral authority,” Holliday said. “She has the energy that is just driving force.”

Shreya Dandu, a 21-year-old masters student at George Mason University in Virginia, said she likes that Warren represents a “more progressive wing of the party.”

“I really liked her health care plan. And I think she has a lot of good things to say, and I really like what she did with her past work and…how she would warn people about the 2008 financial crisis, and I feel like she’s… on the side of the people,” Dandu said.

Dandu added that another ideal presidential candidate for her would be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., the youngest woman to serve in Congress who also has a progressive outlook on health care, income inequality and climate change policy.

“Speaking as another woman of color, I just love to see someone like her just go into politics, especially because young women of color are very underrepresented…and I really like how she’s not afraid to like speak her voice, which I think is really important for a politician, and she’s a good role model for younger woman,” Dandu said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference with Democratic lawmakers about the Biden administrations border politics in January.

‘He’s a president we can look up to’: Biden is still on the list

But voters haven’t completely turned their back on Biden heading into 2024.

“He has done more in these four years than I thought was possible, especially given the intense Republican and often unfair Republican opposition to even bipartisan supported bills,” said Spencer Dirrig, a 26-year-old who lives in Ohio and serves as the vice president for the Midwest of the Young Democrats of America.

Dirrig said Biden has set his sights on issues that young people care about, including climate change, student debt, and support for unions. He argued that Biden’s character also sets him apart from other candidates.

“Biden isn’t just a president who is able to deliver on policy, but he’s a president we can look up to,” Dirring said.

“Frankly, when it comes to all the political drama that we see in the news, when it comes to the former president’s social media tweets and attacks on individuals, Joe Biden doesn’t mess around with all of that. He’s focused on the job at hand, which is delivering for the American people,” Dirrig said.

He also said he thinks concerns about Biden’s age are being blown out of proportion, calling Biden, 80, “the only person who’s going to be able to deliver meaningful bipartisan policy wins for young people like me.”

President Joe Biden speaks about the Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 29, 2023. Biden said he

President Joe Biden speaks about the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 29, 2023. Biden said he “strongly” disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling banning the use of race and ethnicity in university admission decisions. The ruling “walked away from decades of precedent,” he added.

Who is the ideal Republican candidate for voters?

The 2024 Republican primary has drawn a long list of candidates. But that doesn’t mean voters aren’t hoping a few more potential presidents toss their hat in the ring.

Earlier this month, the organization Free Speech for People filed a lawsuit to bar Trump from appearing on Minnesota’s ballot in 2024. One voter involved in the effort, David Thul, said his ideal candidate would be former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a vocal critic of Trump who is running in the 2024 race.

“Hurd has been outspoken on the deficit issue in the long term federal debt in terms of the need to reduce spending,” Thul, a 51-year-old logistics manager, said, also applauding Hurd for his time spent as an undercover CIA officer and his calls to support Ukraine and counter China.

“Those are the kind of hot button issues that motivate me in politics,” he added.

Tammy Hester, a 52-year-old who lives in Washington, D.C., said that although she’s a Democrat, her ideal candidate would be former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. The former lawmaker has also been outspoken about Trump, and she lost her re-election bid in the 2022 midterms.

“I don’t agree with her policy but again, I don’t necessarily vote on policy because to me that’s going to change with every election cycle,” Hester, who works for a federal contracting business, said. “For me, it’s about someone having a moral fiber.”

“She just has appeared to me to be a person that will at least come to the table and engage in conversations with other parties,” Hester said.

For 66-year-old Walter Cox, a private chauffeur who lives in California, his ideal candidate would be Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who recently announced he would not run for re-election in 2024. Cox called Romney’s legislation in the Senate “a true win-win” for both sides.

“That’s just who the guy is. He’s open to things. He’s not like ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ you know? So I just love that about the guy,” Cox said.

Cox said that he believes Romney would be a candidate to bridge the polarizing divide in the country, calling the Utah lawmaker a principled person willing to take “slings and arrows.”

“When everyone was against him, he was saying about the Trump impeachment. He was like, Look, there’s enough there that we should look at it. That’s our job as a nation,” Cox said.

But Trump still appeals to 62-year-old car dealer Francis Wihbey, based in Connecticut, and 70-year-old Daniel Murphy, a retired voter living in Arizona.

“I think Trump is a guy that shoots straight,” Murphy said. “I think he – more than most presidents – has done what he said he was going to do. And I don’t think he has much of a hidden agenda. And I think he is beyond a doubt here to help the country, not himself, unlike others in government right now.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023,, in Washington.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023,, in Washington.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Some voters don’t have an ideal candidate, but a vision of who they want

Not all voters dissatisfied with a choice between Trump and Biden have another option in mind.

Paul Beck, professor of political science at The Ohio State University, explained to USA TODAY there is never going to be an ideal candidate for most voters, noting that they “basically settle on who is better than the others,” and that may include a mix of positive and negative characteristics.

Quentin Wathum-Ocama, the 32-year-old president of the Young Democrats of America and an elementary school educator, told USA TODAY that “I think a lot of voters and I think a lot of my cohort – millennials and Gen Z – they’re really just looking for someone who’s gonna talk about their issues.”

He said he would want somebody who recognizes climate change and is willing to stand up for worker’s rights.

“We want people – when they have that working majority in the government – to take on those big and bold ideas,” Wathum-Ocama said. “I think that’s what I’m looking for.”

Caiden Anderson, a 19-year-old who serves on the board of the Texas Young Republicans, also told USA TODAY he doesn’t have an ideal candidate in mind. But he wants someone who is young, energetic and shares his values. Candidates who best represent that description include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and others, he said.

“With DeSantis, his record sort of speaks for itself in Florida,” Anderson said. “He’s got a lot of things he’s done there with the economy and with COVID policy.”

He also pointed to DeSantis’ efforts in passing laws on what can be taught in classrooms and extending parental oversight of children’s education.

Annika Krovi, a 16-year-old national chairwoman of the High School Democrats of America, told USA TODAY that her ideal candidate would be one that makes an active effort to work with younger voters to address issues such as gun violence prevention, climate and environmental justice and increased higher education accessibility.

“As a young brown woman, I’m also looking forward to supporting a candidate that is willing to protect reproductive rights and fight for racial equality,” Krovi said.

Why are voters straying away from Biden and Trump?

The problem isn’t necessarily Biden and Trump themselves, Samara Klar, a professor at the school of government and public policy at the University of Arizona, told USA TODAY. Researchers have been spotting a trend of voters saying they dislike prominent candidates for the past two electoral cycles.

“We’re also seeing a rising percentage of Americans upwards of 25% say that they don’t like either party generally…it’s not only these candidates that seem to be turning off voters, although they are, but it’s also just the political parties in general,” Klar said.

And it’s common incumbent presidents to be less popular in the year before a reelection bid, Franklin said.

“Most, but not all, see some rise in their job approval during the reelection campaign year,” Franklin said. “Part of that is simply that governing usually includes disappointments while campaigning allows the incumbent to stress their virtues and successes, reminding voters why they won last time.”

For Biden, one of voters’ biggest concerns appears to center around age. Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, previously argued that, even if Biden’s age has not affected his ability to do the job, “some members of the public may nonetheless believe he is not mentally sharp enough or that he lacks the necessary physical stamina.”

Voters also have concerns around Biden’s handling of inflation, which could worsen if the United Auto Workers’ strike is lengthy, and a looming government shutdown that could affect interest rates, according to Michael Traugott, a political scientist at the University of Michigan.

For Trump, one of his liabilities is his indictments in four criminal cases, according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll from June found that 33% of sampled Republican and Independent voters said they would be less likely to vote for Trump due to his legal troubles.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AOC? Romney? If voters don’t want Biden or Trump, who’s their pick?

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    Alex Harsha
    Alex Harsha

    Alex Harsha is a full-time writer.Before becoming a full-time writer, Alex was a public school teacher. He teaches writing workshops to children and adults. Lives in Connecticut & Works on next novel.

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