President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE is trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE among voters who view both men unfavorably, a substantial and growing segment of the population that could decide which man takes the oath of office next January.
Four years ago, voters unhappy with their choices helped send Trump to the White House. He beat Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE among the 18 percent of voters who viewed both candidates unfavorably by a 47 percent to 30 percent margin, according to exit surveys.
In critical swing states, that margin was even larger: Trump beat Clinton 50 percent to 29 percent among those voters in Michigan, 60 percent to 23 percent in Wisconsin and 56 percent to 31 percent in Pennsylvania.
But now those voters seem ready to vote against the incumbent. Several surveys in recent days show those voters breaking hard for Biden.
A Monmouth University poll conducted last week found Biden leading Trump by a 50 percent to 41 percent margin among all voters. Among those who view both Biden and Trump unfavorably, Biden leads 59 percent to 17 percent.
A Suffolk University poll that showed Biden with a 50 percent to 40 percent edge among all voters pegged his advantage among those unfavorable voters at 44 percent to 9 percent, while 31 percent said they would vote for a third-party candidate. Given the option of a head-to-head match-up, Biden's advantage expanded to a 55 percent to 17 percent gap.
And a Civiqs poll conducted for the progressive Daily Kos website showed Biden leading Trump among those voters by a 40 percent to 7 percent margin.
Neither the Biden campaign nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment.
Pollsters said those who see both candidates unfavorably tend to fall into groups that are likely to feel disaffected by politics: They tend to be younger, and almost 60 percent have no firm partisan identity. Those voters tend to vote against incumbents — or, as was the case four years ago, against the candidate who most represents the status quo.
In other respects, those voters disproportionately belong to groups that are likely to back Biden anyway. They are more likely to describe themselves as moderate, a group Clinton carried by 12 percentage points in 2016, and they are disproportionately Latino, a group Clinton carried by 38 points four years ago. There are substantially more Democrats than Republicans among those voters, too.
Pollsters said those demographics point to two different camps of voters who see both Biden and Trump unfavorably: One that may have favored a different candidate in the Democratic primary, and another that may not like Biden but feels far more strongly about their antipathy toward Trump.
“It's not just Bernie Bros, it is people who have a disdain for President Trump and not thrilled with Biden. Not thrilled, but willing to vote for him,” said David Paleologos, who conducts polling for Suffolk University.
Partisans said those voters are likely to drive a substantial amount of the strategy behind both Trump’s and Biden’s advertising campaigns.
With Trump’s approval rating hovering in the low to mid-40s, his team cannot afford to allow the election to become a referendum on his first four years in office, especially as the economy craters amidst the global coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Trump’s team will try to create a choice, in large part by defining Biden in a sharply negative light on their own terms — a strategy reminiscent of George W. Bush's efforts to define then-Sen. John KerryJohn KerryQueen Elizabeth resting 'for a few days' after hospital stay Twenty-four countries say global net-zero goal will fuel inequality Queen Elizabeth recognizes Kerry from video message: 'I saw you on the telly' MORE (D-Mass.) or then-President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-Saudi official says he was targeted by a hit team after fleeing to Canada Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Yellen expects inflation to return to normal levels next year MORE’s defining of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIn Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line Trump-backed bills on election audits, illegal voting penalties expected to die in Texas legislature The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government MORE (R).
“Reelection campaigns are often referenda on the incumbent, but that's a two-step process,” said Jon McHenry, a Republican pollster. “You ... need to make the race a choice.”
While Biden reloads his campaign coffers after the costly primary, outside groups are running positive spots aimed at giving his image a boost. Unite the Country, a super PAC run by Florida-based Democratic strategist and longtime Biden ally Steve Schale, unveiled a $10 million campaign highlighting Biden's past work.
The number of voters who see both candidates unfavorably represents a relatively small voting bloc of between 10 percent and 14 percent, the recent polls have found. But that number is likely to grow in the coming months as advertisements and accusations fly.
“The negatives on Trump are a lot more detailed, but the negatives on Biden are just getting started,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster.