Biden’s rickety polling exposes the flaw in his media cheerleaders
With the Democrats managing to dodge the normal midterm disaster, suddenly President Biden has become a political juggernaut with his nomination for a second term practically a foregone conclusion — at least according to the New York-Washington leftist punditocracy.
Too bad nobody asked the voters.
Unfortunately for the Democrats and their allies in the media, Biden’s polling remains weak, and rumblings to replace Biden on the 2024 ballot are more likely than not going to get louder in 2023.
The newfound enthusiasm for Biden is even more puzzling given that practically no Democrat wanted him anywhere near their campaign. Nevertheless, when you look at polling just before the midterm election and current polling, there is not much difference in public unease with Biden.
In the most recent YouGov 54 percent of voters don’t want Biden to run again with just 26 percent in favor. Every demographic is against a Biden reelection attempt, except Black voters who back a Biden reelect at 46 percent in favor to 32 percent against. This result not much better from the week prior where 55 percent of voters were opposed to a Biden reelect with just 21 percent in favor.
Even more concerning is Biden’s weakness within the Democratic Party.
Democrats only favor a Biden reelect at 47 percent in favor to 27 percent opposed. Ominously, self-identified liberals are against a Biden reelect 41 percent to 38 percent in favor. Given that it is the ideologues — both liberals and conservatives — that have outside influence in the primary process, any weakness with that base is concerning.
The curious thing about the rush to a Biden coronation in the media is how the various pundits and sycophants are running in the opposite direction of the public. Since the Democrats’ midterm overperformance, Biden’s polling is not improving.
In the late October YouGov benchmark, support for a Biden reelect was under water at 22 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed. Terrible numbers, but the deficit of 32 points is a bit narrower than the current deficit of 34 points. While that erosion is not large and can be considered roughly the same, the real problem lies inside the aggregate numbers. In October, Biden could at least count on support from a plurality of liberals (36 percent in favor, 31 percent opposed). Not anymore.
Biden actually is barely ahead of Trump on this reelect question (but not much). Currently, a Trump reelect is opposed by 56 percent of the public and supported by 27 percent. Republicans favor a Trump reelect attempt by 27 points — as opposed to Biden’s 20-point advantage with Democrats. Like Biden, Trump has a problem with the GOP ideological base, having just a 12-point advantage with conservatives against Biden’s 3-point advantage.
Propped up by Trump
The positive momentum for Biden looks more like an artifact of the Washington-New York liberal obsession with Trump. Looking at Biden’s favorable/unfavorable ratings, he has experienced some modest improvement. In the YouGov poll, Biden has gone from a 43 percent/50 percent net unfavorable in October to a 46 percent/49 percent unfavorable. Morning Consult has Biden not improving at all on his 43 percent-54 percent.
With both Biden and Trump, the media and pundits are mistakenly focusing on the favorable/unfavorable numbers. Since Biden got the Democratic nomination in 2020, Democratic and Republican voters have treated this question as a proxy for partisanship. Democratic approval for Biden has almost exactly mirrored their disapproval for Trump. Biden’s rating is 87 percent favorable and 11 percent unfavorable, compared to 84 percent unfavorable and 13 percent favorable for Trump in the Dec. 15 poll. In October the comparable was a Biden 84/14 favorable split and a Trump 16/82 unfavorable split.
Similarly, Republicans have exhibited similar behavior — at least until recently, as Trump’s numbers have started falling. GOP loathing of Biden has been as consistent as Democratic loathing of Trump. In October, Republicans disapproved of Biden 88 percent to 11 percent; the most recent YouGov has that split at 83 percent to 16 percent.
Tellingly for their political futures, both Biden and Trump are disliked by independents. Currently, Biden has just a 38 percent approval with independents and 49 percent unfavorable. Trump is down 36 percent to 49 percent. And these numbers have barely budged since October.
Democratic voters are shopping
Both Biden and Trump are benefiting from having no announced primary opponents, but the fact is that Democratic voters are more restless and ready to jump ship than Republicans.
Going back to the end of September, Biden has failed to score a majority of Democratic support in any putative primary ballot.
Since the mid-terms, his best result is an Emerson poll where he tops out at just 42 percent. Most polls have him under 40 percent. The recent Harvard-Harris poll has Biden at 36 percent with Kamala Harris at 10 percent, Bernie Sanders at 7 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent.
But unease among Democratic voters does not count for much — at least for now. Presidents have enormous institutional power within their party. No modern president has been unseated by an insurgent primary opponent within their party. Presidents Truman and Johnson both quit the race when they lost in early primaries. But it should be noted that in their day, they could have bullied their way to the nomination, as party primaries did not control a majority of the convention delegates.
Past serious primary challenges have mostly served as warnings that the incumbent president is in trouble. In fact, in every situation where an incumbent president was faced with a serious challenge (1952, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1992), that president or his party have lost in the general.
Biden certainly has the power to short-circuit most challenges. There is virtually no chance Harris or Buttigieg will challenge their boss. After getting way to ahead of himself, Gavin Newsom has had to make a humiliating retreat. Fellow geriatrics Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton are less constrained, but not likely. Incredibly enough, after Harris, Bernie Sanders polls better than any other Democrat against Biden. But it’s worth noting he’s even older.
In the end, Biden and Trump remain attached at the hip politically.
As long as Trump is front-and-center, Biden can hang on and ignore public sentiment.
But Trump is sliding. If he’s faced with a younger, more energetic Republican like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the whole landscape changes for.
Undoubtedly Democratic voters will convince themselves DeSantis or any Republican is just another Trump, but it’s hard to believe the enthusiasm will be the same — and independent voters are clearly ready for someone else. When you get beyond the spin and insular D.C. herd thinking, Biden and Trump look like identical partisan Titanics, with voters hoping for an iceberg.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.
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