Dem 51
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GOP 49
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This Week's Biden Poll: All By Myself

As you may have seen, since just about everyone is talking about it, CNN has a new poll with some grim numbers for Joe Biden. Among the grimmest: Only 45% of Americans think Biden cares about them, 58% of Americans don't approve of the job he's doing, and 66% of Democrats would prefer a different candidate. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Biden is running neck-and-neck with Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and a bit behind Nikki Haley.

This is a major presidential poll that is getting major attention (especially from just about everyone on CNN with a microphone). We are a politics-focused site, and we write specifically about polling. So, we figured we better give our opinion about the poll. Are you ready for it? OK, here it is: It doesn't mean anything.

Why do we say so? Here are 10 reasons:

  1. Thanks, Captain Obvious: America is pretty evenly divided right now between right and left, and there are relatively few swing voters. This being the case, of course any Republican (including Trump) could very well win a presidential election, and of course any Democrat (including Biden) could do the same. We don't need a poll to vaguely tell us that.

  2. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?: Over and over, polls reveal that Biden's two biggest liabilities are his age and his proximity to corruption. The CNN poll, for example, reports that 61% of respondents believe Biden is too old to be president, while 61% also believe there's a connection between Joe and the dubious activities of his son Hunter. Fine and dandy, but are we really to believe that voters who have these concerns are going to turn to Trump, who is just 3 years younger, and who is under indictment in four different jurisdictions? If the leading Republican was, say, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), then we would be more open to the notion that Biden's age and son are serious liabilities. But as the race is currently shaping up, we find that proposition very hard to swallow.

  3. Wishcasting: At this point in the cycle, a big percentage of respondents clearly don't want Trump or Biden. Trump is sleazy and divisive, and Biden is old, boring, possibly also sleazy, responsible for the economy/Afghanistan, etc. In addition, "shiny and new" is always more sexy than "known commodity," so there's undoubtedly a "grass is greener" effect going on.

    Put another way, there are always some people who are going to gravitate to [Generic Presidential Candidate] over someone who has already served. And the people who want to throw the bums out, for whatever reason, are going to find ways to express those feelings in a poll. It's even easier if the poll basically begs people to say they want the bums out, as the CNN poll definitely does. At such point that Biden and Trump are the nominees (assuming they are), and Door #3 is no longer an option, then let's see how people plan to vote.

  4. Rage from the Machine: On that point, do not assume that if Biden steps aside, the Democrats will somehow come up with a presidential candidate who is free of liabilities. As the minority party, a necessary maneuver in the Republican playbook is "tear our opponent down." Think John Kerry and swiftboats, Barack Obama and the birth certificate, Hillary Clinton and the e-mails, and now Biden and his son. If the Democrats switch candidates, the Republicans and their media allies WILL find something (even if they have to make it up, as with Obama's birth records), they WILL harp on it six ways to Sunday, and CNN, et al., WILL produce polls showing that [Liability X] is a serious problem for [Democrat Y].

  5. Trump Known Unknowns: By the time the presidential contest heats up, Donald Trump will be on trial, or will have been on trial, in multiple jurisdictions. He may well be a convicted felon. Doesn't it seem a wee bit premature to be making any predictions about the presidential race until we know how this story turns out? Maybe it won't damage him; certainly his superpower is that scandals don't really hurt him. That said, there is polling that says that some sizable percentage of Americans (55%-60%) simply won't support a felon.

    In addition, Trump might be thrown off the ballot, and disqualified from running. Or, such efforts might fail, while enraging and rallying his base. Again, doesn't it seem like we need to know how this story turns out before projecting next year's result?

  6. Unknown Unknowns: Since Biden is the sitting president, he is more likely to be at the center of... something that changes the trajectory of the race. It could be something bad, like a McConnell moment or a terrorist attack or a conviction/prison sentence/pardon for Hunter or an adverse report from the special counsel who is looking into the documents found at the President's residence. It could be something good like a sizzling stock market or a victory for Ukraine over Russia. There's so much time that there will almost certainly be a "surprise" of some sort, whether it comes in October or it comes in March.

  7. On the hustings: Does campaigning even matter anymore? It's a fair question. But if it does, note that Trump has been campaigning full-time for at least 4 months at this point, while Biden hasn't been campaigning at all. The President is just getting started this month, and he's not going to get serious until spring of next year.

  8. Out of sight, out of mind: Just about every president, on leaving office, sees their approval ratings go up. It happened with each of the 10 presidents who preceded Donald Trump, even George W. Bush (who was REALLY unpopular when he left office). It turns out, people tend to remember the good more than they remember the bad. It's not clear to us that this is happening with Trump, but it could be. If it is, we would guess the dynamic is not so much that some people are thinking more fondly of Trump than they once did, but instead that they are thinking less negatively than they once did. If so, then Trump's return to front-and-center on the national stage, coupled with his criminal trials, could serve to remind people what they didn't like.

  9. Lies, damned lies, and statistics: On a related point, the CNN poll reveals that 46% of respondents say they will not vote for Joe Biden under any circumstances. That's presented as very damning—nearly half the country is already "out." However, in 2016, Donald Trump took 46.1% of the vote. In 2020, he took 46.8%. When we see that 46% simply will not vote for Biden, our thought is not "Biden has already lost nearly half the country" it's "Trump is holding on to his base... and nobody else."

  10. Do we really need to say it?: The presidency is decided by the Electoral College, not by a national preference plebiscite. When a poll generates a surprise response that is out of line with all other polls (e.g., "Haley's way up on Biden"), it's probably an outlier. It's hard to separate people who will certainly vote in 14 months from people who won't vote. In short, polls of this sort have some inherent weaknesses. Why does everyone seem to forget this when a new, shocking poll comes out?

That's our opinion. As a counterpoint, Democratic strategist James Carville said the poll result is alarming and is bad news for Biden. Maybe he's right; after all, he is a legend in the field. On the other hand, the last time he ran a successful campaign was 31 years ago, so it's at least possible the game has passed him by. (Z)

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