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Joe Biden’s polling is awful again, and it likely doesn’t matter

You could forgive almost anyone who is mildly interested in US politics for looking at the latest CNN poll and thinking “wow, Joe Biden is in massive trouble”:

Generally speaking, if you’re a sitting American officeholder and almost 60% of the public think your policies are making things worse, while also thinking you may well be corrupt, well, that’s bad news. Then there’s the head-to-head numbers showing Biden trailing Donald Trump – despite the latter’s three indictments for various alleged crimes – by a single point.

It is likely that the majority of my audience here – Irish people interested in American politics who also read my writing – are people who’d broadly prefer Trump or another Republican to Joe Biden in next year’s election. If you look around the internet, there’ll be no shortage of people telling you that this poll is, therefore, good news.

The problem is that it’s probably not. Consider the following factors:

  • Biden is only likely to get stronger from here

The thing about the numbers above – and much of the polling about Biden recently – is that a huge amount of his weakness comes from partisan democrats. We see above that 67% of Biden’s own party wants a different candidate. That is a huge number of Democrats who either disapprove of Biden, or are not enthusiastic to vote for him, or who might not be motivated.

The problem for the US right is that this will inevitably change. Elections are a choice, and in the end those Democrats won’t be facing the choice of “Biden” or “another Democrat” – the choice will be “Biden” or “Trump”, most likely. And faced with that choice, millions of them will suddenly rediscover their fondness for Biden.

There’s also money: Trump and the Republicans are in the middle of a contested primary contest, advertising on television and getting the benefit of more television coverage of their arguments. Meanwhile, Biden is saving an unprecedented sum of money for his re-election. He will outspend the Republican nominee by a possibly historic amount, especially if that nominee is redirecting his own campaign funds to pay for criminal lawyers.

Finally, there’s just basic sums: Is Joe Biden likely to get any less popular with Republicans and Independents than he is today? Probably not – there are possibly some irked voters on the right who might “come home” to Trump, but not that many. But at the same time, faced with the choice, it is likely Biden will grow more popular on the left than he presently is. That 1% Trump lead in this poll (which is a rarity) looks very vulnerable.

  • It’s not the economy stupid

Take yourself back to the midterm elections of last year and the poll above looks almost identical: Voters not trusting Biden on the economy, disapproving of his performance, and giving Republicans a lead. There was talk of a “red wave”.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because (in Donald Trump’s analysis) voters cared more about issues like abortion and voted for Democrats or because (in other people’s analysis) voters didn’t want to vote for Donald Trump’s candidates. Either way, polls like this were misleading last year, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe they are less misleading now.

  • The right’s information and expectations bubble

“Joe Biden is old. Joe Biden is demented. Joe Biden can barely string a sentence together. Joe Biden has no defence to corruption charges.”

These are things that people tend to believe when they are in an information bubble, which also tends to force them to under-estimate Biden and his strengths. Whether the right wants to accept it or not, polls showed that Biden comprehensively defeated Trump in each of their three presidential debates in 2020. Side by side, in the comparison between the two men, Americans just flat out liked Biden better.

And there’s another issue: The cult of Trump is so strong on the right that it cannot be admitted that the man has flaws, while at the same time Biden’s weaknesses are vastly overstated. This means that going into a Presidential campaign, it’s Biden, not Trump, who is more likely to overperform his expectations. And Trump, not Biden, who is more at risk from looking old and slow and befuddled, compared to 2020 should that happen to him. The four years of aging both men have endured since then has affected Biden in public – but Trump, it it has affected him, has been largely out of the public eye. A decline on his behalf might actually appear more sudden, and severe.

Add all of this to a simple fact: In two goes at it, Donald Trump has never exceeded 47% of the vote in a US Presidential Election.

This poll has him at, you guessed it, 47%. The other 53% have to go somewhere.

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