Warning signs are flashing in recent polls for President Biden, with several showing him locked in a tight race with former President Trump and some even showing him trailing his presumed rival, underscoring the extent to which the presidential election will likely come down to the wire.
Biden’s campaign has emphasized that the election is still more than a year away and that the president is putting in the work to mobilize voters to rally around his reelection bid.
Still, the combination of the close polling with Biden’s low approval ratings has some political observers cautious about Biden’s chances for 2024.
Dave Wasserman, from the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, posted earlier this month on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he believed Biden would lose the election to an indicted Trump if the election was held today. He noted that Biden had a positive favorability rating while Trump’s was about 41 percent in 2020, but Trump still was only 42,000 votes away in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin from winning.
“Now fast forward to 2024 with tied national polls, 40% Biden approval, equally dismal Biden/Trump favorability, more economic pessimism, growing migrant/[international] crises and the potential for [Robert F. Kennedy Jr.]/[Cornel West] to double Jill Stein’s pull on campuses, etc.” Wasserman said. “Biden is in absolutely dire shape.”
Biden’s apparent challenges have been underscored in recent days by a string of polls painting a neck and neck race with Trump.
The former president led Biden by 2 points in a national Emerson College poll released Friday and by 4 points in a Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll from Thursday of seven key swing states that will most likely decide the outcome of the 2024 race, including Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Another Emerson poll out of Pennsylvania, released earlier this month, found Trump with a 9 point lead over the president.
Biden has meanwhile been dogged by approval ratings that have remained around the low 40s, much like Trump’s in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
The Biden campaign indicated that it is not worried about polls this far away from Election Day and is putting in the work necessary to win in 2024.
Campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz pointed to Bloomberg economists’ prediction last October that a recession was “100 percent” certain and their view this month that the economy is strong as evidence that polls can change a lot in a year. He also noted how Democrats outperformed expectations in the 2022 midterms, in which the party avoided what some expected to be a red wave.
“Coming off those historic midterms, President Biden’s campaign is hard at work reaching and mobilizing our winning coalition of voters more than one year out on a winning, popular agenda. We’ll win in 2024 by putting our heads down and doing the work, not by fretting about a poll,” Munoz said.
Some polls released in the past couple of weeks have offered better news for Biden, such as a Marist poll in which he led by 3 points. The president also led comfortably in a hypothetical three-way race with Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., earning 44 percent of voters to Trump’s 37 percent and Kennedy’s 16 percent.
Notably, both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama had similar Gallup approval ratings to Biden at this point of the election cycle, and they both comfortably won reelection.
“Polls this far out are a distraction. This same time before the ’12 election, pollsters were crawling over each other to call it for the GOP. BTW, Obama won,” Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina posted on X last week.
But the back-and-forth horse race shows that the contest will likely be a nail-biter next November, even as Trump faces multiple federal indictments.
Close U.S. presidential elections have been the political reality for years, with no landslide having happened in a couple of decades.
One of the most common attacks that Trump has received during the GOP presidential primary has been that he cannot win in a general election, at least in part because of his focus on the 2020 presidential election and the legal challenges he is facing.
Trump notably refused to concede defeat to Biden in 2020 and repeatedly spread false claims of voter fraud despite his campaign’s legal challenges all being rejected in court. A mob of his supporters then stormed the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.
Trump also has become the first former president to be indicted, facing a wide array of charges in four separate cases, including for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his retention of classified and sensitive documents.
But the race between Trump and Biden is still closely split.
“It felt like Trump was on his way to the Republican nomination, and many believed he was DOA in the general election. That is certainly not the case now. This is going to be a close race. This is going to come down to those six states,” said Republican strategist Brian Seitchik.
Many Democrats, meanwhile, brush off the idea that the polls are an unexpected cause for concern.
“I would say that we always knew the race was going to be close,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “With the kind of world that we’re in … any party would be foolish to think the race is not going to be close or competitive in a competitive state, district or nation.”
She said the polls showing Trump ahead reflect a conservative turnout model in which Republicans are particularly energized, in part because of the aftermath of the four indictments filed against the former president.
Lake also noted that the party holding a primary has tended historically to be more enthusiastic about the election earlier on than the party that doesn’t.
While Trump is the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination, he is facing challenges from several notable Republican candidates. Biden is facing only marginal opposition from author Marianne Williamson.
But his polling numbers and approval rating have spurred talks of the possibility of another more notable challenger running against Biden in the primary.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) has flirted with the idea of running against the president for months. He has said he would not rule it out and expressed concerns about Democrats not having an alternative to Biden.
Politico reported earlier this month that he started making some calls to Democratic officials in New Hampshire, one of the early-voting states — a sign that he might join the race.
Regardless of whether Phillips jumps in, the Biden campaign appears to be taking steps to prepare for what will likely be a close race. It plans to test its organizing strategy in two swing states, Wisconsin and Arizona, hiring new staffers and focusing on digital and in-person outreach to leverage volunteers’ personal relationships.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the campaign has created options to expand its $25 million advertising effort as Biden expresses concerns about his poll numbers in the key states. The outlet reported that the campaign believes putting ads on the air now will help lay groundwork for the polls to shift next year.
People familiar with internal conversations told the Post that Biden has complained to aides about the low poll numbers and said he believes his age is contributing to them.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine said Biden’s approval rating needs to rise before the election next year, but it does not need to be higher than his eventual vote total.
He also warned that past elections have shown poll numbers might not be fully accurate of what decision voters will make.
“Sometimes there’s a focus on numbers. And then when you get to Election Day, the voters go in a different direction,” he said.