When we think about politics all of us are prone to meld together things we support with things that are viable, possible, popular. With this in mind I want to flag to your attention one part of the WaPo/ABC news poll that came out over the weekend. One headline out of this poll is that Trump’s approval rating is the highest ever recorded for this particular poll. We shouldn’t draw too much from that data point since it’s only slightly higher than the average for this poll and to date other polls show no significant strengthening.
But I want to draw your attention to this finding.
I want to separate here what you may think of Joe Biden and his candidacy and fairly extensive data we have on his relative strength vs Trump. There are a lot of people out there insisting that Biden will be a general election trainwreck for the Democrats. He’s too old-fashioned, has too much baggage, is too indisciplined a campaigner, is too out of touch with the causes and issues that animate a younger and more diverse generation of voters. Each claim has a litany of evidence behind it. I mean, just a couple days ago he was saying he’d be open to renominating the 66 year old Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
Many argue that nominating Biden would encourage third party runs of the Jill Stein or Ralph Nader variety which, as I’ve argued, is almost a prerequisite for Trump’s reelection. I worry about this a great deal. But look at the other/neither/don’t know number. These are pretty small differences. But at least this poll provides little evidence for this.
Again, these critiques make a lot of sense. But you simply cannot make this claim about Biden being a weak general election candidate without grappling with the fact that basically every poll for months shows that he is significantly stronger than every other Democrat up against Trump.
As noted, this is a relatively good poll for Trump. So this poll shows Biden with a 10 point margin while the rest are basically tied. Most polls show something slightly different. They show Biden with similar or stronger leads and the others maybe two or three points better. A Quinnipiac poll from early June showed Biden with a 13 point advantage but Harris was up 8 points, Warren 7, Sanders 9, etc. But the pattern is universal.
Obviously, this could change. I’ve been expecting it to change, partly in negative terms for Biden and more in positive movement for Harris and Warren especially. (Sanders is a known quantity and has near universal name recognition. I don’t expect his numbers to change.) So far though it hasn’t.
A final point. Readers sometimes say these leads are about perceptions of electability. That’s wrong. Primary polls are heavily driven by perceptions of electability. There’s a crowd effect and people really, really want to beat Trump. But the up for grab voters in general election polls are people deciding between the two parties and to a lesser extent voting or not voting. By definition people who float between Republicans and Democrats aren’t picking Democrats because of their electability versus Republicans.
To state the obvious, none of this means Democrats have to support Biden. Even this relatively negative poll shows the others very much in contention. But wishful thinking won’t change the fact that the evidence we have to date shows Biden, whatever his faults, is the strongest challenger.