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Yep, The Polls Are Shifting To Biden

 Member Newsletter
April 9, 2024 12:20 p.m.
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14: U.S. President Joe Biden (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to be too focused on polls more than six months before a presidential election. But since polls have had such a big impact on the political mood and almost everything about how Democrats see their candidate, their coalition and the election itself I think it’s important to keep an eye on them. Or rather, since you’re inundated with them via commentary, it’s worth actually looking at the polls themselves, especially when they’re in flux.

All to that end, for months President Biden has been between 2 and 4 points behind in the polls — basically since late summer. But over the course of March that’s reversed and the average of recent polls puts him either tied or slightly ahead.

Let’s look.

A few examples: TIPP (Biden +3), Emerson (Trump +1), Morning Consult (Biden +2), DfP (Biden +1), Marist (Biden +2), YouGov (even), Marquette (Biden +4), Quinnipiac (Biden +3). The outliers here are Rasmussen which has Trump +8 and Trafalgar at Trump +3. Which is another way of saying that now only the garbage, flood-the-zone polls are showing any Trump lead.

The only real exception since mid-March is the Fox poll which had Trump +5. Notwithstanding the name, Fox is a quality poll. But for now it’s an outlier and it’s older than all the rest of the polls shown here.

Now some caveats. As I noted a week ago, the numbers I look at are the tightest screen, which means Likely Voters where available. I also look at the head to head, not including third-party candidates. That is both the better point of apples to apples comparison and also the better predicter, though the role of third party candidates is going to be critical to the outcome.

I said in my last post on this that we still needed to see a bit more to have confidence this was real movement rather than just noise. We have that now. They can move back, of course. But a big majority of polls are showing the same movement.

The biggest caveat is that Biden probably needs to be a few points ahead in the popular vote to win the electoral college. I like to remind people that we can’t be certain that that pattern will continue to apply in 2024. Putting emerging swing states like Georgia and Arizona into the equation could change that or mitigate the gap between the popular and electoral college result. But we should definitely assume that’s the case. And that means that if Biden is currently tied or maybe one or two points ahead that’s probably not quite enough. It needs to be a couple more points after that. But the salient point I draw from all this is that roughly a month into the general election proper (SOTU, end of primary process) the polls have shifted modestly but now clearly in Biden’s direction.

I’m actually not even sure “modestly” still applies here. In our current politics with strong partisan lock-in you’re simply not going to get 10 point poll swings. So moving from 3 or 4 points in one direction to a point or two in the other is significant. But semantics don’t mean that much. The numbers are just the numbers.

What I take from this is not that Biden’s necessarily going to win the election or that it’s smooth sailing from here on out. It’s that Biden has a lot of strengths and Trump has a lot of liabilities that weren’t going to be apparent until you got into a proper general election context. More to the point, just a few weeks ago we were in this frenzy where a ton of the supposedly shrewdest political observers were saying it was Democrats race to lose but they were insisting on running a historically weak candidate and the only hope was to ditch the incumbent President and replace him in a thunderdome convention with some governor who’d never run a national election before.


Not smart!


The whole ‘Biden is Doomed!’ narrative was bogus all along and with a little perspective, and putting a brown paper bag over your head to short-circuit hyperventilating, that should have been clear to anyone with any experience with national campaigns.


Let me return to the key point. Polls in early April don’t mean that much. But they mean more than polls in January and February. The shift here points to Biden’s underlying strength, but much more the fluidity of public opinion itself when the general election race is only now getting started. So if you’re worried about the presidential race, good, stay worried. It’s going to be tight and the stakes are enormous. But also get some kick in your step. The Trump lead, into which everyone was pouring their worst fears, appears to be slipping away. Biden’s in this race and there’s reason to be optimistic about his chances. There will be tons of dirty tricks, fake news stories, foreign subversion and more in the stretch to try to get Trump over the hump. Funny business will likely focus on third party candidates because they’re the best vehicle to pull Biden down to the levels where Trump can beat him in key states. But with all that, get out of your funk if you’re still in it and get about winning the election.

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