What are Joe Biden’s chances of winning in 2024?

Should we take current polls seriously? Or are there good reasons to expect a Biden comeback?

Biden smiles and waves onstage in front of a red, white, and blue backdrop.

Ian Maule/Getty Images Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Is Joe Biden in deep reelection trouble, or is there good reason to think he’s headed for a comeback? The question has divided the political world for months.

The case that Biden’s on track for defeat is pretty simple: He’s trailed Trump in a large majority of the national and swing state polls conducted since last September.

That means it’s been six months with very little good polling news for Biden. If you take the polls seriously, he’s in trouble — and those who fear Trump’s return to power should be very worried indeed.

The case for a Biden comeback, on the other hand, goes something like this: It’s still too early for the polls to tell us much, but there are a lot of reasons we might logically expect Biden to do better.

After all, the economy has improved. Trump is headed to trial. Biden has a fundraising advantage. Democrats have been doing rather well in special elections, and they exceeded expectations in the 2022 midterms. And eventually, the general election will bring focus from the media and campaigns on a binary choice between Trump and Biden — which means more focus on Trump’s extremism and scandals.

That all sounds convincing enough. But the Biden skeptics fire back: Aren’t you just coming up with excuses to explain away the unpleasant reality the polls are clearly showing? Aren’t you just reasoning backward from your belief that Biden should be winning — and ignoring the best evidence, which states that things look pretty dire for him?

The case that Biden is in deep trouble

Biden looks at his cellphone while holing a newspaper under one arm.

President Joe Biden departs the White House March 22, 2024 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Start with Biden’s low approval: According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll average, Biden has been deeply unpopular since late 2021 — his average approval rating has been in the high 30s or low 40s since then.

Since the State of the Union address, Biden’s number has slightly improved — from 38.1 percent on March 7 to 39.3 percent as of March 27, per FiveThirtyEight. But that’s still a very bad approval rating. At this point in Trump’s term, his approval was about 45 percent — more than 5 points better. And, of course, he lost.

Trump has led most national polls: An approval rating can’t tell you everything in a two-way race because your opponent may be deeply unpopular too. But the head-to-head poll numbers haven’t been comforting for Biden lately either, since they’ve shown Trump ahead for the past six months. (Biden very recently rose to about a tie in the Economist’s polling average, while Trump still leads by just over 1 point in RealClearPolitics’s average.)


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Trump leads most swing state polls: Of course, the presidency is decided by the Electoral College, not a national vote. And swing state polling for Biden has been very bad.

  • In Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, Trump has led in every poll tracked by FiveThirtyEight since November, often by sizable margins.
  • If he loses the three states above, Biden would need Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to win. Trump has led in most — but not all — polls in all three states in recent months.

Other bad signs: Besides the polls, the skeptics believe there are other reasons to doubt whether Biden will be able to pull it off.

  • Age: Voters have regularly said in polls that Biden’s age is a problem for them.
  • Inflation: It has slowed recently, but voters still may resent hikes in prices and then interest rates that have occurred while Biden was president (even though much of the inflation was caused by factors out of Biden’s control, and he doesn’t directly control interest rates either).
  • International comparisons: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are all extremely unpopular right now (even more so than Biden), suggesting it could just be a rough time to be an incumbent leader in a Western democracy.

The case for Joe Biden being the Comeback Kid

Biden, wearing sunglasses, gives a thumbs-up.

U.S. President Joe Biden departs the White House on March 19, 2024 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Start with skepticism about early polls: With so much of the fear that Biden is doomed based on his bad polling, it’s worth noting that the election is still about seven months away. Polling from late March 2016 showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 11 points. Clearly things can change by quite a lot before election day.

Instead of early polls, look at recent election results: In 2022, Democrats performed well in swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The party held on to the Senate, and the House didn’t see the typical midterm blowout (the “red wave” many predicted) but instead a very close contest Republicans only narrowly won. Democrats have also done quite well in special elections over the past year.

Now, don’t get too carried away with this. Democrats’ coalition is now heavily skewed toward college-educated high-engagement voters who are more likely to turn out in off-year elections. Skeptics argue that such an advantage will surely drop in a higher-turnout presidential year, when infrequent voters are more likely to show up.

There’s another interesting wrinkle here. Because polls show Biden struggling badly among less-engaged voters, the topline results that he’s losing are effectively based on pollsters’ assumptions about how likely those less-engaged voters are to turn out. Are those assumptions solid? We won’t know until election day.

Upcoming campaign and media dynamics may help Biden: Biden comeback believers contend that three main factors will likely help the president in the coming months.

  • An improving economy: Voters have been negative about the economy for years, but their perceptions have improved somewhat in recent months. It’s true that that hasn’t seemed to helped Biden’s poll standing much yet, but perhaps it will take some time to sink in.
  • Trump may become a felon: Trump’s indictments don’t seem to have hurt him up to this point, but polls have regularly shown many voters say they will reconsider supporting him if he’s actually convicted of a crime. His first criminal trial, in the New York hush money case, is set to begin April 15.
  • More attention on Trump and Republicans’ extremism: As the election approaches, a well-funded Democratic campaign and outside group apparatus will spend heavily to remind voters about the threat Trump poses to American democracy and the threat the GOP poses to abortion rights — both issues that helped Democrats triumph in key 2022 races. The mainstream media will increasingly frame the choice before voters as “Trump vs. Biden” as well. Perhaps many of the disgruntled Democrats and tuned-out independents who currently say they won’t vote for Biden will eventually choose the lesser of two evils once Trump’s awfulness is hammered home to them.

Can we already see the comeback in polls?

Perhaps the strongest point made by the Biden skeptics is that the polls have been quite consistent for quite some time. Sure, they say, you can tell yourself that Biden will bounce back at some point — but those polls keep not budging, so when will it happen?

Indeed, I wrote about Biden’s bad polls last April, last September, and last November, and evidence for any comeback in that time has been scant.

But some now say we’re seeing our first signs in polls that the comeback is underway.

As mentioned, Biden is currently tied with Trump in the Economist’s polling average — in recent months, he’s generally been down by 2 to 3 points. Polls released this week have shown some improvement for him in swing states and nationally, pointing toward a race that’s about tied, not one where Trump has a clear edge.

Again, don’t get carried away. It’s too early to say whether this will prove to be a durable trend.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that even when Trump has been polling best, the race hasn’t looked like a total blowout. Trump has had, on average, small single-digit leads both nationally and in key swing states. That’s the sort of lead that no candidate can really take for granted.

The election was quite close in 2016 and 2020 — so close that any confident prediction about who would win was, in retrospect, overconfident. Given the repeat candidates, it’s reasonable to expect another close election this time around.

This story appeared originally in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.

Sourse: vox.com

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