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Opinion: Biden’s Polling Problems Are Putting His Core Support at Risk

Battleground polling is out, and it doesn’t look good for President Biden. With the necessary caveat that we’re still six months out from a rematch nobody asked for, Biden is behind in five major states necessary for an Electoral College win, trailing possible jailbird Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada (with a slight lead for the incumbent in Wisconsin). This news by itself would be cause for discomfort, but it’s where Biden is weakest is cause for alarm.

According to the news and reporting side of The New York Times, Biden has lost significant ground among key Democratic constituencies: Latine, Black, and/or young voters. The numbers for Trump with these groups seem fanciful — 20% of Black voters?! — but the erosion of support for the incumbent Democrat seems very real. Despite the accomplishments of his first term and the threat of his potential loss, Biden is burning through the goodwill of his base. And looking at his policy actions of late, the president shows no sign of stopping.

Brand new tariffs on Chinese imports. Draconian border policy in violation of our treaties. Weapons shipments in possible violation of our laws. Biden has committed to all of it despite the political unpopularity with the voters he needs most: His expensive protectionist tariffs (on behalf of Elon Musk, no less) and his asylum restrictions are positively Trumpian in substance if not style. And his insistence upon arming Israel — whatever one might think of it — remains extremely unpopular with young voters whose turnout on college campuses currently under siege supported his winning margins in 2020. Theoretically, Biden can make up for this by swaying voters who yearn for conservative policy with all the decency and decorum of the post-Trump status quo. The problem for him — besides alienating existing support for hypothetical votes — is that there just aren’t many people who want to stay where we are.

Further down in the crosstabs of the Times‘ polling, they find that 70% of the voters surveyed want systemic change. Of course some of those people want a white supremacist “utopia” where we live in a nostalgic facsimile of 1950 forever, but everyone else likely feels that the current system is broken beyond repair. And they don’t see Joe Biden — the steadfast, centrist, half-century veteran of Washington — as the person capable of fixing it for the future.

So far, the Biden campaign has brushed off the weak polling numbers, expressing unambiguous confidence that the strengths of their candidate, the massive advantage on ground game, and the impending reality of Donald Trump will easily close the gap by November. This isn’t wrong: It’s still May; Trump is still on trial, and there’s plenty of politics between us and Election Day. But this is the same team that’s moving some of the convention to virtual participation to avoid opportunities for in-person protests. In an election year, it’s a thin line between determination and delusion.

The president and his campaign can continue to make moves for the mythic median voter; they can continue to try triangulation like presidents of the past; they can boost his conservative credentials to appease voters across the aisle. But if they’re not careful, when the margins are tight and they are out of time, they may refer taking the base for granted. The polls aren’t predictive, but warnings this clear are few and far between.

Kaitlin Byrd
Kaitlin Byrd
Knows too much, thinks even more. Has infinite space in her heart for tea and breakfast for dinner. Really from New York, so always ready to cut a bitch.