President Joe Biden continues to be plagued by approval ratings well below 50%. Under normal circumstances, that might be worrying for an incumbent heading into his reelection year. But Biden likes to rely on a common refrain: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.”
In other words, Biden may not be the most likable guy, yet voters will prefer him to whomever Republicans put up.
There’s just one problem with Biden’s thinking: The polling shows he could be fundamentally wrong and it could cost him the election next year.
Right now, the likely Republican alternative to Biden in a hypothetical 2024 general election matchup appears to be Donald Trump. The former president leads every GOP primary poll by a wide margin, including our latest CNN/SSRS survey.
Trump, like Biden, is quite unpopular. His favorability rating in our latest poll is 35% among registered voters. That’s basically the same as Biden’s 36% favorability rating among registered voters.
Voters who like Trump favor him by more than 90 points over Biden, while those who like Biden favor him by more than 90 points over Trump.
This means the election will come down to the 29% of voters (according to our poll) who hold a favorable view of neither Biden nor Trump. (Note that this 29% includes the 9% of voters who hold an undecided view of at least one of the two men; when we concentrate on the 20% who hold an unfavorable view of both – sometimes called “double haters” – all of the following analysis still holds.)
If either of these large percentages (20% or 29%) sounds familiar, it’s because we had a similar dynamic in 2016, when nearly 20% of voters liked neither Democrat Hillary Clinton nor Trump. Trump won that group by 17 points – and with it, the election.
Earlier this year, Biden seemed to hold a small lead over Trump among voters who did not hold a favorable view of him or of his likely GOP opponent.
But in our latest poll, Trump leads Biden by 7 points among the 29% of voters who view neither of them favorably. Significantly, a large chunk of this group (21%) said they either won’t vote or will vote for someone else in a Trump-Biden matchup.
Now a 7-point margin isn’t big enough to be too demonstrative; it’s within the margin of error. But recent polls from Quinnipiac University and The New York Times/Siena College also examined similar groups – those who liked neither man or those who disliked both. Both polls found Trump with a single-digit advantage and a lot of voters who said they wouldn’t vote for either likely major-party nominee.
Putting it all together, there’s a clear signal here: A lot of people who don’t like Biden are judging him against the alternative, whom they also don’t like, and deciding that the alternative doesn’t sound as bad. Additionally, plenty of them are not willing to choose and say they’ll go with someone else or no one at all.
If this continues to hold, Biden’s theory of the case for 2024 is in major trouble.
Now, it’s possible the president isn’t too worried, thinking that those who hold favorable views of neither him nor Trump come from segments of the electorate that are, on the whole, voting for Biden and that they could be persuaded to move back into the president’s camp as the election progresses.
Our poll, however, doesn’t show that to be the case. Among this group, 42% are Republicans (or independents who lean Republican), 41% are Democrats (or independents who lean Democratic) and 17% are pure independents.
The margin between Democrats and Republicans basically matches what we see in the electorate overall.
Even if we limit ourselves to those who like neither man and who say they aren’t voting for either one at this point, Democrats are still not overrepresented. In other words, there’s no reason, at this time, to think this block of voters will move toward Biden, unless something changes.
There are about another 14 months until the 2024 election. Things can and often do change within this time frame. That is a rare piece of good news for Biden in a sea of otherwise very worrisome data.