Biden trails both Trump and DeSantis by 7, loses black support

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 19

  • Biden’s polling is a disaster for Democrats, a big plus for Trump
  • Trump leads the GOP race, but his legal problems could change the landscape at any moment
  • Ted Cruz gets a credible Democratic opponent

President 2024

Joe Biden: Last week, we observed that President Joe Biden (D) was at his low point just as he was announcing for president, based on Gallup polling. But it’s a bit worse than that, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll.

This poll has Biden losing to former President Donald Trump (D) by seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent. The fact that Biden trails Trump is perhaps less of a problem for him than the fact that he is an incumbent president polling at only 42 percent. Incumbents who draw less than 45 percent tend to lose — for example, Trump polled below that level in November 2019.

The internal numbers are even more devastating for Biden, however. Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults do not believe that Biden has the “mental sharpness” to serve effectively as president. Whatever that means for his prospects, it certainly rules out the possibility of another campaign like the one in 2020, which he mostly spent in his own basement.  Biden has to prove to everyone not only that he’s the best candidate or the one with the right positions, but also that he is still mentally fit for the job.

And here is perhaps the unkindest cut of all: the new poll shows Biden’s support among blacks to have plummeted from 82% at the time of his inauguration to just 52%. Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party. If Trump were actually to win 27% of black voters, as this poll suggests he would, Democrats would face a rout unlike anything seen since 2014.

When polling subgroups, there’s always a danger that small sample size will cause distortions in the results. However, the finding that such a large percentage of black voters might actually back Trump over Biden is shocking. Yes. such a result must be taken with a grain of salt, but note that even 20% of blacks voting for Trump would guarantee a loss for Biden and possibly a Republican landslide up and down the ticket.

It is less surprising but equally dangerous for Biden and his campaign team that 43% of Hispanic voters said that they would either definitely or probably vote for Trump over Biden in a hypothetical matchup. This realignment, although it did not burst forth as clearly as we expected in the 2022 election, is gradually continuing nonetheless, thanks in large part to Democratic aggression in the culture wars and the Biden administration’s role in it.

This poll must be panic-inducting for Democrats. That does not necessarily mean that anyone will actually move to prevent Biden from running for re-election — Democrats’ unity is often their strength, but political unity can easily devolve into timidity and groupthink. But it provides one more argument for someone else — perhaps the ambitious California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) — to change his mind from his earlier decision and reconsider a presidential bid.

Ron DeSantis: Note that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in this same poll, beats Biden 48% to 41%. These two matchups, then — Biden-Trump and Biden-DeSantis — are statistically identical. However, the lack of a genderal election advantage over Trump undercuts what we believe to be a crucial argument for DeSantis to be able to make — that he can beat Biden whereas Trump cannot. 

DeSantis trails Trump in most polls and 25% to 51% among the Republican voters in this poll. In order to close this gap, he needs to persuade a lot of voters that he is the candidate more likely to defeat Biden, that he is the more conservative candidate, and that he is the candidate capable of serving a full eight-year term and having a bigger impact on federal policy if he wins. Those three arguments are listed in order of importance for him. 

Yes, there are state polls showing DeSantis to be the stronger candidate against Biden. But either way, this one gives Trump more ammunition to argue that he is just as electable as anyone else against a failing president like Biden. It could be that, as in 2016, the Republican — even a very unconventional Republican with consistently low favorability ratings — is heavily favored simply due to the political tides and the nature of the Democratic candidate.

Donald Trump: Trump leads in the Post poll despite having a Then again, the problem with early polls like the one discussed above is that things change very quickly in politics.

This could be more true of Trump and his campaign this year than it usually is for most candidates and most campaigns. This is because, unlike most presidential candidates in history, Trump faces a very rocky road ahead in the form of multiple criminal and civil court cases. 

Although the charges brought against him by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg have been largely dismissed as insubstantial and unlikely to succeed, one cannot rule out what a Manhattan jury might do. 

Currently, there is also the rape and defamation lawsuit by E. Jean Carroll. Although her tale of being raped by Trump in a department store changing room may seem fanciful and impossible to believe, one never knows what a New York City jury is going to do. She produced two witnesses who testified that Trump had attacked them in precisely the same way. Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, has chosen not to present any witness testimony or to have Trump himself testify. 

If the jury finds against him — the decision could come any day — Trump’s image could be tarnished badly, whether or not he appeals and whether or not he ultimately wins later on appeal.

Moreover, there could be less frivolous criminal charges in Georgia (related to election tampering) or at the federal level (related to Trump’s handling of classified documents). 

Without saying anything more about the actual merits of these cases, they represent an incentive for DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and everyone else to get into or stay in this year’s presidential race. 

Yes, Trump is the frontrunner. But until his legal problems clear up, he is an unstable frontrunner who at any moment could be severely damaged or even upended completely by events entirely unrelated to the campaign. The other candidates would be foolish not to put themselves in a position to take advantage if that happens.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: The race for the Republican nomination still appears to be a very close one between Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) and former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft (R). The last poll was almost a month ago, and it showed only a six-point difference between the two, with Craft seemingly closing the gap against Cameron.

Craft has garnered a great deal of national support, including from House Oversight Chairman James Comer and Sen. Ted Cruz. Both Donald Trump and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are behind Cameron. The primary is next Tuesday, May 16.

Despite Kentucky’s increasingly heavy Republican lean, incumbent gov. Andy Beshear is favored to win re-election this fall.

Senate 2024

Texas: Dallas-area Rep. Colin Allred (D), a former NFL linebacker, finally announced his Senate bid against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and almost immediately raised $2 million. So Democrats are still willing to spend heavily on the dream of turning Texas Blue, but are unlikely to get as much support in 2024 as they did when former Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised $80 million to lose narrowly in 2018. 

Allred may yet face a primary against state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D).

Cruz has raised and spent more than $30 million this cycle, but currently has only $3.3 million in cash on hand. He could yet be vulnerable, and it bears reminding that Texas has never been an especially strong state for Donald Trump, who may be heading the Republican ticket next year. He won it in 2016 by just nine points, and in 2020 by only six points, far less than the losing Mitt Romney (16 points) and John McCain (12 points.)

Allred’s candidacy comes just as Cruz has managed to improve his image and his job approval rating from negative to a net-positive 45%-41% approve-disapprove