A week ago, the political commentariat was oohing and ahhing about just-released New York Times polling showing President Joe Biden trailing former President Donald Trump in five out of six battleground states surveyed. Among the most significant findings within the data was Trump’s commanding lead (59-37/+22) on voters’ top issue: The state of the US economy. We also told you about a then-fresh CBS News poll that showed many more voters believe their personal finances would be better off if Trump returned to power, versus if Biden remained in the Oval Office. The split wasn’t close (45-18/+27). In the days since those numbers were published, more polling has confirmed what the Times found. Consider these results from Emerson:
Trump leads in four of the six states tested (AZ, GA, NV, PA) is tied in Wisconsin, and narrowly trails in Michigan in this data set. Here’s another one, from Bloomberg:
Here we have Trump leading across the board, with a tie in Michigan. Interestingly, this survey also tested the impact of third party options in these match-ups, which generally nets out to be negligible. What’s not negligible is this confirmation of the CBS outcomes referenced above. Across the seven battlegrounds Bloomberg polled, Trump is running away with the ‘better off’ economic questions — and the economy is far and away the most important issue to these voters (41 percent versus everything else in single digits):
Take all of these polls together, and it seems quite plausible that if a presidential election rematch between Biden and Trump were to take place in the very near future, Trump would stand a strong chance of winning. Two ‘buts,’ in response. First, a year is a long time, and all of the caveats I mentioned here very much apply. Indeed, when the hypothetical of a Trump conviction was introduced, Trump’s very early leads look shakier. Relatedly, in a recent Marquette poll of Wisconsin (considered the Badger State’s premiere pollster), Trump was very competitive with Biden, but wasn’t the strongest match-up for Republicans against the incumbent — a phenomenon that has showed up in other recent data, too:
For what it’s worth, the public polling average overestimated Biden’s margin in Wisconsin by six points in 2020. Marquette’s final survey had Trump losing by five points in the state; he lost by less than one. Second, at least on some level, it seems difficult to square all of the horrible numbers for Biden in these polls with the decisions voters made last week, handing Republicans and conservatives a slew of disappointments and underwhelming results. Apples and oranges, argues the Times’ data man, Nate Cohn:
In one sense, the results were no surprise. The polls showed Democrats and their causes ahead in these races, and the party has excelled in low-turnout special elections over the last year. But the results were especially elating for Democrats against the backdrop of the latest polls, including the newest New York Times/Siena College poll, which seemed to spell doom for the Democrats. There was no doom Tuesday night. To many, the contradiction between Democrats’ success at the ballot box and their struggles in surveys seems to suggest the polling can’t be right. It’s an understandable response — but it’s probably wrong. There’s no contradiction between the polling and Tuesday’s election results. There’s not even a contradiction between the polling and the last year of special elections.
Put simply: Tuesday’s results don’t change the picture for President Biden heading into 2024. The polls and the election results are surprisingly easy to reconcile. The surveys show millions of voters who dislike Mr. Biden but remain receptive to other Democrats and support liberal causes. The polls also show Democrats with particular strength among the most highly engaged voters, who dominate low-turnout elections like Tuesday’s, while Mr. Trump shows his greatest strength among the less engaged voters who turn out only in presidential races. As a result, the same data showing Mr. Biden in jeopardy is entirely consistent with Democratic strength Tuesday. The fact that many of the voters he will need are now supporting other Democrats and liberal causes, as they did Tuesday, may ultimately be exactly what allows Mr. Biden to win in the end. But it doesn’t mean his political position is secure. If anything, his weakness among even these voters reveals the extent of his liabilities.
What seems increasingly clear is that by sticking with their frontrunners, each major political party would be making an enormous, high-stakes gamble heading into next year. And on that front, I’ll leave you with this emerging factor and debate: