Democrats cling to Trump’s conviction because they fear the polls

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Democrats cling to Trump’s conviction because they fear the polls

There’s a reason Biden’s poll numbers are scaring Democrats: They’re worse than they appear. The closer you look, the uglier they get. 

Biden’s not only well behind where he was in 2020, he’s well below where he needs to be to win in November. Once you understand Biden’s poll numbers, you’ll understand why Trump’s New York conviction is so important to Democrats. 

Why are Democrats so concerned about Biden when he’s so close in the national polls?  According to Real Clear Politics’ June 5 average of national polls, in a two-way race, Biden only trails Trump 45.4-46.5 percent. That’s easily within any poll’s margin of error. November’s still almost five months away, and elected incumbents usually win reelection — only Hoover, Carter, H.W. Bush, and Trump have lost in over 100 years.

To understand Democrats’ distress, don’t look at the polls; look inside them. 

According to Real Clear Politics national poll averaging, in 2020, Biden held a double-digit lead as late as October 12 (51.8-41.6 percent). Just weeks later, that double-digit lead resulted in just a 4.4 percent popular vote win — less than half what polls had once showed. 

And that 4.4 percent margin was itself deceptive: It was the result of a 7 million vote surplus in California and New York — without those states, Biden and Trump were even.

In the seven battleground states where the two ran neck and neck, Biden won six (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) by just over 300,000 votes combined — and the four (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin) that gave him the presidency by less than 77,000 votes combined.

In other words, Biden had no margin for error in 2020. In contrast in 2024, there are lots of errors in Biden’s margins.

In the five-way race that November looks to be, Biden trailed 39.7-41.8 percent on June 5. In Real Clear Politics June 5 battleground state average, where 2020 and 2016 were decided, Biden trails even more — 44.6-47.7 percent. This also measures in a two-person matchup, if Biden is experiencing here the same diminution that he does nationally from a two- to a five-candidate race, then he is trailing by even more. 

Taking it one more step: Biden is trailing by substantially more still in Arizona (43.8-47.8 percent), Georgia (43.6-48.4 percent) and Nevada (42.6-48 percent). If Trump wins these three states, he needs to flip just three more electoral votes nationwide to regain the White House.

Finally, the polls from which these national averages are being compiled are almost entirely surveys of registered voters, not likely voters. Only Rasmussen is regularly polling likely voters — those most likely to vote in November — now.  

In its likely voter surveys, Trump is scoring well head of his registered voter results: Rasmussen finds Trump up 48-43 percent in its latest survey; this compares with Real Clear Politics’ June 5 national two-candidate race average, which is compiled entirely from polls of registered voters and which shows Trump’s lead at only 46.5-45.4 percent. 

When Democratic insiders see Biden’s national poll numbers, they don’t see Biden simply running roughly one point behind Trump today; they see him running 11 points behind where he was in 2020. Then they see inside all the figures — to the five-candidate results, to the battleground states, to the states that Trump needs to flip, and to Biden’s even greater deficits with likely voters.

And then they remember Biden’s fade in the 2020 stretch when his double-digit lead in the polls was winnowed to a razor-thin win in the states that mattered in the end. And they know that fade came when Biden was campaigning the most. 

The administration has been attempting to bolster the public’s perception of Biden for months.  His campaign has spent enormous sums over the last several months. These efforts have not worked, and Biden’s approval ratings on the issues that matter most to voters — the economy, inflation, immigration, foreign policy and crime — are each lower than his low overall approval rating. 

Unlike 2020, when Biden’s polling leads gave him the luxury of staying off the campaign trail, he doesn’t have that luxury this time. Biden will have to campaign earlier, longer, and more intensively in 2024. This also means that a fade could come even sooner and run even deeper than it did four years ago.

Democrats’ worry and accompanying actions speak for themselves. Biden is worse off than he appears and could get worse still: Biden’s 2020 fade and failed presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008 attest to it.

The Biden campaign’s and Democrats’ hopes, and clearly their strategy, is to drive Trump below Biden. This is why Trump’s New York conviction is so important to them.  

The appellation of “convicted felon” is seemingly the ultimate card they can play, and the last one they have in the poor hand they hold.  

J.T. Young was a professional staffer in the House and Senate from 1987-2000, served in the Department of Treasury and Office of Management and Budget from 2001-2004, and was director of government relations for a Fortune 20 company from 2004-2023.