Not long after the Washington Post/ABC poll was released on Sunday, the “hot take” machines started whirring furiously online and inside the Beltway. The poll, which showed former President Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden by six points (45% to 39%), “is an outlier,” cried many left-leaning commentators as well as those in the Ron DeSantis camp who argue that the Florida governor is the most electable GOP candidate.
But it wasn’t just the head-to-head results that caused heartburn among Democrats. The Post/ABC poll clocked the president’s job approval rating at 35%, the lowest of his presidency. Moreover, there’s been a significant decline in the percentage of Americans who believe that Biden is mentally up to the task. In this poll, just 32% of Americans said Biden “has the mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively as president.” Two years ago at this time, a narrow majority (51%) believed Biden was mentally capable of doing the job.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record on this point, I stress the following: when it comes to reading polls — especially polls that test two very well-known and defined candidates like Biden and Trump — I am once again asking for people to focus on the vote share (what percent of vote each candidate getting) and not on the margin (how many points one candidate is ahead of or behind the other).
Here we go…
First, let’s compare the two most recent national polls that asked the horse race question — the Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac — with the Washington Post/ABC survey. All three polls found Trump’s vote share between 45% and 46%. This is also very close to the percent of the popular vote Trump took in 2016 (46%) and 2020 (47%). This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Opinions of Trump are baked in. He has a high floor, but a low ceiling. Even major events have done little to move the floor down or the ceiling up.
Opinions about the job President Biden is doing in office are also stable across all three polls. The Wall Street Journal survey pegs Biden’s job approval rating at 42%, while both Quinnipiac and the Washington Post/ABC surveys are a bit lower: 37% and 36% respectively. All three find 56% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the job.
What makes the Washington Post/ABC survey stand out, of course, is that it is the only one that shows Biden trailing Trump.
Why is that?
Unlike the WSJ or Quinnipiac surveys, Biden is only running three points ahead of his approval rating in the Washington Post/ABC poll. In the other two surveys, Biden’s share of the vote is anywhere from six to 11 points better than his job approval ratings.
As I wrote last week, Biden’s reelection is predicated on his ability to win over a significant number of voters who don’t think highly of him, but who think even less highly of Trump. The hope among Democrats is that the risk of nominating an 82-year-old candidate is just slightly less risky than the one Republicans are taking if they nominate Trump.
Bottom line: don’t let your blood pressure be dictated by the polls. A race between two well-defined candidates like Trump and Biden, in a country as politically polarized as this, will be very, very close. Even so, given the antipathy among the public for a Trump v. Biden contest, I’m still not convinced that we’ll see a rematch between these two men in 2024.
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