President Joe Biden says he’s not ready to make a decision on whether to run for reelection. He did, however, dismiss polls that have cast a negative light on his 2024 chances, telling Telemundo, “Do you know any polling that’s accurate these days?”
Biden is upset because of recent polling findings that a lot of Democrats would be happy if he didn’t run and that put former President Donald Trump ahead of Biden (though within the margin of error) in a hypothetical 2024 contest.
To be clear, I believe Biden would very likely win the Democratic nomination and would have a good chance of winning a general election. But I have to defend the polling he went after.
Surveys are tools of the current moment (not fortune tellers), and those tools have, on the whole, done a good job of forecasting Biden’s and the Democratic Party’s political fates over the past few years.
Let’s start with the most recent election, when polling supposedly did poorly. It is true that some surveys underestimated Democratic candidates. The polls that meet CNN’s standards for publication, however, were quite good.
The national surveys looking at the generic congressional ballot had Republicans ahead by about 1.5 points over the last 21 days of the campaign. Republicans ended up winning the national House vote by a little less than 3 points. If you take out uncontested races – more Republicans than Democrats were unopposed in House contests last year – the final margin would probably have been closer to a 2-point Republican edge.
An error of less than 2 points (or 1 point) is really good.
The 2022 state-level polling was also above par. The average miss for gubernatorial elections was about 3 points, while it was less than 2.5 points in US Senate races. The previous average polling miss since 1998 had been above 5 points.
Comparisons with 2020 polling
Polling in 2020, of course, consistently showed Biden ahead of Trump. While those polls were too friendly to Biden and Democrats, they accurately showed them winning the election that November.
Multiple surveys since last year have shown Trump ahead of Biden in a potential 2024 election. Some polls also have Biden trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Over the entire 2020 campaign, not a single reputable poll found Trump ahead of Biden.
Quite simply, the polling today looks nothing like it did when Biden won his first term. If anything, it looks considerably worse for him.
The good news for Biden is that the general election is almost two years away, and the polling could change considerably. Even general election polls at this point are mostly within the margin of error, on average.
With inflation calming and gas prices much lower than they were over much of last summer, you could easily see Biden’s poll numbers improving.
I would point out as well that Biden is probably in better shape than the surveys indicating Democrats don’t want him running again would suggest. The simple reason is that politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Unless it’s a California recall election, most voters don’t cast ballots saying “yes” or “no” to a single politician. They have to choose between different candidates.
The limited polling that tests Biden against other Democrats for 2024 has him well ahead nationally. That may be part of the reason why no serious challengers to the president have emerged.
Remember, it was this same national primary polling that was an early sign of Biden’s strength in the 2020 Democratic primary. He maintained his lead for almost the entire primary process, even as a lot of people were willing to dismiss him.
The bottom line is that I wouldn’t count Biden out going into 2024. Beating an incumbent president isn’t easy. The majority do win reelection when they run.
Still, Biden’s negative polling is most likely an accurate depiction of where the electorate stands right now.