How Bad Are Biden’s Polling Numbers Right Now? Are You Sitting Down?

Ben Mathis-Lilley / Slate
How Bad Are Biden’s Polling Numbers Right Now? Are You Sitting Down? Democrats can’t keep rationalizing away one crucial element of this race. (photo: AFP)

Democrats can’t keep rationalizing away one crucial element of this race.

In September 2020, in the thick of COVID and Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, Slate asked a probing and timely question: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Get Knocked Out Cold With a Shovel for Exactly Six Weeks and Five Days?” That was the length of time left, at that moment, until Election Day. The news was, let’s say, uniquely stressful, and we naïvely assumed that if you were knocked out “in the manner of a cartoon character” and woke up on the first Tuesday in November, you would at least be close to knowing whether Trump would be replaced as president by Joe Biden. You would be able go to the polls, in other words, without all the agonizing buildup. In reality, finding out who would be president required living through two more months of lawsuits, press conferences in outer-Philadelphia parking lots, and attempted coups by a guy wearing Viking horns in the House of Representatives.

Well, now Trump is running again! Ha ha, oh boy, where does the time go? And this go-round, he’s winning in the polls (at least, currently). History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as what the hell is going on? So we’re introducing an occasional feature about the presidential election that will answer the question “How bad is this, really, as far as portending the end of democracy?” This intermittent analysis will be measured according to our patented Shovel Meter, a scale of exactly how sedated you might want to be if you’re anxious about Orange Drumpf being reelected. The answers will range from one shovel (probably not worth worrying about) to five shovels (bad enough that you should have someone hit you five times in the head with a shovel).

One crucial note: While this may be an opinionated running column—one that is of the opinion that the chief executive should not be someone whose sole plan for a second term in office is extended extralegal revenge and domestic deployment of the military—it is not a partisan one. This running column takes no position on whether Joe Biden is a good president per se, whether liberal principles are superior to conservative ones in general, or anything else besides that the president of the U.S. should not be someone who wants full lifetime immunity for ordering the execution of people who make him mad.

And at the moment? It’s not looking good, unless you are a MAGA nut or executive in the shovel industry. New York Times polling freak Nate Cohn (not his official title) published an article Monday about the Times’ latest swing-state surveys, and they found—paraphrasing here—that registered voters, particularly young and nonwhite ones, generally blame Joe Biden, personally, for everything bad that has ever happened or is happening, including inflation and the war in Gaza, and, in some cases, things that are demonstrably not his fault, such as five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices overturning Roe v. Wade.

Trump led Biden in head-to-head matchups in all five of the key states polled—and, worse yet, the poll did not find that Biden performed any better among likely voters rather than registered voters, or in a three-way race against both Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. That knocks out a major rationalization that Dems have had in circulation, namely that Biden is disproportionately unpopular with Americans who aren’t going to vote anyway or are going to end up voting for RFK Jr. rather than Trump.

Which is to say that, if the question is “How bad is this, really?,” the answer is “Pretty bad!” Biden does have reasons to be hopeful, such as the enormous amount of money he is compiling to spend on advertisements reminding voters that they don’t like Donald Trump either, and the possibility that Trump will be convicted somewhat soon of porno-adultery coverup fraud (not the official name of the charge he faces). On the other hand, if your best reasons to feel optimistic about something are a pornography-related felony accusation and the possibility of leveraging a near-universally loathed system of campaign finance to air tens of thousands of repetitive, brain-deadening television advertisements … well, optimism perhaps isn’t the right word to be using, is it?

Of course, polling is but a mere snapshot of a moment in time, one that wisps ever further away from us into the firmament of the past, as a poet writing about the New York Times’ Nate Cohn might say. The election is not for another six months, and much can happen in that time span. (In 2020, for instance, the world of U.S. politics changed overnight when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25.) Things could look different in a few weeks. But for now, we are issuing a rating of ….

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