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A sharp indictment of Biden’s presidency — but a close race for 2024

It is perhaps one of the harshest condemnations of a president I can remember seeing. In recent polling released by the Wall Street Journal, more than half of Americans say that the policies of the Biden administration have at least somewhat hurt them personally.

Yet in that same poll, Biden is running statistically even with former president Donald Trump — despite a majority of respondents saying that they were helped by Trump’s policies.

The poll — conducted by the Democratic-aligned polling firm GBAO and the Republican-aligned firm Fabrizio Lee — has even worse news than that for Biden. Only about a quarter of respondents say that Biden’s policies helped them personally, with fewer than 1 in 10 saying his policies strongly helped. But a third of respondents said that Trump’s policies strongly helped them.

There’s a 40-point gap between the two presidents when looking at net views of their policies: respondents were 13 points more likely to say that Trump’s helped them rather than hurt them, while they were 30 points more likely to say that Biden’s hurt more than they helped.

This is admittedly a vague question, but many respondents probably viewed their answers through the lens of the economy. After all, economic considerations are generally among those at the forefront of evaluations of politicians and, in this poll, a plurality of respondents identified the economy as their main issue heading into the 2024 election.

There are also external indicators that people prefer Trump’s economy to Biden’s. The University of Michigan conducts monthly assessments of how people view the economy, including evaluations of consumer sentiment and views of current economic conditions. Over the past five years — two during which Trump was president and three during which Biden was — both measures have dropped.

Much of that is a function of a decline among Republicans, which is a typical partisan response. But it’s also because Democrats, Biden’s base, view the economy in the past three years about as they did in the previous two. Even within his party, in other words, Biden doesn’t have a big advantage on the economy.

And yet! The same Journal poll found that, in a hypothetical/likely Trump-Biden contest next November, Trump leads 47 percent to 43 percent, a lead that falls within the margin of error.

So Americans think Biden’s policies have hurt them and Trump’s have helped them. Americans also are torn between voting for Biden or Trump. These are not all the same Americans, of course, but it’s still unexpected.

There are some hints in the Journal poll about why the race remains close, despite that contradiction. One is that only about a fifth of respondents see the economy as the most important issue for 2024 — and that a third of respondents think Biden would do a better job on the economy than Trump. (Just over half say Trump would.) A fifth of voters identify abortion, protection of democracy or opposition to right-wing politics as their top concerns, issues on which Biden has a (predictable) advantage.

That shows up when the Journal’s pollsters asked respondents why they supported each candidate. More than half of those who said they would definitely or probably back Biden said that their votes were a measure not of their support for the current president but, instead, opposition to the former one, Trump. Fully a fifth of those interviewed said they planned to vote for Biden in opposition to Trump.

Two-thirds of independents said their intention to vote for Biden was out of opposition to Trump. Less than half of independents who said they planned to vote for Trump said it was out of opposition to Biden.

We also see Biden’s enthusiasm issues here: More than twice as many people said they were voting for Trump because of Trump than said they were voting for Biden because of Biden. This dynamic isn’t new; hostility to Trump was one of the central reasons that Biden won in 2020. But its staying power is important since it raises the floor for Biden’s support. There are many voters for whom Trump is simply unacceptable and who will vote for Biden regardless of how they view his presidency.

None of this is to say that views of Biden’s policies as harmful are not a problem for him. They may make it less likely for people to support his candidacy or to turn out to vote. It is, instead, to note that — perhaps in this election more than most — people’s vote preference may be defined less by what the incumbent has done than by what his opponent did.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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