History has long demonstrated that almost any president will generate high levels of support from voters of his own party, and roughly equal levels of opposition from those who cast their votes the other way. From the time pollsters began measuring such things, presidents have generally exceeded 80% approval within their own ranks, while rarely approaching break-even among voters of the opposing party. That is why the largest constituency of all, the ever-growing pool of self-declared independent voters, together with the fluid constituencies which are often determinative in specific presidential contests, become so crucial.
Following World War II, when political parties were robust, a mere 15% of voters declared themselves independent, according to Pew Research Center. But unaffiliated voters have come to dwarf those claiming allegiance to either party, with 40% of the electorate now declaring themselves as independent, compared to 29% identifying as Democrats and 28% as Republicans, according to an August poll from Gallup. Simple math thus dictates that any candidate must appeal to this rogues’ gallery of voters who abandoned one or both parties, or are simply not enamored of either brand.
A Swing Too Far?
In 2020, when both candidates effectively canceled each other out by attracting an identical 93% of their party’s votes, it was by most accounts such independent voters, along with women, suburbanites and moderates galled by Trump’s persona who famously swung the election to Biden. So how would the members of those demographic groups vote if given the chance to do so again today?
It’s a question that has likely crossed the minds of Trump voters every time Joe Biden suffers a political defeat or embarrassment. With the honeymoon period decidedly in Mr. Biden’s rearview mirror, has the political landscape altered sufficiently to tilt the preference of these crucial swing voters one way or the other? To what degree, if any, are they experiencing buyer’s remorse?
Those are the questions forming the background for the latest poll by I&I/TIPP, which produced a series of revealing if not surprising answers when compared with the official outcome of the election. The survey consisted of 1,305 adults who disclosed their actual vote to pollsters, and then were asked: “If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?”
Both Biden and Trump dropped five percent from their reported election totals in the poll, Biden presumably for performance in office, Trump for the aftermath of the election. But revelations from the so-called cross-tabs, which break the results into component parts, should sound alarm bells in the White House. Since the actual vote tabulations in 2020, support for Biden has dropped among independents by a stunning nine points, to 34%. And the news does not get any better for Trump’s successor when it comes to women and moderates, each down by eight points (to 49% and 47%, respectively), with suburbanites dropping by seven points (to 41%) and middle-class voters – making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year – down by ten points (to 44%).
The Biden Presidency: Not As Advertised
We have no empirical data from this poll on the specific reasons for Biden’s precipitous decline among these key demographic groups. But it would figure that his persistent calls for unity, so appealing to these particular voters, are now ringing hollow as this president increasingly singles out groups to blame for his political problems. He threw the government in Kabul under the bus for his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, blamed Trump-inspired anti-vaxxers for the continuing surge of COVID, and even singled out CBP agents on horseback trying their best to control a border which increasingly looks like no border at all.
Additionally, his call for a radical package of reforms costing trillions of dollars is entirely inconsistent with both the moderate image he portrayed as a candidate and the decidedly tentative mandate granted his party through a bare majority in Congress.
The Joe Biden presidency which has emerged over eight months is hardly what was promised to – or expected by – those independents, women, suburbanites and moderates who based their votes on the promise that he would bring competence, unity and moderation back to the White House. Given the likelihood this president will continue to enjoy considerable support within his own party, no matter his recent free fall or future course of events, and precious little from Republicans, the Democrats’ chances of holding Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024 rest on these swing voters who historically have swayed with the political breeze.
Mr. Biden and his party still have time to recover their support, but they had better figure it out quickly because the numbers revealed in this latest survey render any candidate, incumbent or challenger, unelectable.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.