May 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden’s polling denial: Why he doesn't believe he's behind

President Biden, in a blue suit and red tie, is seen speaking into a microphone outside the White House with bushes in the foreground.

President Biden speaks at a Rose Garden reception on Monday. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden doesn't believe his bad poll numbers, and neither do many of his closest advisers, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The dismissiveness of the poor polling is sincere, not public spin, according to Democrats who have spoken privately with the president and his team.

  • That bedrock belief has informed Biden's largely steady-as-she-goes campaign — even as many Democrats outside the White House are agitating for the campaign to change direction, given that Biden is polling well behind where he was four years ago.
  • The public polling simply doesn't reflect the president's support, they say.

Driving the news: In public and private, Biden has been telling anyone who will listen that he's gaining ground — and is probably up — on Donald Trump in their rematch from 2020.

  • "While the press doesn't write about it, the momentum is clearly in our favor, with the polls moving towards us and away from Trump," Biden told donors during a West Coast swing last week.

A few days earlier, confronted with some of his bad poll numbers in a rare interview with CNN, Biden offered a more sweeping indictment of polling methodology.

  • "The polling data has been wrong all along. How many — you guys do a poll at CNN. How many folks you have to call to get one response?"

Zoom in: The latest polling in the six battleground states likely to decide the presidential race — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — doesn't paint a rosy picture for Biden.

  • A new New York Times/Sienna survey, which sampled more than 4,000 people across the swing states, had Trump winning five of them among registered voters.
  • A Bloomberg News poll last month similarly found Biden trailing Trump in six of seven swing states (they also polled North Carolina).

Reality check: Some national polls have shown Biden ahead or tied with Trump — and in several other polls the president is within the surveys' margins for error. That's given Democrats and Republicans alike ammunition to claim they have momentum.

  • Biden likes to cite his numbers in a recent PBS/Marist poll, which show him ahead.
  • Polling errors in recent years prove that polling isn't destiny: Trump over-performed polls in 2016 and 2020, and Democrats did better than expected in many 2022 midterm contests.
  • Many aspects of Trump's candidacy, including his legal battles, are unprecedented — and add more mystery to election projections.

Between the lines: However he feels about all the public polls, Biden is clearly well briefed on them — and often goes deep into the cross tabs.

  • "We run strongest among likely voters in the polling data," Biden told wealthy donors in Medina on Saturday. "And while the national polls basically have us (among) registered voters up by four, (among) likely voters we're up by more."
  • "In the last 23 national polls, I've been ahead in 10 of them, Trump has been ahead in eight, and we've been tied in five," he said at a campaign event in Tampa, Florida., citing surveys by Marist, Echelon Insights and Marquette.

Zoom out: Biden and his advisers have long felt underrated by the D.C. establishment and public polls.

  • But they're comforted by his come-from-behind 2020 primary victory. Voters, when it matters, appreciate "Scranton Joe," they say.

What they're saying: "This election will be close like all presidential races are. What matters is which candidate has a popular and winning agenda, and which candidate and their campaign are putting in the work to reach the voters who will decide this election," Biden spokesperson Kevin Munoz said.

  • "That candidate is Joe Biden."

Bottom line: Some Democrats think the Biden team is in denial about the polling and sleepwalking into defeat.

  • The Biden team is convinced the country will not re-elect Trump once they face the choice in November.
  • Voters will decide which side is right.
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