The notion that Joe Biden can defeat Donald Trump again is somewhere between conventional sense and an article of faith for Democrats.
That idea is a crucial premise for Trump’s Republican primary rivals, most notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to persuade GOP voters to change their allegiance after supporting Trump twice.
But according to a new NBC News poll issued on Sunday, Biden only has a 49% to 45% advantage over Trump, which is far smaller than the 10 point advantage he had in NBC’s previous poll conducted before the 2020 election. DeSantis, who is less well-known than Trump, and Biden are deadlocked at 47% according to the most recent poll.
Despite the air of assurance emanating from Biden and his team, several Democrats assert that they think Trump has a very real chance of retaking the White House.
“If you think otherwise, you have literally had your head buried in the sand,” said former Rep. Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, who fell short in his bid to woo Trump-friendly voters to his side in a 2022 Senate race against JD Vance. “You’re living in a world of delusion. And it’s dangerous.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, defeated Mandela Barnes by 25,000 votes in 2022. Since then, Barnes has established a political action committee. Barnes said he would like to see Democrats in competitive states “go on the offensive” and highlight Biden’s successes.
“The president has a done a lot to help working people, and the threat of a Donald Trump presidency is very real,” he said, adding, “It was Wisconsin that put Trump over the top in 2016. … We take the threat very seriously.”
The majority of Democrats who spoke with NBC News agreed that Trump is less intimidating to voters than some of the other Republican challengers, if only because Trump is a well-known figure.
It’s simpler for Biden to remind voters of the reasons they rejected Trump three years ago than it is to develop a new argument against DeSantis or any less well-known contender, according to Faiz Shakir, who managed Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
But he added that Trump’s political shrewdness could not be disregarded.
Shakir specifically mentioned Trump’s machinations about abortion rights following the GOP’s dismal showing in the 2022 midterm elections. Trump selected three Supreme Court justices who voted to repeal federal abortion laws and has previously argued that women should be punished for getting abortions. Now, though, Trump is urging Republicans to make sure that abortion bans include exceptions for rape, incest, or threats to the pregnant woman’s life.
“Trump is so amoral that he’s able to reinvent himself on issue after issue and deceive enough people to feel like they might give him a second look, at least in some critical battleground states,” he said. “A lot of it hinges on, are there outside events that kind of prevent him from doing the reinvention?”
The impending trials in New York and Florida, the Georgia inquiry into his attempts to rig the state’s 2020 election, and the federal special counsel investigation into the Capitol rebellion on January 6 are among these outside developments.
The difficulties Trump has faced appear to have strengthened his position as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. His advantage over DeSantis has grown from 15 points to 29 points since April, according to the NBC News survey. DeSantis’ support among Republicans has decreased from 31% to 22%, while Trump’s support has increased from 46% to 51% since then. According to the most recent poll, former vice president Mike Pence has a 7% advantage over the rest of the field.
Such national surveys do not take into consideration how a candidate’s performance in early races can effect the rest of the field because nomination battles are waged state by state over the period of months.
“To the extent we’re not doing state polling yet is a big blind spot,” claimed Patrick Ruffini, a Republican polling expert and founding partner of Echelon Insights. He cited the tight results in competitive states in 2020, where Biden’s edge in the Electoral College was less than 43,000 votes divided among Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, as evidence that even small shifts in public opinion might have a significant impact in November 2024.
“It wouldn’t take much to shift it in those key states,” Ruffini said.
In the months leading up to the 2020 election, Biden’s approval rating, which dropped to 35% in a Pew Research survey released last week, was in the same range as Trump’s. This, combined with a number of head-to-head surveys that place Trump and Biden inside the margin of error, has prompted some Democratic strategists to feel that Trump is still a very strong opponent for Biden.
“What you have is statistical ties across almost every single recent poll,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist and public opinion expert. “Are Democrats discounting the threat that Trump poses even with his series of indictments? Absolutely.”
The majority of political analysts predict that the Electoral College, which is so crucial to elections, will be tight in 2024 and that there won’t be many swing voters.
Trump received considerably more votes than any Republican has ever received in competitive states including Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan, even though he lost.
The Electoral College’s impact on third-party candidacies is unclear, if at all. A decrease in third-party voting in swing states in 2020 benefited Biden. Cornell West, a professor and author, has declared his candidacy for president, and No Labels is considering endorsing a candidate under its own banner.
The question that arises therefore is whether the electorate more closely matches that of 2020 or that of 2016, when Trump lost by an even smaller margin of votes in crucial areas.
“What we need to learn from 2016 is that some people want to hear his message and believe his message,” said Raquel Teran, the former Arizona Democratic Party chair who is now seeking a House seat.
Teran expressed optimism stemming from voters’ increased familiarity with Trump.
“There are more of us that know his message is extreme and out of touch and authoritarian, and we cannot underestimate what can happen under a Trump candidacy,” she said. “And the worst is that we cannot forget what the actual consequence [is] of having a Trump presidency.”