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Three reasons Joe Biden is improving in the polls – and one why his numbers are still low

Since the final quarter of 2023, President Joe Biden has seen brutal poll after brutal poll showing his numbers tanking. The reasons for his decline have been manifold: people continue to worry about his age; young Democratic voters are dissatisfied about his support for Israel; people still blame him for high inflation.

But Biden’s polling numbers seem to be improving to some degree. A CNBC All-America Economic Survey showed Biden about even with Donald Trump. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week also showed the race virtually unchanged from February but still too close to call. My colleague Andrew Feinberg reported last week that the president has cut into Trump’s lead in multiple swing states.

Trump still has numerous advantages, given that his supporters seem more enthusiastic. At the same time, Biden has started to gain some structural advantages. Here are three reasons why Biden is improving – and one reason why he still trails Trump.

People feel the economy is getting better

As I wrote last month, Biden really could not ask for a better economy going into re-election. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that unemployment stayed below 4 per cent. While that slightly ticked up, the amount of people in the labour market – which is to say people who either have a job or who are looking for one – stayed the same.

In the same way, inflation has been perhaps Biden’s most persistent enemy. But now, hourly earnings continue to grow and they now seem to be outpacing inflation. That means that people are finally starting to feel the cooling of inflation that began around 2022 because they have more money in their pockets.

And people seem to be rewarding that performance. The CNBC survey showed Biden’s approval on the economy jumped six points from December, and the number of people who said the economy is doing fair or poor dropped from 80 per cent to 75 per cent. At the same time, the survey showed a plurality of voters believed they were better off financially during Trump’s presidency, and Republicans are leaning into that narrative, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s famous “Are you better off today than you were four years.”

Friday will prove to be a crucial day for the Biden team as the BLS will drop the jobs numbers for March.

Democratic voters have accepted the reality of Trump vs Biden

Multiplesurveys have shown that Americans do not want a Trump-Biden rematch. Last month, a Monmouth University poll from February showed that nearly half of the electorate believed Biden would be replaced. A New York Times/Siena College poll from the beginning of last month showed that only 23 per cent of Democratic primary voters were enthusiastic about the prospect of renominating Biden, but twice that number of Republican primary voters said they were enthusiastic about nominating Trump.

But now, voters are waking up to the fact that – regardless of whether they want it – they will have to make a decision on whether to vote for Trump or Biden. This may be why the CNBC survey showed that Biden’s approval improved among some core demographics, specifically with Democrats, independents and people with college degrees. The change might symbolise the reasons why voters gave a specific response: in the past, the polling was a way for Democratic-leaning voters to register their dissatisfaction with Biden when the general election was nominally still undecided. Now, voters likely see the vote as a binary choice.

That being said, Biden will still need more enthusaism from his voters if he is to have any chance in November.

Biden is campaigning more

For much of the last year, Biden did not focus on campaigning, but rather handling multiple crises domestically such as negotiating the debt limit to foreign policy challenges like the war between Israel and Hamas. But Biden has begun a barnstorming campaign regimen. Starting with his fiery State of the Union address just days after Super Tuesday, Biden has made his case to voters directly either through television ads or in swing states like Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.

Biden has also raised money at an astonishing clip, allowing him to directly push back and keep money coming for television advertisements.

But for all the improvements, there is still one big blaring red light that might be difficult for him to surmount.

His approval ratings are still low

For all the positive news, Biden still faces a difficult reality: his approval rating is still dismally low. In fact, the Quinnipiac poll showed that Biden’s approval rating dropped three points. A FiveThirtyEight average shows Biden’s numbers are not at their nadir of July of 2022 but still low.

If the election is a referendum on Biden’s performance, as re-election typically is, Trump could likely have an advantage. But if Biden makes the election more about whom they prefer and a referendum on Trump’s erratic and extreme rhetoric and defending abortion rights, he might be able to pull off enough votes for a victory.


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