ABC/WaPo: Trump beats Biden in a hypothetical matchup

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

It’s a sign of just how awful a president Joe Biden has been: despite a substantial part of the country hating Trump with a rage usually reserved for serial killers, he might still beat Biden at the polls in 2024.


We all know Trump’s strengths and weaknesses, with each being extraordinary to find in politicians. He is to liberals what Hillary Clinton is to conservatives, which is why so many conservatives would prefer a different candidate.

But the latest ABC News poll may help Trump assuage the fears of some conservatives that Trump is just too…Trump…to win in 2024. Were that to come to pass, he could thank Joe Biden’s incompetence for the opportunity.

Four in 10 Americans say they’ve gotten worse off financially since Joe Biden became president, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Political fallout includes poor performance ratings for Biden and a tight hypothetical Biden/Trump rematch next year.

Given disaffection with both leaders, a rerun of the 2020 presidential election is hardly enticing: Nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don’t want to see Biden nominated again for the job, and half on the Republican side would rather not see Donald Trump as their party’s nominee.

If those were the choices and the election were today, the poll suggests it could be close: Among all adults, 48 percent support Donald Trump and 44 percent are for Biden; it’s a similar 48-45 percent among registered voters. The differences are within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

It’s conventional wisdom, based upon decades of experience, that presidents rise and fall based on the economy. When people are doing well, they re-elect presidents. When people are worse off, they vote for the other guy.


With 41% of Americans saying they are worse off–the worst performance ever in the history of the poll–Biden is in trouble. Assuming that Republicans can get their act together when it comes to driving voters to the polls, or at least the mailbox.

The big hit on Biden is the economy: With inflation moderating but still high, 41 percent say they’re not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office, the most in nearly three dozen ABC/Post polls to ask the question since 1986, when Ronald Reagan, who popularized the “better off” phrase, held office. Just 16 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say they’re better off.

By contrast, nearly two years into Trump’s presidency, far fewer – 13 percent – said they’d gotten worse off; more, 25 percent, were in better shape financially.

Biden’s overall job performance rating, 42-53 percent, approve-disapprove, has been under water, and steadily so, since September 2021. On issues, Biden has just 37 percent approval for handling the economy, 38 percent on the war in Ukraine and 28 percent on the immigration situation at the Mexican border.

Biden’s approval rating after two years in office is well below average compared with the previous 13 presidents. Three have been in about the same boat at this point (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) and one has been lower – Trump, at 37 percent, in polling by ABC/Post and previously Gallup. The pre-Biden average is 56 percent.


As you can see, Biden and Trump are both widely disliked among the populace, which is quite an achievement. I think it is safe to say that Trump is more passionately loved and hated than Biden is on either end, while I suspect that Biden is more widely disdained as weak, incompetent, and corrupt.

In other words, my sense is that Republicans view Biden with contempt, while Democrats view Trump with fear and genuine hatred.

The most surprising finding of the poll to me was this tidbit: how Americans would feel if one or the other candidates won. Contrary to the expectation that the commentariat would have (I include myself in this group), Americans would be more disappointed if Biden won a second term:

EMOTIONS – Underscoring Biden’s challenges, many more Americans have a negative rather than positive emotional response to the prospect of his winning a second term: The public by a broad 62-36 percent would be disappointed or even angry if he were re-elected, rather than enthusiastic or satisfied.

Responses to a hypothetical Trump victory also are negative overall, but less so, 56-43 percent. Part of the reason is that Biden loses slightly more of his base – 26 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would be unhappy if he were re-elected, compared with 20 percent of Republicans and GOP leaners who’d feel that way about a Trump win.

That’s striking, given the passion expressed by those who hate Trump with the burning fires of hell in their heart. They obviously reflect a smaller part of the population than you would suppose. Yet that sliver of the population is huge: 36% would be angry if Trump won, indicating that the Democrat base would go ballistic were that to happen.


Trump occupies somewhat more space at the emotional extremes. Seventeen percent would be enthusiastic about his winning another term; 36 percent would be angry about it. Given a Biden re-election, fewer would be enthusiastic – 7 percent – but also fewer would be angry, 30 percent.

The numbers buttress my analysis that Trump evokes stronger passions, both positive and negative. About 2 /12 times as many people would be thrilled to have Trump elected than Biden. That 7% of the population who claim that Biden winning would make them enthusiastic are known as public employees and Hunter Biden’s clients, I would expect.

Trump partisans will look at the poll and cheer loudly that Trump can win; Trump critics in the Republican Party will respond that the poll shows that almost any other candidate–one who doesn’t inspire 36% of the country to be genuinely angry about their election–would win in a cakewalk.

Each side will see a poll that confirms their priors, changing literally nobody’s mind. Usually reality has to punch us in the gut and break our noses before we abandon our priors, and this poll does neither to one side or the other of the debate over who should be the Republican candidate.

It’s no secret that I am a DeSantis partisan and believe he has a better shot at winning. That is partly due to my genuine enthusiasm for the governor and his accomplishments, and partly due to my sense that any poll numbers today say little about how the public will see Biden in November 2024.


Yet I concede that these numbers actually show that Trump, so far, has not gotten a knockout blow from all the hits he has taken since 2015–and for any other politicians many of those would have been knockout blows. He has an amazing ability to take political damage and remain standing.

On DeSantis’ side is the fact that none of the punches have landed so far, which makes him a fresher fighter with tremendous dancing abilities in the ring.

Whichever candidate winds up in the ring, they will be facing off against a tired fighter whose own wounds are self-inflicted. Joe Biden has been an execrable president, and even Democrats know it.


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