Biden to Dems: Now watch this bounce!

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Hope springs eternal, one supposes, but in this case it also springs delusional. The DNC gathered together for its midterm kickoff in Washington DC shortly after the House passed its omnibus spending plan. That finally took place last night, shortly after Nancy Pelosi got forced to drop additional COVID-19 funding from the bill after a revolt by progressives. And that followed a year of legislative circular firing squad maneuvers by Democratic leadership, up to and including Joe Biden.

For some reason, however, Biden sounded awfully chipper at the DNC event. Chipper, and of course, delusional:

Biden told a ballroom full of DNC members at a Hilton in Washington, “we are in the strongest position we’ve been in in months.” Democrats, he said, could keep the House.

Uh … who wants to tell him?

That’s the current RCP tracking on the generic ballot. Democrats have narrowed this up a bit over the past week, thanks to a D+2 from Politico/Morning Consult and a D+5 from YouGov, but this is not at all “the strongest position … in months” for Democrats. Even without the normal consideration that Democrats need at least a D+5 to compete for House control in these surveys, Biden and the Democrats were in much better shape two months ago.

But what about Biden? His bounce might be slightly more substantial, but only barely:

The prospects here are slightly murkier than with the generic ballot, but Biden’s still underwater in the RCP aggregate by almost double digits — and his boost has come from a couple of questionable polls. The NPR/PBS/Marist poll vastly overcounted Democrats (40% of their sample!), who provided all of Biden’s post-State of the Union bounce. Biden’s standing didn’t budge at all with independents, which rated his performance at an abysmal 39/58, which is probably closer to reality than the overall 47/50.

The only other series showing a significant bounce for Biden thus far is Reuters’ tracking poll, which showed him improving from 43/54 to 45/49. Here too though, the sample looks deeply problematic:

These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted March 7-8, 2022. A sample of 1,005 Americans ages 18+ were This included 430 Democrats, 369 Republicans, and 136 independents.

That oversample for Democrats is actually worse than that in the NPR/PBS/Marist poll. And again, we see independents rating Biden’s performance far below the topline at 34%, with Democrats only at 79%. To be fair, though, the Reuters/Ipsos poll routinely oversamples Democrats and grossly undersamples independents, as the previous iteration shows. It’s worth pointing out that Biden’s job approval rating among independents actually fell slightly since that previous iteration, coming down from 37%.

Generally speaking in polling on presidential approval, the highly partisan-charged Republicans and Democrats largely tend to cancel each other out. The job approval ratings among independents usually come close to the topline number. In both polls, the independent number is likely more reliable as a predictive measure.

However, with Biden and the DNC apparently embracing the non-existent or barely-there bounce, Democrats have decided that all they need to do is double down on Biden’s agenda. Biden made that “stay the course” argument explicit, in fact, and Politico seemed cheered at the prospect:

Democrats still have reason to be anxious. But at a critical juncture in the midterm election cycle, the party is in an improved position from just three months ago, when moribund party officials met in South Carolina to close out the last year. At the time, Biden’s approval ratings had cratered. The Omicron variant was surging. Justice Stephen Breyer had yet to announce his retirement, a development that would allow Biden, last month, to make his historic and base-pleasing selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Most importantly, Russia had yet to invade Ukraine, a development that has shifted public attention away from a year of domestic difficulties and recast Biden as a fixture in a war raging nonstop on Americans’ TVs. In recent days, multiple polls have registered a moderate improvement in Biden’s still-weak public approval ratings. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this week put his job approval at 45 percent, up 4 points over last week. Even incremental movement in Biden’s public approval rating is significant, as a president’s job approval rating is closely correlated with a party’s performance in midterms.

Again, the Morning Consult poll had the same problem as the other two polls showing a bounce — Democrats comprised 40% of the sample. Among independents in that poll, Biden scored a 31/62 job approval rating, which belies the idea that Biden has any kind of a bounce outside his base. And even then, the bounce inside the Democratic Party isn’t exactly impressive.

Biden and the DNC are essentially fooling themselves, especially if they expect a rally effect over Ukraine. Inflation and especially gas prices will erode that fast even if it materializes, but the confidence-crisis cascade that began with Biden’s abandonment of Americans in Afghanistan will likely negate any such impulse. Biden’s flurry of incompetence around the Ukraine jet transfers will also put the kibosh on that opportunity. By doubling down, Biden and the DNC are walking into an electoral trap of their own construction while convinced of their own cleverness in doing so.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024