To measure the difference, I chose a single question—whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidate—and selected pollsters who tested both Clinton’s favorable rating in June 2016 and Biden’s favorable rating in June 2020 (or, in one case, the end of May). Six pollsters met this standard: Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, the Economist (YouGov), Fox News, ABC News and the Washington Post, and NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. By comparing their 2020 numbers to their 2016 numbers, we can measure Biden against Clinton.
Clinton’s scores were atrocious. In all six polls, most respondents viewed her unfavorably. In the five polls that reported degrees of antipathy, 39 percent to 49 percent viewed her very unfavorably. Trump’s scores were even worse. But if you’re wondering why so many people who disliked Trump voted for him anyway, a big reason is that they didn’t like the alternative.
Biden’s ratings are better. Over the past month, in polls taken by the same six organizations, most respondents did not view him unfavorably. His “net” favorability—the percentage of respondents who liked him, minus the percentage who disliked him—was 15 points better than Clinton’s. And his “very unfavorable” rating—the percentage of people who strongly disliked him—was only about 30 percent. That gives him a lot more room to work with.
Among independents—the voters least captive to partisan loyalties and therefore most likely to vote based on feelings about the candidates—the gap is even bigger.