Biden’s big speech didn’t bring any change, nor did rising wages. But these 3 things can be

(Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Biden’s big speech didn’t bring any change, nor did rising wages. But these 3 things can be

Election 2024

David Lauter

March 22, 2024

Two weeks after President Biden’s State of the Union address, it is clear that the speech has not changed the presidential race.

Just as before the speech, polls show that there is a very close battle: Biden is leading

1 one

point from a new YouGov survey for the Economist, which former President Trump leads by

1 one

point in an Ipsos survey for Reuters, the two are linked to the latest data from Morning Consult, and so on.


Trump remains in the lead by small margins in most polls of the swing states that will likely decide the election.

Should Democrats Panic?

No. Speeches rarely move the world, except in movies. State of the Union specifically focuses on

tend to

attract viewers who have already made up their minds. Biden’s energetic performance galvanized Democratic partisans, but the vast majority of swing voters weren’t watching



The biggest concern for Biden may be that his job approval ratings have not fallen, even as rising wages and falling inflation have begun to make Americans less gloomy about the economy.

As political scientists John Sides of Vanderbilt University and Michael Tesler of UC Irvine wrote this week, “at this early point in time, approval ratings actually predict the final outcome better than opinion polls.” Biden’s approval rating has been stuck at around 40% well into the danger zone for much of the past year.

What could change that? The answers fall into three broad categories


Over the next seven months, voters could start to feel better about the country


a larger share of them could start to warm to Biden


or the president could win votes from people who disapprove of him. None of these are guaranteed, but they all remain plausible.

Improving the vision of the US

I’ve written before about the stark discrepancy between voters’ negative views of the economy and the positive picture painted by economic statistics. With unemployment near a 50-year low, inflation down and wages up, pessimism is starting to wane, but remains at levels that puzzle many economists.

The most likely explanation is that even though prices have stopped rising rapidly, daily goods and services, gas, groceries and rent, remain much more expensive than

they were

a few years ago. Average wages have risen faster than prices in recent years

previous past

years, but many families remain in dire straits.

The hope for Democratic strategists is that voters will be negative



about the economy

usually result from a delay in time

and that

the memories of the rapid inflation of 2022 and early 2023 will



after a while.



Indeed, consumer confidence measures have improved in comparison


last year

‘s findings


but although


has not yet led

to warmer voter ratings of Biden.

A similar argument applies to crime: Last year saw

what seems to be

“by far the largest drop in homicides in a single year ever recorded”,



Data analyst Jeff Asher wrote this after the FBI released preliminary crime figures for 2023 this week. (Similar US crime data goes back to 1960.) A few cities, including Washington, DC, and Memphis, Tennessee, bucked the trend, but in most of the country the homicide rate is close to erasing the peak that occurred. during the COVID-19 years.

Overall, violent crime levels have done even better; they have now fallen to levels last seen in the mid-1960s.

And, Y



Much of the public still thinks the US is in the midst of a crime wave.

Some of that has to do with partisanship


and some with media coverage of rare but spectacular shootings on the New York subway, for example. But just like with the economy, the gap between perception and reality is partly accompanied by delays. Continuous improvement could lead to more positive insights.

As Sides and Tesler wrote, a president’s approval ratings typically rise by at least a few points during an election year. That was true for Presidents Nixon, Clinton, and Obama, and it should come as no surprise: Incumbent presidents can typically raise enormous amounts of money

with which

to advertise their achievements.

Improving views on Biden

Biden certainly fits that pattern

in fundraising

. Between his main campaign account and the Democratic National Committee, the Biden team started March with $98 million in the bank, according to financial disclosure reports, compared to $38 million for Trump’s side. Additional committees affiliated with Biden are providing cash of $155 million, campaign says, and they have


launched a major spring advertising effort in swing states.

A key audience is Democrats who plan to vote for a third-party candidate or stay home. Polls show Biden receiving support from about 80% to 85% of Democratic voters, while Trump has support from more than 90% of Republicans. Eliminating that disparity would put Biden in better shape.

Winning the rejecters

Even if some improvements happen, there’s a good chance Biden will

that voters face

historically low approval levels

when he faces voters in November


White House

and campaign

officials profess a lack of concern:



“Historically, preference and vote choice have been correlated,” Biden said


advisor Jennifer O’Malley Dillon

campaign+former government

said in a recent interview with the New Yorker


‘Actually, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.

Democratic aides cite the results of the 2022 midterm elections.


Democratic candidates won a slim majority of voters who said they “somewhat disapproved” of Biden, according to exit polls.

The reason for that is simple


Voters also disapprove of Trump.

That’s why the campaign is likely to focus


heavy on the “double disapprovers” Americans who hate both Biden and Trump.

About 1 in 4 American adults fall into this category, according to a

n analysis by the

Pew Research Center


of data from a survey of 12,693 adults conducted from February 13 to 25. (The share is slightly smaller among adults who actually vote closer to 1 in 5, according to national data from Marquette University in Wisconsin.)

That double

– disapproves

are disproportionately young 41% of Americans aged 18 to 29 view Trump and Biden negatively, compared to 15% of those over 65, Pew found.

These disapprovals are also true

is more common among Latino and Asian Americans than their white or black counterparts.

Another important group among the disapprovers: people who voted for Nikki Haley

during the

Republican primaries. Just over half of voters supported her disapproval of both Trump and Biden, Pew found.

But distaste for Trump is not as intense or widespread as it was in 2020.


University of Suffolk

poll conducted in early March for USA Today

by the University of Suffolk

for example, found that approval of Trump’s performance is now higher during his term than during his term. That’s an example of how nostalgia improves presidential ratings in retrospect, but also of how Trump is currently benefiting from looking back on the relatively good economic times of his first three years as president.

To combat that



are deployingwill deploy

one two-


approach that is already visible in Biden’s campaign. One point involves reminding voters of the chaos of the Trump years,

which culminated

in the attack by his supporters on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

in an attempt to stop Congress from finalizing election results showing he lost.

Republicans respond with attacks on Biden’s age.

The other point is more ideological: On both sides of the aisle, dual disapprovers tend to identify as moderates, polls show.

A major reason why Trump won in 2016 was that voters, on average, viewed him as closer to the political center than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Once in power, Trump of course veered to the right,

lose and he lost

that modest advantage. This time he has tried to win back on at least some issues, such as refusing to say publicly what kind of abortion ban he might support and attacking Florida’s governor. Ron DeSantis on his past support for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

A major effort by Biden’s campaign is aimed at convincing voters that a re-elected Trump would again try to govern from the right


not only on immigration, where Trump has openly called for mass deportations, but also on health care, abortion rights and social security.

With Biden and Trump both so good

It is known that the number of undecided voters may be smaller than ever in 2024, but the classic formulation of American politics still holds true: winning requires capturing the center.


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