The White House and the Biden campaign are working to tamp down Democratic anxieties over the latest set of polling showing President Biden trailing former President Trump in several key swing states.
Biden allies and campaign officials largely shrugged off the New York Times/Siena College poll released Sunday, noting it was a full year away from when voters will cast their ballots. And they noted then-President Barack Obama faced a similarly dire outlook in 2011, when he was seeking reelection.
While some current and former Biden aides acknowledged the latest poll painted an unflattering picture, they dismissed the idea that the sky is falling on the president’s chances and pushed back hard against the suggestion that he should consider stepping aside as the party’s presumptive nominee.
“Two things can be true: One, the polls are concerning, yes. It’s hard to say the sky is red when it’s blue, right? It’s a bad poll. But polls are a report card … for this moment in time. The grade you get today does not mean it’s the grade you’re going to get next week or next year,” Michael LaRosa, a former aide to first lady Jill Biden, said on CNN.
The poll found Biden trailing Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, in five out of six battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania — while leading Trump in Wisconsin. Biden carried all six states in 2020, and they will likely determine the winner of the 2024 election.
More voters trusted Trump on the economy and foreign policy, the poll found, and it showed Biden losing support among young voters and Black voters, two key demographics that helped propel him to the White House in 2020.
The New York Times poll followed months of polls that have found voters are concerned about Biden’s age, that they don’t approve of his handling of the economy and that his approval ratings remain mired around 40 percent.
But Biden aides have repeatedly dismissed the fixation on polling, arguing it was not predictive of Biden’s success in 2020 and that it’s too soon to be predictive of his fate in 2024.
“Predictions more than a year out tend to look a little different a year later. Don’t take our word for it: Gallup predicted an eight-point loss for President Obama only for him to win handily a year later. Or a year out from the 2022 midterms, when every major outlet similarly predicted a grim forecast for President Biden,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said.
He stressed that the campaign isn’t worried about a poll a year out, citing the better-than-expected midterm results Democrats had in 2022 and the so-called MAGA Republicans on the other side of the aisle.
“Coming off those historic midterms, President Biden’s campaign is hard at work reaching and mobilizing our diverse, winning coalition of voters one year out on the choice between our winning, popular agenda and MAGA Republicans’ unpopular extremism. We’ll win in 2024 by putting our heads down and doing the work, not by fretting about a poll,” Munoz said.
But the Biden campaign is well aware that the 2024 race won’t be easily won.
In a memo released Thursday, Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said her team feels “well-prepared to defeat whoever emerges from the extreme MAGA Republicans’ primary field,” but “this will be a very close general election.”
Similarly, Democratic strategists say it’s not time to panic yet but acknowledged that the polling is troubling.
“It’s concerning, but we have time to change the dynamics. Should we be panicked? No, but I subscribe to the notion that there are only two ways to run for office: unopposed or scared,” said Ivan Zapien, a former official for the Democratic National Committee.
David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama, argued Biden should weigh whether it is in his best interest or the country’s to run in 2024.
He made waves Sunday with a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, suggesting that Biden drop out of the race.
“Just do a check and say, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’” Axelrod told CNN on Monday. “’Is this the best path?’ I suspect that he will say yes, but time is fleeting here, and this is probably the last moment for him to do that check, and it’s probably good if he does.”
Longtime conservative commentator and vocal never-Trumper Bill Kristol on Sunday also suggested Biden “pass the torch” and not run again.
“President Biden has served our country well. I’m confident he’ll do so for the next year. But it’s time for an act of personal sacrifice and public spirit. It’s time to pass the torch to the next generation,” he said on X. “It’s time for Biden to announce he won’t run in 2024.”
Many Biden allies and Democrats are leaning into the reality that other former presidents, including Barack Obama, have faced similar polling deficits a year out from reelection. In 2011, Obama’s approval rating was around 40 percent, and surveys showed him trailing in a hypothetical 2012 match-up.
Ammar Moussa, a Biden campaign spokesperson, shared screenshots of several headlines from 2011 in a post on X, including one that questioned if Obama was “toast.”
And Biden aides consistently point out that polls underestimated Biden’s support in the 2020 election cycle and in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats staved off a predicted “red wave” to hold the Senate and lose fewer seats than expected in the House.
“Biden’s negatives are fully baked into the cake, but his positives are not, and neither are the extraordinary negatives of having Trump as president again. No president running for reelection in modern history has had a stronger record of accomplishment than Biden,” said Cristóbal Alex, a former Biden White House official who worked on the 2020 campaign.
Still, the parallels between Biden in 2023 and Obama in 2011 have their limits.
While Trump is a great motivator for Democrats, he would also drive Republican turnout in 2024.
And Axelrod noted that Biden’s age is a major difference. The president will be 81 when voters go to the polls in 2024, while Obama was 50 at the time of the 2012 election.
“The issue for him is not political, it’s actuarial,” Axelrod said. “You can see that in this poll, and there’s just a lot of concern about the age issue, and that is something I think he needs to ponder.”
Some Biden allies took issue with Axelrod’s comments in particular.
“Man who called Biden ‘Mr Magoo’ in Aug 2019 is still at it,” Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, wrote on X.