A rather shocking CBS/YouGov poll shows 91-count felony defendant Donald Trump leading President Biden by a 50-49% margin. The fact that Trump has been indicted in multiple jurisdictions, including crimes related to harming the national security of the United States seems to be less of a concern to voters than the fact that Joe Biden is old. And while it is certainly true that Joe Biden is old, the candidate with the clearest cognitive difficulties is Donald Trump. So why is it faced with such an obvious, stark choice that the American public is split down the middle?
The fact is that political polling in this country is broken. Pollsters still rely largely on phone calls to conduct polls. As technology has moved on that method of polling has become less and less reliable. And even when polling methods were much better a poll taken a full year prior to an election is hardly worth
the paper it’s printed on the bandwidth used to transmit it. As the CBS article notes, in past polls at this time showed Bob Dole beating Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at risk of losing. We all know how those elections turned out.
What this poll really measures is less about the horse race of the election and more about political partisanship. The people who are answering pollster phone calls a year prior to the election are more likely than not the most partisan Americans. The “normal” voter is not paying attention except in the most general terms. And it would not be shocking at all if Trump has an edge—even a significant edge—in terms of partisan intensity. But as 2020 showed us, elections are not won by riling up the most partisan MAGA base. And even among the most tuned-in members of the electorate, the people crazy enough to answer a pollster’s phone calls, the vote is split evenly.
Now, if this were September 2024 rather than September 2023 that would be causing all sorts of alarm bells to ring in the Biden camp. But over the next year just about anything could happen. And the normal voter is just not paying attention, and it’s the normal voter that decides elections in this country. That’s why those very early polls showing Bob Dole up and Barack Obama down ended up not mattering at all. Plus there are a whole flock of black swans in the 2024 cycle. We already saw how suburban women punished the GOP for the Dobbs case in 2022, and that anger is not going away. We already saw how toxic Trump was with ordinary voters, especially moderate suburbanite voters, and that has not gone away either.
The real fear the Democrats should have is that Trump will motivate his base, which is only in the low 40% range of the electorate, but Democrats will decide to stay home. That would be a much bigger problem for the Democrats in a normal election year against a normal GOP candidate. But Biden isn’t going to be running against a normal GOP candidate, he’s going to be running against Donald Trump. And Trump motivates the Democratic base too.
The polls just do not matter right now except for generating clicks. What it does tell us is that among the most politically active Americans the race is evenly split. What happens when the rest of the country tunes in will decide how the 2024 race proceeds.