If Joe Biden wasn’t the Democratic nominee in 2020, Donald Trump would still be the President of the United States. He was literally the only candidate in the field that could both turn out enough Democrats and still reach the political middle enough to win states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Everyone else, literally everybody else, would lose. That was true then. It might very well be true now.
Uncle Joe’s poll numbers are sagging a lot though right now and no combination of January 6th hearings and gun bills are seeming to fix them. It turns out gas and food prices trump theoretical plans. Until that changes, I doubt the President’s standing changes, even if he has very little control over these things.
What’s interesting though is that while Democrats are probably heading for losses this year, Democrats on the campaign trail are doing better than Joe Biden or even generic Democrats are. Senator Warnock is running even in Georgia, with Stacey Abrams behind just beyond the margin of error, while the President is -16. In Pennsylvania, Democrats lead in early polling for Governor and Senator, while the President is down double digits (I think the poll is flawed). Polling in Nevada and Arizona matches up with these numbers too. Repeatedly, Democrats on the ballot beat the President in the battlegrounds, the opposite of what we saw in 2020.
The popular internet theory, or at least on the Twitters, will be some sort of Bernie/Warren vs. Biden proxy fight, but that is not really grounded in any kind of fact. Yes, there are definitely some leftist voters angry that perhaps President Biden has not enacted the Build Back Better provisions of his platform, or hiked the minimum wage (both of these take acts of Congress), or forgiven massive amounts of student debt (but he has and is), or that he hasn’t signed some massive climate change bill. There are also “resistance” Democrats mad that Trump isn’t in prison yet too. Most Presidents eventually reach a polling point where they poll a bit below their victory number (in his case 51%), because they can’t deliver everything. Biden is well below that though, and there is little evidence in polling or election results so far in 2022 that this is being driven by left-activist driven anger. Biden’s low approval seems to mostly be driven by malaise within his own political base- rank and file Democratic voters, the less ideological types. What are they unhappy about? One would guess that it’s the same as the general population- high gas prices, inflation, and general kitchen table anxiety. If this was a left-wing revolt, Democrats like Jim Clyburn, Shontel Brown, and Dina Titus would have been defeated by their far-left challengers. They weren’t.
This suggests two fairly interesting potential outcomes in the political future. First off, it suggests that while Democrats are likely to lose the House (the body where more members are viewed “generically” by the public), 2022 may not be an absolute wipeout in the Senate or in House races where members have a unique brand. Number two, it suggests that Biden would probably still defeat a primary challenge from his left, and could even be re-elected if the economy improves. While I give you this positive news, I’ll also give you the inverse news too. The Democratic electorate is clearly more divided and willing to turn against Democrats they don’t live than the Republican electorate is.
All of this, for what it’s worth.