NEWS Poll: Biden has a lead over Democratic primary challengers, but faces headwinds overall5 min read
President Joe Biden’s bid for a second term begins with a wide advantage over his declared opponents for the Democratic nomination, but he faces headwinds among the overall public from declining favorability and a widespread view that his reelection would be more negative than positive for the country, according to a new NEWS poll conducted by SSRS.
Just a third of Americans say that Biden winning in 2024 would be a step forward or a triumph for the country (33%). At the same time, the survey finds a decline in favorable views of Biden over the past six months, from 42% in December to 35% now. And results from the same poll released earlier this week showed Biden’s approval rating for handling the presidency at 40%, among the lowest for any first-term president since Dwight Eisenhower at this point in their term.
Within his own party, 60% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they back Biden for the top of next year’s Democratic ticket, 20% favor activist and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and 8% back author Marianne Williamson. Another 8% say they would support an unnamed “someone else.”
Biden’s primary supporters are largely locked in: 58% say they would definitely support him and 42% say that they could change their minds. In contrast, those backing other candidates are far from committed, with just 19% in that group saying they definitely will support their first-choice candidate and 81% saying that they could change their minds.
The poll suggests that Biden would likely win the support of the vast majority of Democratic-aligned voters in 2024. Just 14% in that group say they wouldn’t back him in the primary. And only 7% say they definitely would not support him in November 2024 should he win the party’s nod.
But the results signal that Biden could face a challenge keeping Democratic-aligned White non-college voters in his camp in next year’s general election: 16% of these voters say they definitely won’t support Biden in November 2024, compared with 1% of White Democratic-aligned voters with college degrees and 5% of Democratic-aligned voters of color.
Biden’s weak spots in the race for the nomination are concentrated among independents who lean Democratic (40% back Biden for the nod, compared with 67% among self-identified Democrats) and younger voters (49% of those younger than 45 say they back Biden compared with 68% among those age 45 or older).
Majorities of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they would at least consider backing either Kennedy (64% support him or would consider him) or Williamson (53% back her or would consider her), but when asked to explain the main reasons they would consider each of them, few seem deeply tied to either candidate.
Among those who would consider Kennedy, 20% cite his connections to the Kennedy family as the main reason. One said, “I liked his dad (RFK) and his uncle (JFK) a lot. I would hope he has a similar mindset.” Many suggested they are merely open to learning more: 17% say they just don’t know enough about him to rule him out and 10% that they are open-minded and would consider any candidate. One respondent explained they would consider him, “Because a reasonable person considers things before making choices. It has nothing to do with RFK himself, just that I wouldn’t automatically say ‘no’ without consideration first.” Some say they’d back any Democrat (10%) or anyone who is not Trump (5%). About 1 in 8 (12%) say they would consider him because they support his views or policies and 4% mention his views specifically on environmental issues.
Nearly 3 in 10 who say they would consider Williamson say they don’t know enough about her (28%), 16% say they’d consider her because she’s a Democrat, 8% that they’d consider any candidate or are open-minded, and 9% say that they see her as an alternative to Biden. One said, “She is better than Joe Biden. I haven’t heard of her though.” Another 10% point to the desire for a female candidate, and 12% say they support her views or policies. “She may not have a great political resume but she cares about important issues,” said one respondent.
Most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters do think it is likely that Biden will become the party’s candidate, though, with 55% saying that it is extremely or very likely that Biden will win the nomination, 28% that it’s somewhat likely, 11% not too likely and just 5% that it’s not at all likely.
Convincing the overall public that he deserves a second term could prove a challenge. Two-thirds (66%) of all Americans say a Biden victory would either be a setback or a disaster for the country. The leading contender for the Republican nomination, former president Donald Trump, fares slightly better (43% say a Trump win would be a triumph or a step forward, 56% a disaster or a setback), though the two are about even in the share who say each of them winning would be a disaster (44% say so about Trump, while 41% say the same about Biden). And among independents, 45% say a Trump win would be a disaster while 35% say a Biden win would be.
The broader negativity toward Biden stems from a more pessimistic assessment among his own partisans than Trump faces, while strong opposition across the aisle is about even for both of them. More than 8 in 10 Democrats say a Trump win would be a disaster (82%) while a near-identical share of Republicans say a Biden win would be a disaster (83%). But Republicans are more likely to call a Trump win a triumph or a step forward (85%) than Democrats are to say the same about Biden (73%).
The poll finds that one advantage Biden held over Trump in their first matchup in 2020 – a stronger favorability rating – may have evaporated. Among all Americans, 35% say they have a favorable view of Biden and 57% an unfavorable one, numbers near identical to Trump’s. Positive views of Biden stood at 42% as recently as December, and among independents over that time, his favorability has dipped from 35% to 26%.
Views of Biden are sharply more negative than are views of each of the three living Democratic past presidents. Barack Obama is the most positively viewed of all the living presidents tested in the poll, 57% hold a favorable view, 35% an unfavorable one. Impressions of 98-year-old Jimmy Carter, who recently entered hospice care, break positive, 43% favorable to 21% unfavorable, with 36% unsure or unable to rate him. And the public divides over Bill Clinton, with 41% expressing a favorable view and 42% an unfavorable one.
The NEWS Poll was conducted by SSRS from May 17-20 among a random national sample of 1,227 adults drawn from a probability-based panel, including 432 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results among the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 points; among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, the margin of sampling error is 6.2 points.