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The Difference Between a Biden Loss and a Trump Win
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The Difference Between a Biden Loss and a Trump Win

How to read the latest polling on key swing states.

President Joe Biden looks out at the crowd while speaking at Stupak Community Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 19, 2024. (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

A good friend and longtime political consultant gave me the best framing I’ve heard for the 2024 presidential election: “I don’t think Trump can win … but Biden could lose.”

And with the most recent round of swing state polling, we’ve got that in spades. The Wall Street Journal’s pollsters matched up President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in the seven key swing states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia. 

The headline, “Trump Leads Biden in Six of Seven Swing States,” is accurate, but it would have been more useful to say that Biden trails Trump.

Here’s why: 

Trump is ahead in each of those swing states but Wisconsin, where he and Biden are tied. But it is how Trump is doing it that interests me. In swing state polls, the former president has already nearly equaled his performance in the 2020 general election. Trump lost every one of these states except for North Carolina, which was achingly close for Democrats. But he’s basically starting right where he left off.

What about the incumbent? Woof.

Here’s where it’s more useful not to use one poll, but to turn to averages. In the Decision Desk HQ averages for the seven states, Trump is underperforming his 2020 vote share by 1 point. Biden is lagging by 5.9 ponts.

Take Nevada, where Trump enjoys a 3.8-point lead in the average: 45.9 percent to Biden’s 42.1 percent. Biden won there in 2020 by 2.4 points, 50.1 percent to Trump’s 47.7 percent. Trump is lagging his past performance by a not insignificant 1.8 points, but Biden is sucking wind with an 8-point underperformance.

This suggests not that Trump is taking votes from Biden, but that Biden’s 2020 supporters haven’t returned to him. 

The trend holds across the swing states, but the Michigan average is the purest version. Trump currently leads by 4.5 points, 47.2 points to 42.7 points. In 2020, Biden won by 2.3 points, 50 .6 points to Trump’s 47.8 points. Trump is only off his 2020 game by a little more than half a point, while Biden is lagging himself by almost 8 points.

It’s the same story in Georgia: Trump ahead by 3.8 points and hitting his 2020 performance within a tenth of a point, Biden 4 points behind his own pace. 

In Arizona, Trump leads by 4.2 points, but lags his 2020 result by 3.9 points while Biden is 8.4 points in arrears.

North Carolina is much the same: Trump leads by 5.1 points, and is only 1.1 points off of his 2020 showing while Biden is underperforming by 4.9 points.

The same goes for Wisconsin: Trump up 1.5 points and actually 3.1 points ahead of his 2020 performance while Biden is 5.3 points worse off than 2020.

And what about the mother of all swing states, Pennsylvania? Biden leads by .6 points in the average with 46.5 percent support compared to 45.9 percent for Trump. It’s his only lead in any of the averages we’ve explored. 

Guess why.

Trump is 2.8 points behind his own 2020 performance while Biden misses the mark by 3.4 points. Biden’s best state is also his least bad state. It may sound tautological, but it points to a key dynamic under the surface of this election.

In those Wall Street Journal surveys, pollsters asked respondents to rate the strength of the economy in their state and in the nation. No surprise that voters had very unhappy things to say about things nationally, but with some important differences.

The two states with the lowest ratings for “not so good/poor” on the national economy were, you guessed it, Biden’s two best states in the poll: Wisconsin (57 percent) and Pennsylvania (60 percent). 

Some of this is partisanship, to be sure. If you’re inclined to pick Biden, you’re inclined to give him credit on the economy. But not all of it. We can safely assume that there is a little less economic pessimism in those states than the other five. 

This is where the weirdness of a repeat election comes in. If Trump were winning in these states, we’d see him overperforming his 2020 numbers as he took votes away from Biden. But Trump, to an uncanny degree, has settled right back into his old groove. 

But what we see instead is Biden losing, dramatically underperforming his priors but without the corresponding boost for Trump. These missing Biden voters are floating. 

What the economic numbers in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania suggest to us is that as voter sentiment about the economy continues to improve, Biden may bring a good chunk of those folks back into the fold. 

It’s tempting to focus on the weaknesses in both candidates’ bases, but as these swing state averages show, Biden’s hopes rest mostly on whether the next few months bring rising hopes about the economy or deepening pessimism. 

Trump, who has always had a high floor but a low ceiling, looks almost topped out to me. Biden could lose if those swing state voters don’t feel the lift, but if they do, the incumbent is the one with the most room to grow.


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 40.4%
Average disapproval: 57.2%
Net score: -16.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.6 points

Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.8 points

[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% approve-53% disapprove; Marquette: 40% approve-60% disapprove; Fox News: 41% approve-58% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 37% approve-59% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-56% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: ‘THE PRIDE OF AUGUSTA’

Garden & Gun: “As they deal cards, the men talk about their golf games and trade good-natured jabs. They have known one another for more than sixty years, gave one another their nicknames. Jim ‘Big Boy’ Dent. Robert ‘Cigarette’ Jones. Tommy ‘Burnt Biscuits’ Bennett. Ike ‘Stabber’ Choice. As long as ailments don’t keep them confined to the house, they can be found here a couple of days a week, recalling the days when they were part of Augusta National Golf Club’s all-Black caddie corps. … From the competition’s inception in 1934, the caddies could be a golfer’s secret weapon coming around Amen Corner. … These men were talented prognosticators who turned a racist policy, rooted in subjugation, into a livelihood and a source of esteem. … As their numbers dwindle—of the seventy-six caddies enlisted in 1982, only twenty or so are still living—they’re at long last beginning to be honored as what many of yesteryear’s golfers always knew them to be: the Pride of Augusta. An elite group of men who changed the game forever.”


NO LABELS, NO CANDIDATE

Wall Street Journal: “No Labels, the centrist group which has sought to field a third-party presidential bid, is abandoning efforts to create a “unity ticket” aiming to win the White House. … ‘No Labels is ending our effort to put forth a Unity ticket in the 2024 presidential election,’ Nancy Jacobson, No Labels’ founder and CEO, said in a statement. … Jacobson told allies this week that the group would end its effort because it hasn’t been able to recruit a credible ticket that could win the election. … [Those] who have ruled out running on the ticket include Republicans such as former presidential candidate Nikki Haley, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is seeking a Senate seat, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. … Even without No Labels, the November ballot will be crowded.” 

TRUMP, RNC PULL $65 MILLION IN MARCH

Axios: “The Republican National Committee (RNC) and former President Trump brought in a combined $65.6 million in March and ended the month with over $93.1 million cash on hand. … The cash on hand total is more than double what Trump and the RNC ended February with ($44.8 million), as they seek to close the fundraising gap with President Biden. … The Biden campaign and DNC ended February with $97.5 million on hand. The DNC [has] not yet announced their March fundraising numbers. … The Biden campaign has taunted Trump over the cash deficit, which has been fueled in part by the former president’s mountain of legal troubles. Trump is scheduled to host a fundraiser on Saturday at Mar-a-Lago, where he is hoping to raise at least $33 million.”

While making amends with key 2016 megadonors: New York Times: “Donald J. Trump, facing a cash crunch that puts him at a severe disadvantage to President Biden, dined on Thursday night with a small group of donors including the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. … Mr. Trump’s dinner companions also included the entrepreneur Omeed Malik, the cosmetics firm founder Trish McEvoy and the real estate management billionaire Richard Kurtz. … The Mercers were a critical source of support behind Mr. Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election. The family was conspicuously quiet during Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election effort. … But both Robert and Rebekah Mercer have lent their names for an invitation to a high-dollar fund-raiser on April 6, along with Mr. Malik. And their appearance with Mr. Trump at the dinner is additional evidence of a rekindled relationship.” 

Three months to convention, veepstakes heat up: Politico: “Susie Wiles, a top adviser to Trump, is leading a close-to-the-vest process of narrowing a list of around a dozen lawmakers and other Republican personalities under consideration. … While who is up or down seemingly changes by the minute, the list has included everyone from Tim Scott and Kristi Noem to Byron Donalds, Elise Stefanik, Tulsi Gabbard and J.D. Vance, whom Trump has called a ‘fighter.’ … During one private meeting several weeks ago in Palm Beach, Florida, he went down the list of possible running mates with visitors, including one member of Congress, offering commentary on each. He spoke highly of Stefanik and Tulsi Gabbard. … Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign has turned the running mate selection process into a vehicle for their fundraising emails.” 

Trump plan to snag lone Nebraska electoral vote hits roadblock: CBS News: “A lone electoral vote in Nebraska could have a decisive impact on the 2024 presidential election. And prominent Republicans have attempted to make it more likely that the vote could be added to the GOP column in November. … But that effort was dealt a big blow by Nebraska lawmakers Wednesday when they voted overwhelmingly to keep an amendment to the state’s election law from being attached to an unrelated bill. … Nebraska’s most closely watched electoral vote typically comes from an area that includes the major metro city of Omaha and is far more competitive than the rest of the state. The district’s electoral vote has swung back and forth in recent cycles. Republican Donald Trump won the district’s electoral vote in 2016, but he lost it to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.”

Biden targets Haley voters in new swing-state ad campaign: Axios: “President Biden’s most aggressive push yet to court Republican Nikki Haley’s primary voters has launched in Arizona and seven other swing states with a new digital ad. … Haley won nearly 18% of the Arizona vote in last month’s Republican presidential preference election, even though she had suspended her campaign halfway through early voting. Trump underperformed in large swaths of East Valley that typically vote heavily Republican. … Biden’s 30-second ad, called ‘Save America. Join Us,’ includes a montage of Trump mocking his former UN ambassador as ‘crazy,’ ‘very angry,’ and a ‘bird brain.’ … The ad will run for three weeks and will target specific ZIP codes where election data indicate Haley did particularly well against Trump.” 

Dems rethink registration strategy: Washington Post: “A confidential memo circulated among top Democratic donors has sparked a furious debate in Democratic circles about whether to narrow the focus of voter registration efforts to avoid signing up likely Republicans. … [Data scientist Aaron Strauss] warned that efforts to gain Democratic votes among younger and non-Black people of color were often expensive — costing more than $1,200 per net vote in 2020. … At the root of the conflict is a shift in the political preferences of nonregistered voters. Gallup found in 2016 that about 51 percent of those not registered to vote identify as Democrats or leaned Democratic. But Gallup surveys in 2023 and 2024 have found the Democratic share of the nonregistered population has fallen to 42 percent, while the Republican share has risen to 40 percent.”

ABORTION AMENDMENT QUALIFIES FOR FLORIDA BALLOT

AP: “The Florida Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the state to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. … But under a separate 4-3 ruling, the court allowed a ballot measure to go to voters that would enshrine abortion rights in Florida’s constitution. The court’s decisions could be pivotal in the presidential race and congressional contests this year by driving abortion-rights supporters to the polls. [Since 2022], voters in every state with an abortion-related ballot measure have favored the side backed by abortion rights supporters. … The proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot says ‘no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.’” 

Local Dems caution Biden against politicizing effort: Politico: “Florida Democrats, fearing politicization will sink a November ballot measure protecting abortion, are warning President Joe Biden’s campaign not to alienate Republicans. Already, the Biden campaign declared Florida ‘winnable,’ launched digital ads in Florida showing Donald Trump bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade and held a call with reporters to put the former president on the spot over the issue. All of it could push away GOP voters crucial to passing the initiative to protect abortion. … Some Democrats acknowledge they have to delicately balance the issue, not just for electoral survival but to keep abortion legal. … Though the Biden campaign is playing up Florida this week, the extent of its investment in the state remains murky. Part of the strategy may be to only talk about Florida frequently enough to force the lesser-funded Trump campaign to spend in the state.”

BRIEFLY

Build your own election with FiveThirtyEight’s new Swing-O-Matic tool—FiveThirtyEight

New Jersey court sides against county line system—Politico

Party switch hands Nebraska GOP legislative supermajority—Omaha World-Herald

WITHIN EARSHOT: PUTS THE ‘AMERICA FIRST’ IN INTERNATIONAL

“As millions of domestic and international travelers fly through the airport, there is no better symbol of freedom, prosperity, and strength than hearing ‘Welcome to Trump International Airport’ as they land on American soil.”—Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler explains his sponsorship of a bill that would rename Dulles International Airport to Donald J. Trump International Airport


MAILBAG

“I have long been an admirer of yours, for many reasons, and was delighted to find out you would have the new Sunday program on NewsNation. Since coming on air, I have recorded and watched each week’s program. And I must say I’ve been happy with the format and product since inception, with one giant exception. Please, please get speech therapy help in at least drastically reducing, if not eliminating, your floodtide of ‘uh’ from your speaking. The habit is extraordinarily disconcerting, even annoying, and diminishes the enjoyment of listening. Being a Dispatch subscriber since its start, and a new frequent watcher of NewsNation, I’ve actually recruited several folks to both. But, I must honestly say some, including myself, have at least thought of not watching the Sunday program because of the ‘uh’ issue. I hope this is received by you in the spirit intended.”—Bill McCleary, Shenandoah, Texas

Mr. McCleary,

Long have I struggled with the bane about which you write: The vocalized pause. Coaches in my scholastic career in competitive oratory, directors of plays, and television and radio producers all have been joined to your cause. Even my own father, who was quite a great speechmaker himself, enlisted early in the ranks of the anti-uh army. Sadly, all have failed to banish the habit. 

I have not considered, as you suggest, retaining a professional speech therapist. I don’t think I will probably go that far, but it is surely a bad habit. It is important to me to be careful and precise in the things that I am saying, but the vocalized pause is an unfortunate, unconscious crutch I use to buy time to put my thoughts in order. So I will take your suggestion in the spirit you suggest and try to, uh, de-vocalize my pauses. It’s not as bad as the most awful of the vocalized pauses, “like,” but certainly would be better minimized.

Fortunately, there are some who have succeeded despite sharing this same affliction.

Thanks for reading and for watching.

All best,

c


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the incisive Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: BIG, IF TRUE 

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tapped California attorney Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for vice president during an event in Oakland, California, on March 26, 2024. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tapped California attorney Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for vice president during an event in Oakland, California, on March 26, 2024. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

This week’s contestants had a ball with this photo of independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. giving off serious Jim Ignatowski energy at a campaign event. Unfortunately, many excellent entries lined up over the same targets, but I surely appreciated every laugh. Our winner, though, didn’t play off of Kennedy’s politics, but used his facial expression to perfect effect: 

“During a wretched election year, hope at last! RFK Jr. is first to spot The Sweet Meteor of Death.”—Ben Lewis, Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Winner, No Namath Division:

“The Jets? Aaron Rodgers turned me down to play for the Jets?”—Allan Hardcastle, Lincoln, California

Winner, Carry a Torch Division:

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. looks up as the Democratic Party bursts into flames.”—Mark Swedberg, Natal, Brazil

Winner, Alleged Astronauts Division:

“Presidential Candidate RFK Jr. Marvels at ‘Hollywood CGI’ as He Looks at ‘So-Called Moon’ during Campaign Stop”—Craig Berry, Frankfort, Illinois

Winner, Whoa! Division:

“Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I see things and ask, ‘What the heck?’”—Bob Bell, Roseville, California


DEMAND-SIDE ECONOMICS 

The Alliance [Ohio] Review: “Police in northeast Ohio are asking the public for help locating a Burger King customer caught on camera pointing a gun at a drive-thru employee after the worker tried to give the man a discount. The incident took place in a Cleveland suburb about 9 a.m. on Easter, The Willowick Police Department reported. No injuries were reported in the crime reported to the department by the Burger King employee. The employee, Howard Vernon, told WOIO-TV he was taking the customer’s order—two sausage, egg and cheese croissants, a sausage biscuit, and hash browns —which totaled about $8. ‘He was like, ‘My order can’t be right, it should be like $11,’ and I’m like trying to explain to him that we had a promotion going on, and like it’s cheaper, and he started cussing and getting all loud, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know why you want to pay more money,’’ Vernon told the outlet.”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.