New York Times tries to spin Biden's lousy polling numbers

I find it fascinating that the New York Times, having just conducted a poll that finds President Biden trailing Donald Trump in a 2024 rematch again, chooses to frame the poll results as a sign that the electorate is frustrated with Biden’s stance on Israel and the Palestinians.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the Times’ story about their poll:

Voters broadly disapprove of the way President Biden is handling the bloody strife between Israelis and Palestinians, a New York Times/Siena College poll has found, with younger Americans far more critical than older voters of both Israel’s conduct and of the administration’s response to the war in Gaza.

Voters are also sending decidedly mixed signals about the direction U.S. policy-making should take as the war in Gaza grinds into its third month, with Israelis still reeling from the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza and the Biden administration trying to pressure Israel to scale back its military campaign. Nearly as many Americans want Israel to continue its military campaign as want it to stop now to avoid further civilian casualties.

That split appears to leave the president with few politically palatable options.

Allow me to toss out a different interpretation: U.S. policy regarding the Israeli war against Hamas plays an extremely minor role in voters’ frustration with Biden. There are two giant, far-reaching domestic issues that are sucking chest wounds for this administration. The first is inflation and the high cost of living, and the second is the continuing waves of migrants at the southern border — both those caught and uncaught. If Biden were to fix or make serious progress on those two issues between now and November 2024, he is likely to beat Donald Trump in the likely rematch. If Biden does not make serious progress on those two issues, he is extremely likely to lose.

If the Israeli war against Hamas ended tomorrow, Biden’s numbers would still be lousy. In fact, one of the ways we know this is from the Times’ own poll, which offered respondents an open-ended question: “What do you think is the MOST important problem facing the country today?” Respondents were not given a list of options; they answered with the first problem that came to mind. Take a moment to think about how you would answer that question if the Times pollster called up and asked you.

Guess how many people answered, “The Middle East/Israel/Palestinians”?

One percent.

There isn’t even much evidence that this is a big deal among younger voters. Among voters ages 18 to 29, just 3 percent answered that the most important problem facing the country was “the Middle East/Israel/Palestinians.” The Times poll had 179 respondents in the demographic from 18 to 29, so that means about five or six people in the entire poll were considered young voters and prioritized the Middle East as the most important problem facing the country.

Compare that to the 26 percent of self-identified Hispanics who answered, “the economy.” Or the 19 percent of those in the age groups from 18 to 29 and 30 to 44 who answered “inflation/cost of living.” Or the 15 percent of those age 65 and older who answered, “immigration.”

The entire article is framed as Biden facing a crisis among young voters who are abandoning him, but deep in the article, in the 32nd paragraph, the Times concedes that many of those who were old enough to vote last cycle didn’t vote:

It is unclear how much the criticism of Mr. Biden will translate into votes for Mr. Trump, or anyone else, given the admitted disaffection of young voters sympathetic with the Palestinians. Voters under 45 who say they disapprove of the president’s policies on Gaza are also more likely than young voters who approve of his policies to concede that they did not vote in 2020. Such youthful critics are picking Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden, by 16 percentage points, but they may not vote.

The breakdown by age is revealing. Among the respondents ages 18 to 29, 36 percent said they did not vote in 2020, and among those ages 30 to 44, 31 percent said they did not vote in 2020. By comparison, just 19 percent of those ages 45 to 64 didn’t vote last cycle, and just 10 percent of those ages 65 and older said they didn’t vote last cycle. Why should the Biden administration alter its policies to win over those who are less likely to vote, and risk alienating those who are more likely to vote?

Biden is not trailing Trump because young people are upset with the president’s stance on Israel. This is the answer that certain people at the New York Times want to be true, but not the answer that is true.

Overall, 20 percent of respondents answered that the economy (including jobs and the stock market) was the biggest problem facing the country, and another 14 percent answered, “inflation and the cost of living.” Ten percent said immigration.

Note that less than 1 percent volunteered abortion, 2 percent answered “gun policies,” 2 percent answered “climate change,” and 1 percent answered “racism or racial issues.” This doesn’t mean that no voters care about these issues, only that an exceptionally small slice of the electorate deems them the most important issue.

I am desperately trying not to use the Bill Clinton/James Carville-era columnist cliché, “It’s the economy, stupid,” but it is indeed the economy, with immigration and the border thrown in. Foreign policy is traditionally a second-tier or lower voter concern unless the country is at war or has suffered a serious terrorist attack. In the weeks ahead, you’re going to hear fierce debates about aiding Ukraine (less than 1 percent mentioned that as their top issue) and China (less than 1 percent). It is not likely that either Biden or Trump (or anyone else) will lose the election based upon their foreign-policy views. (I’m not telling you how things ought to be, I’m telling you how things are.)

In fact, one of the more intriguing sets of answers came from those who expressed concepts or values as opposed to particular policy issues as the most important issue. Seven percent answered “polarization or division,” 7 percent answered “the state of democracy/corruption,” and 6 percent answered “equality or inequality.” (That adds up to 20 percent!) The vibe of America is gloomy. We’ve lost confidence in our ability to solve difficult problems, find common ground, and get things done that benefit everyone.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Tyler Pager offered a scoop about how Biden was reacting to his increasingly dismal polling numbers:

After pardoning a pair of turkeys, an annual White House tradition, Biden delivered some stern words for the small group assembled: His poll numbers were unacceptably low and he wanted to know what his team and his campaign were doing about it. He complained that his economic message had done little to move the ball, even as the economy was growing and unemployment was falling, according to people familiar with his comments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation.

“He wanted to know what his team and his campaign were doing about it.” Hey, Mr. President, what are you going to do about it? No one has greater control over what the American people think about their president than the president himself. There’s something hilarious and sad about Biden calling his staff into a room and berating them for his own bad job-approval numbers. It indicates that Biden still chooses to believe that he’s doing a terrific job, and those stubborn, unreasonable American people just won’t give him any credit. This is borderline delusional; at minimum, Biden refuses to recognize that the public might have legitimate gripes with the state of the country and the current quality of their lives.

Buying a home or car right now is “completely unaffordable for the typical American household because you’re mixing the higher borrowing costs with the high prices,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

He estimates that the typical American household would need to use 42 weeks of income to buy a new car, as of August, up from 33 weeks three years ago. The National Association of Realtors calculates that the typical American family can’t afford to buy a median-priced home.

Wait, it gets worse. This morning, Axios reports, “Senior aides and First Lady Jill Biden push him to rest more and be vigilant about his health going into 2024.”

I’ve written many times about how the 81-year-old Biden’s schedule is unusually light for a president: public events almost always between late morning and midafternoon, rare evening or weekend events, no public events for a day or two after an overseas trip. 

The president skipped COP27, hasn’t traveled to Africa yet, and skipped summit dinners at G20 and NATO. Biden also rarely does press conferences and television interviews; he hasn’t done a town hall in ages. If Biden is already doing too much and needs to “rest more,” how will he govern the country and campaign at the same time next year? If anything, Biden isn’t doing enough!

May I close with a football metaphor? Trust me, this one fits.

In 2021 and 2022, the New York Jets had two disappointing seasons behind a new young quarterback, Zach Wilson. By the end of the 2022 season, it was abundantly clear that either Wilson was never going to be a good NFL quarterback, or that he needed more coaching and time to grow and develop his skills. The Jets traded for future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers, who was approaching age 40. You didn’t have to be clairvoyant to recognize that Rodgers, at his age, was at risk of injury during the 2023 season. Most NFL quarterbacks get banged up and miss some time during the course of a 17-game season. Many expected the Jets to sign some other veteran to back up Rodgers, and to keep Wilson on the bench.

But the Jets didn’t do that — and as you probably heard, Rodgers tore his Achilles on the fourth play of the season. The Jets were stuck with Wilson, and while he’s had a good game or two, he’s generally played lousy, fumbled a lot, and the offense has struggled to score points. Yes, the team has more problems than just Wilson, but a quarterback who turns the ball over and can’t get the team to score touchdowns is a major weakness to overcome.

One of the reasons that it’s excruciating to be a Jets fan is that everyone could see the risk the team was taking by putting all their eggs in the basket of Rodgers’s health, and in Wilson’s ability to step in and perform well if needed.

One of the reasons that it’s excruciating to be a Democrat is that everyone could see the risk the party was taking by putting all their eggs in the basket of Biden’s health, and in Kamala Harris’s ability to step in and perform well if needed.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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