Dueling Weaknesses

Dueling Weaknesses

In 2016, when The New York Times’s pollsters asked Americans whether they planned to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, more than 10 percent said they would not support either one. They said that they would instead vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all.

Four years later, the situation was different. Joe Biden was a more popular nominee than Clinton had been, while some of Trump’s skeptics had come around to supporting him. Less than 5 percent of voters told pollsters that they didn’t plan to vote for either major party nominee.

This morning, The Times is releasing its first poll of the 2022 midterm campaign. And one of the main messages is that Americans again seem to be as dissatisfied with the leading candidates as they were in 2016. “This felt like a poll from 2016, not from 2020,” Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, told me.

The poll included a question about whether people would vote for Biden or Trump in 2024 if the two ended up being the nominees again. The question did not present any options other than Biden and Trump — yet 10 percent of respondents volunteered that they did not plan to support either one. The share was even higher among voters under 35 and lower among older voters.

This level of dissatisfaction is a reflection of the huge, dueling weaknesses of the two parties.

The Democratic Party has two core problems. First, Biden’s job approval rating is only 33 percent (similar to Trump’s worst ratings during his presidency), partly because of frustration over inflation and the continuing disruptions to daily life stemming from the pandemic. Second, Democrats’ priorities appear out of step with those of most Americans.

Congressional Democrats have spent much of the past year bickering, with a small number of moderates blocking legislation that would reduce drug prices, address climate change and take other popular steps. Many Democrats — both politicians and voters, especially on the party’s left flank — also seem more focused on divisive cultural issues than on most Americans’ everyday concerns, like inflation.

“The left has a set of priorities that is just different from the rest of the country’s,” Nate said. “Liberals care more about abortion and guns than about the economy. Conservative concerns are much more in line with the rest of the country.”

On the other hand, Nate points out, “Republicans have serious problems of their own.”

Trump remains the party’s dominant figure — and he is roughly as unpopular as Biden. The two men’s personal favorability ratings are identical in the Times poll: 39 percent. Many voters, including independents and a noticeable minority of Republicans, are offended by the events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s role in them.

Republicans also face some vulnerabilities from the recent Supreme Court decisions. The court has issued aggressive rulings, including overturning Roe v. Wade, that take policy to the right of public opinion on some of the same issues where many Democrats are to the left of it.

All of this leads to a remarkable combination of findings from the poll. Biden looks like the weakest incumbent president in decades; 61 percent of Democrats said they hoped somebody else would be the party’s 2024 nominee, with most of them citing either Biden’s age or performance. Yet, when all voters were asked to choose between Biden and Trump in a hypothetical matchup, Biden nonetheless held a small lead over Trump, 44 percent to 41 percent.

Other polls — by YouGov and Harris, for example — suggest Biden would fare better against Trump than Vice President Kamala Harris would. These comparisons are a reminder that Biden won the nomination in 2020 for a reason: He is one of the few nationally prominent Democrats who doesn’t seem too liberal to many swing voters. Biden, in short, is a wounded incumbent in a party without obviously stronger alternatives.

There is still a long time between now and the 2024 election, of course. Perhaps Biden’s standing will improve, or another Democrat — one who wins a tough race this year, for instance, like Stacey Abrams or Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia — will emerge as a possibility. Perhaps Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence or another Republican will defeat Trump for the nomination. Perhaps Biden or Trump (or both) will choose not to run.

The level of voter dissatisfaction also raises the possibility that a third-party candidate could attract enough support to influence the outcome, Nate adds.

For now, though, each party’s biggest strength appears to be the weakness of its opponent.

Related: My colleague Shane Goldmacher has more details and analysis on Biden’s approval rating. In the coming days, The Times will be releasing other results from the poll, including on the Republican Party, the midterm races and more.

The scholar, Vanessa Braganza, became fascinated with the sketch of a pendant that featured a dense tangle of letters. Using a process akin to “early modern Wordle,” Braganza says, she deciphered the image, which spells out the names of Henry and Catherine.

What makes it particularly interesting, Braganza argues, is that the pendant was likely commissioned not by the king, but by Catherine herself, as a way of asserting her place in history as Henry was preparing to divorce her. “It really helps us understand Catherine as a really defiant figure,” she says.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Boris Yeltsin became Russia’s first freely elected president, The Times reported 31 years ago today.

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