While Democrats may have “settled”, it seems that Biden has ended up being a good candidate for the moment. He’s stayed out of Trump’s way and in doing so has built a large lead with under a month to go before the election.
Biden is ahead of Trump pretty much everywhere that matters. He’s up nationally. Biden’s up in Pennsylvania. He’s up in Florida. Biden’s up in Wisconsin. You get the point.
Being ahead doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good candidate. The fundamentals (whether they be the economy or global health pandemic) often drive election results as much as individual candidates.
Biden, though, seems to be winning in part because he’s actually a fairly popular politician in an era in which those don’t really exist on the national stage.
His favorability rating is above his unfavorable rating in almost all of the polls. In our CNN poll, his net favorability (favorable – unfavorable) has stood at +16 points among likely voters. The average of all the recent high quality live interview polls puts Biden’s net favorability rating at +9 points.
You might think it’s easy to get a positive net favorability when you’re standing next to Trump, who has been quite unpopular throughout his term in office. His net favorability among likely voters in our last poll was -18 points.
Hillary Clinton, however, proved that isn’t necessarily the case. Her net favorability rating at this point was -11 points, or nearly 20 points worse than Biden’s in the high quality live interview polls.
While it’s easy to say Clinton was a uniquely unpopular candidate (and she probably was to an extent), there’s also something to be said of Biden not falling into the same trap Clinton fell into. Moreover, polling throughout the primary season indicated that Biden was stronger than his well-known Democratic rivals in head-to-heads against Trump.
Biden seems to be doing what Clinton couldn’t for at least two clear and perhaps connected reasons.
He has managed to stay out of the spotlight. Take a gander over the last month of media mentions in the top paragraph of stories, as measured by NewsLibrary.com. Trump’s taken up nearly 80% of the mentions between Biden and him. In 2016, Trump was getting less than 60% of the mentions between Clinton and him during the same period. And as I noted previously, candidate success in the polls was inversely correlated with media attention.
Certainly part of Trump’s media domination is the ongoing drama at the White House, but Biden getting mentioned a lot less in the news than Clinton has been true throughout comparable points in the campaign.
No doubt the pandemic has helped shield Biden from the spotlight. Still, it takes some political discipline to keep the focus on the other guy and allow him to self-destruct politically, as Trump seems to be doing based upon the polls. Clinton couldn’t do it in 2016, and we’ll never know if a “movement candidate” such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would have been able to do it.
Indeed, another big reason Biden has been beating Trump is voters don’t think he’s ideologically extreme. The perceived ideology of candidates matters less than it used to, but we see evidence from races up and down the ballot that voters reward perceived moderation.
In 2016, Trump was seen as fairly moderate compared to other recent Republican nominees. Clinton was seen as more ideologically extreme.
Recent polling indicates that voters are more likely to see Biden as moderate than either Trump or Sanders (the most likely Democratic nominee if Biden had fallen short).
You have seen Biden’s moderation on display throughout the campaign. He has said he believes in law and order, as Trump has tried to claim his opponent isn’t. Biden has come out against the Green New Deal, which Trump tried to say the Democrat was in favor of in the first debate.
Trump has tried to use Biden’s opposition to the Green New Deal to divide the left, though polling shows Biden doing significantly better among liberals than Clinton.
Biden’s been able to keep the left on his side not because he’s running as a movement candidate, but rather that he’s running to keep Trump from winning a second term.
So far, based on the looks of the polls, Biden is likely to do exactly what he set out to do.