US Politics

US Politics: Was that a good or bad week for Joe Biden?

U.S. President Joe Biden
Joe Biden remains weak in the betting and polls

Democrats enjoyed a great week in state elections but the betting remains highly sceptical about Joe Biden. Paul Krishnamurty analyses the contradiction...

  • Trump dominant in state polls

  • Wider electoral signals good for Democrats

  • Is Biden the Democrats' main problem?

This time next year, we will be poring over the results of the US Presidential Election and Congress. 2023 was an 'off year' for national elections but this week still had some big races and significant results.
The news was overwhelmingly good for Democrats.

Democrats outperforming expectations

In the key swing state of Virginia, they defied predictions of a dead-heat to take control of both Houses. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin's vague presidential hopes went up in flames. Andy Beshear won a second term as Governor of deep-red Kentucky. Watch out for that name in future.

Elsewhere in local races, numerous unlikely, pro-Trump districts turned blue. In Ohio, a referendum codified abortion rights. Whilst Brandon Presley couldn't pull off a miraculous upset in the Mississippi Governor's race, the narrow margin of defeat was seen as yet another good Democrat result, in keeping with other local and special election results this year.

So, a ringing endorsement of Joe Biden, which could propel him to a second term? Not so fast. Betfair markets remain distinctly unimpressed, with the current incumbent of the White House available to back at 3.35, equating to a mere 30% chance.

Swing state polls catastrophic for Biden

Prior to Tuesday's voting, a series of very grim general election polls had instilled fear into Democrats, showing Biden losing to Donald Trump in the key states that will determine the electoral college and therefore, the presidency.

Worse numbers, by my reckoning, can be found below these headline figures. Biden's average approval rating is a pitiful 38.7%.

One must remember, these dire comparisons are against Trump. The most toxic, polarizing figure in US political history. A man facing financial ruin in court, and 91 criminal indictments on extremely serious charges. A man whose 'strong disapprovals' dwarfed any other. Whom Biden managed to marshall an astonishing 81M people to turn out and vote against.

Biden's approvals have fallen substantially since and one must wonder how on Earth he will be able to repeat that unified, determined effort. When these polls put Biden up against a 'generic Republican', he loses a landslide. And yet this is set against the context of really good results for Democrats.

Should we trust early polls?

These polls were widely countered by caveats about polls this far out not being especially predictive. A very fair point although they did predict Trump's defeat in 2020 and Hillary Clinton's relative vulnerability in 2016, compared to other Democrats. Indeed, there is a similarity with regards the poor performance against a generic candidate.

Also, consider this trio of characters. They are not the typical candidate whom, one year out, is lesser known and defined. Voters know Trump, Biden and Clinton extremely well.

Inevitably, speculation will mount about an alternative Democrat usurping Biden. Gavin Newsom remains very popular with Betfair traders and has been matched as low as 8.415/2 for the Presidency. However as explained previously, there is no straightforward route as time is running out to challenge Biden via the primaries.

Furthermore, regarding the Newsom gamble, it may be driven by speculation on right-wing media - just as Clinton was gambled into absurdly low levels in 2020 on the basis of fake rumours.

Democrats seem too complacent

Nevertheless, I feel bettors are entitled to speculate. The future of democracy is literally on the ballot in 2024. If polls continue to point to a Trump win and the potential tyranny that may involve, Biden may think again and those around him may urge him to retire.

My personal view is there is an air of complacency around Democrats, fuelled by their good mid-term and local performances. Due to their gains among higher educated voters, engagement and turnout trends favour them in mid-term and special elections.

The electorate next November will be different and less to their advantage. We have seen in two presidential elections that Trump enthuses right-wing, mostly rural voters in a way nobody else can. His base simply aren't as enthusiastic about the candidates he endorses.

There is also the threat of small parties and independents splitting the vote. Robert F Kennedy Jr, Cornel West, Jill Stein and perhaps a No Label candidate such as Joe Manchin will be on the ballot. They will in my view take more votes from Biden, due to the lack of enthusiasm behind him, than Trump, whose voters are ultra-loyal.

I haven't and couldn't back Trump given his catastrophic legal situation. But my enthusiasm for backing Biden at what would be generous odds if the race is indeed a repeat of the 2020 match-up, has waned. I can't see the market getting behind him in the short-term and, whilst the chain of events to thwart that match-up is far from clear, I don't believe Trump v Biden II is cast in stone.

Read more Politics content here, follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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