This is certainly one reason that turnout was low relative to historical trends. But it also introduced an equally unusual voting bloc: people who didn’t like either candidate but came out to vote anyway. And exit polls showed that those voters overwhelmingly preferred Trump.
It makes sense. He was the candidate of blowing up the system, while the system was where Clinton lived. But this wasn’t just some interesting historical anomaly. In the three states Trump flipped to red that year, about a fifth of those who cast votes said they disliked both him and Clinton, according to exit polls. Trump won among those voters by between 20 (Michigan) and almost 40 percentage points (Wisconsin) — enough to give him the presidency.
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In 2020, this vote wasn’t as important. There were far fewer people who disliked both candidates, for one thing, given that Joe Biden was relatively well regarded. But over the course of his presidency, that has shifted. Now there is once again a robust dislike-them-both segment of the electorate. But, happily for Democrats, it’s Biden who leads with them this time — and that lead has expanded over the past few months.
On Tuesday, Quinnipiac University released a new national poll of the 2024 race. It showed that Biden holds a six-point lead over Trump nationally, a function of his faring better with independents (with whom he leads by 12 points) and within his own party.
Before we go any further, we will note that this is a better poll for Biden than other recent polls have been. Without diving too deeply into this, there are a few likely reasons for it, including that Quinnipiac’s polling has generally had Biden performing better and that margins of error make gaps seem wider than they may actually be.
Besides, Biden does not fare particularly well when pitted against former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley in a one-on-one hypothetical general election contest. She leads in that matchup, thanks largely to less robust Democratic support for Biden and independents flipping. A 13-point swing among White women has an effect, too.
But let’s get to the point. As you might expect, Quinnipiac also found that both Trump and Biden were viewed more unfavorably than favorably — they were “underwater,” in the parlance. Independents viewed Biden slightly more positively, but even in that case only a third viewed the sitting president favorably.
Haley’s numbers are interesting. Almost 3 in 10 respondents said they didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion, including a quarter of Republicans — nearly a month into the Republican primary in which she is one of two candidates. Even so, she was underwater, too, by a 15-point margin.
We can break the respondents into four groups (or, rather, we at The Washington Post could and did ask Quinnipiac to do so): those who like both candidates, those who like only Trump or Haley, those who like only Biden and those who like neither. What we find is striking.
In the Trump-Biden matchup, there aren’t enough respondents who like both candidates to break out their preferences, which is telling in itself. Among those who view only one candidate favorably, that candidate gets nearly every vote. And among those who like neither? Biden has a 13-point edge, with a lot of people saying they would pick someone else or just not vote.
In the Haley-Biden matchup, though, there are enough people who like both to break them out, and Biden has a 23-point lead. But far more people like neither of them, and there Haley is the one with a big advantage.
There are an enormous number of caveats here, of course, including that a lot of those voters who dislike both in fact won’t vote. (Six percent chose that option in the Biden-Haley race.) In addition, if Haley was somehow very unexpectedly to win the Republican nomination, a lot more people would suddenly develop strong opinions about her, shifting the totals.
Also, other candidates are in the mix, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. In both the Trump-Biden and Haley-Biden matchups, he pulls a plurality of the dislike-both voters — but to do so in the election he would actually have to have a robust enough campaign to get on the ballot.
Let’s say, though, that 2024 is in fact Trump vs. Biden and that, once again, a lot of people come to the polls feeling unhappy about those choices. This poll — this one poll, months before the election — suggests that those voters will break for the incumbent president. And in a race that is expected to be close, that might once again make a critical difference.
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